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President Donald Trump walks away after speaking at the White House, on Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

Andrew Potter is an academic and writer in Montreal.

When Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election last Saturday, people were driving around Montreal honking their horns like they do when the Habs win a Stanley Cup, and in Toronto like when the Leafs win a first round playoff game. A quick scroll through social media revealed that much larger public celebrations were under way in places such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and in the streets of major cities around the world as well.

And yet, given the whole VE-day tenor of the celebrations, it is hard not to think that a lot of people, especially those who have been most fully engaged with the fight against Donald Trump and everything he stands for, are going to miss him when he’s gone.

The past four years has been described as a “culture war,” but that seriously plays down what actually went on. The fight against Mr. Trump and his administration saw a mobilization across virtually every social and civic institution. Journalism and academia are two of the most obvious places, but in one form or another the battle against Mr. Trump infected the arts, professional and amateur sports, corporate culture and marketing.

The result is that for a great many people, fighting Mr. Trump was pretty much a full-time preoccupation. The struggle has been all-consuming, and the end of Mr. Trump’s only term as president should come as a relief to everyone. But it might be useful if many of those most forcefully opposed to all things Trump were also to concede, if only to themselves, that they secretly enjoyed a lot of the past four years.

To begin with, there are many for whom fighting Mr. Trump has been highly rewarding, both personally and professionally. Working the Trump beat has created new journalistic stars, anti-Trump satirists have jumped from Instagram to Netflix, while #nevertrump academics and public intellectuals have seen their reputations polished to a Twitter-friendly sheen.

But even for civilians and amateurs, there has been considerable benefit from jumping into the social media-fuelled anti-Trump crucible. Mr. Trump’s naked greed and plain embrace of far-right factions served to vindicate what many progressives already believed about contemporary conservatism, and about the United States more generally. As president, Mr. Trump was grossly incompetent, deeply malevolent and openly corrupt, and he surrounded himself with a steady parade of like-minded people.

In short, this was a presidency like no other, and there were days and weeks when it seemed that fighting Mr. Trump, pushing back against whatever plainly unconstitutional, impeachable or otherwise reprehensible act he or his toadies had got up to was the only thing the world was talking about. He was a figure so obscene that hating him, and making a public show of doing so, was in many quarters something close to a moral obligation.

And that’s precisely the problem. Because as stressful and exhausting as it all was, it was also exhilarating. It must have been. How else to explain the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who followed Mr. Trump on Twitter solely for the purpose of quote-replying to one of his tweets with a snarky comeback or clever insult? All of those likes and retweets, and the little endorphin hit they provide and the rush when something goes viral, whoever the intended audience was it certainly wasn’t Mr. Trump.

For many people, fighting Mr. Trump organized their thoughts and focused their energies. War is a force that gives life meaning, and its absence or end leaves many combatants feeling aimless and lost. Think of the scene in The Hurt Locker where Jeremy Renner’s character is at home from the war in Iraq. He’s walking in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, bewildered by the shallowness of comfort and the paradox of choice. He’s pining for a time when there were fewer decisions to make about what to think, how to act, who to hate.

This will be greatly exacerbated by the inevitable letdown of the Biden presidency to come. Not just because congressional gridlock will make it hard for Mr. Biden to get anything done, but because in a healthy democracy, politics should be boring at best. If you’re looking for clarity of purpose in life, the messy compromises and molasses-in-January pace of democratic politics is the wrong place to look.

It is possible that we have become so accustomed to the stakes of the Trump presidency that we’ve forgotten what it is like to be merely annoyed by politics. The reflexes his tenure honed in us, the patterns of thought and behaviour that were laid down, will be hard to eliminate. There will be a pervasive sense of loss and anger and sadness, and we won’t understand why.

Mr. Trump is gone, and for this the world owes the American voter a debt of thanks.

But the sense of commitment to a higher cause that Mr. Trump gave his opponents will be hard to replace. There will be nostalgia not for Mr. Trump, but for the purpose he gave our lives. We all need to find something else to do with our time, our energy and our minds.

Editor’s note: (Nov. 13, 2020): An earlier version of this article incorrectly referenced the movie American Sniper rather than the correct movie Hurt Locker.

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