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Donald Trump has done this country a huge favor.  We owe him a debt of gratitude because, in just four years — love him or hate him — he has exposed every single weakness within our government and uncovered the deep fault lines that have destabilized this nation for decades.


Before him, it was like this slow drip, drip, drip.  We could feel in our hearts that things were off, but had a hard time identifying exactly what those things were.  Most of us assumed a day of reckoning was coming eventually, and it most certainly was.  Donald Trump just accelerated the process.


Pre-Trump, so many actions, events, and potential policy outcomes were purely theoretical.  Across America, we settled in at dinner tables with our families or sat across from co-workers at lunch and argued (with little evidence other than our, obviously brilliant, gut feelings) about the size our government should be and the role it should play, or if trade wars really do pay off, or if a $29.7 trillion debt was really that big of a deal, or if significant tax cuts for rich people and Wall Street really do, in fact, stoke the entire economy.

 
We debated the current status of our checks and balances and whether the executive branch had too much power.  We discussed what would happen if we failed to see the warning signs of an international pandemic and, if a pandemic did indeed reach our shores, the role our institutions and basic science should play.


We innocently asked ourselves — in the naïve manner of people who are certain something like this could never happen to them — what it must be like to live in a country where the president called the press “the enemy of the people” and democratically-held elections “rigged” and “stolen.” Or one where the president likened the United States intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany while, ironically, actual Nazi wannabes stormed the national Capitol.


We probably would have asked ourselves, if we could have even imagined it, what would happen if our president sold out our intelligence agencies in front of the entire world by siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki or if he shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office. Or if our president actually stole highly classified documents after he was voted out of office.


Or, what would happen if our commander-in-chief verbally attacked combat veterans and Gold Star families or said that our military generals and top Pentagon brass just want to “do nothing but fight wars” so “all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy” — essentially accusing them of putting our armed forces into combat for nothing more than money.


We asked one another if it really was America’s duty to open our doors to a certain number of refugees, then talked about how proud we were to live in a country where, even when we inevitably had to turn people away, it was always done with their dignity and respect in mind.  


We waxed poetic about America’s role in the world. What, for example, would happen if we legitimized Kim Jong-un by meeting with him face-to-face, or to what extent our outrage should be if a Washington Post contributing columnist was murdered in cold blood by the Saudis in their Consulate in Turkey.


Or what it would be like if the United States undermined NATO, or if we withdrew from major international agreements like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (a.k.a. the Iranian nuclear deal), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and several organizations within the United Nations system including the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the UN Relief and Works Agency.


We questioned — but only hypothetically because we thought it too unthinkable to even contemplate — what would happen if we suddenly abandoned the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), our loyal allies who served beside us in our fight against the Islamic State, or if we abruptly retreated from the entire world, including from our most trusted allies (the entire world, that is, except for authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan).


Pre-Trump, we regarded these topics as largely theoretical because, for the most part, we had never witnessed the real-life implications of them.  But now, we have first-hand knowledge of the value and/or consequences of these scenarios because we have actually lived through them — and have the battle scars to prove it.  

We now know.

 

At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic also exposed many things.  I mean, like huge, major things. The entire episode can be summed up in the warning Buffett gave us years ago (Warren, not Jimmy): “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

We learned that our Strategic National Stockpile — our national repository of things like antibiotics, vaccines and other critical medical supplies — had been neglected for years. We discovered that our economy was not nearly as fortified as we would like to believe and that our government was tragically unprepared for an international crisis.  We had front row seats, yet again, to the unimaginative “solutions” of the United States Congress.

We were also cruelly reminded of the massive health, economic and educational disparities that exist for people of color. Taken together, like a perfect storm, the devastation of Covid, and the documented murder of George Floyd brightly illuminated the grave injustices many Black Americans have been shackled to for centuries.  Demons that, in truth, are more dangerous than ever because — as opposed to crosses openly burning on lawns — they are now intricately woven into the fabric of our nation, perpetuating division, desolation, and damaging cycles and patterns that are difficult to identify and harder still to solve.

But here again we owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude. By giving — through his racist and inflammatory words and deeds — formally closeted bigots permission to be loud, proud and at times homicidal, he helped expose blatant racism in a way that now, finally, cannot be ignored.

This is a gift.  It is always better to know exactly who the enemy is, because then you know exactly who and what you are fighting against.  As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Don’t get me wrong, the revolting images from the Charlottesville domestic terrorist attack in August 2017 — where, among other things, racists chanted Nazi slogans, made monkey sounds, and, in the grand finale, a car bulldozed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and leaving nineteen others injured — and the ones from the insurrection assault on our Capitol are nauseating, but at least most of these despicable racists ditched the white hoods and showed us their faces.  Uncovering their wickedness is the beginning of the end for them because, eventually, goodness conquers evil every time.

Some of the things mentioned here are subjective and, therefore, leave room for opinion. For example, topics like the size our government should be and the role it should play, or whether we should or shouldn’t have withdrawn from major international agreements.

On the other hand, many of the things mentioned here are objective.  We actually have the data necessary to assess things like Donald Trump’s trade wars and tax cuts.  We actually have provable outcomes and can clearly track the relationship between cause and effect. 

But either way, make no mistake, how we respond to the significant weaknesses and fault lines Donald Trump uncovered is 100% up to us — YOU and ME. It’s like if we walked on the beach after a big storm and discovered tons of trash had washed onto the sand. The storm is not on us, of course, but what happens next absolutely is. We can either clean the trash off the beach OR we can just leave it there to wash back into the ocean — where, thriving under the cover of darkness, it accumulates and becomes an even bigger mess.

 

We now know.

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