We Now Know
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.