The Cuban Missile Crisis with Trump Instead of JFK

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I fear for my country.

Muslims are already being threatened and attacked. Gay and trans Americans, African Americans, so many Americans fear for their safety. We will recover, in years or decades, but that period will be measured in human suffering and human lives.

But it’s more than that. Much, much more.

(If you’re still processing the intolerant violence, you might want to bookmark this article and come back when you’re feeling more whole.)

I fear the death of our democracy. I imagine Trump following through on his promise to jail Clinton. (Or just trying, that would be enough.) Then our 2020 election featuring another FBI leak and another special prosecutor. When running means going up against the FBI, who could win against that? And who would try, when losing means jail? We’d still have elections, but not democracy, like so many other countries in the world.

I fear war with a nuclear power. The Cuban Missile Crisis with Trump instead of JFK — today’s would involve a no-fly zone in Syria and a Russian plane. War doesn’t require malice, it doesn’t even require incompetence. It only requires arrogance, thinking diplomacy is simple, and ignoring the career diplomats and generals who have kept the world from annihilating itself for the last 70 years. How many times did Trump say, “I’m smarter than the generals”?

Already, you’re likely arguing that those things could never happen. That everything will be OK. But the universe doesn’t come with that guarantee. There’s no “things must be OK” clause written in the stars, or in the physics that governs them. World wars are allowed to happen. Democracies are allowed to crumble. These things happen in the real world we all live in.

At the start of World War 2, Britain signed a defensive pact with Poland. It was supposed to stop Germany’s expansion. Then a vague letter from Britain caused Germany to believe that Britain wouldn’t honor the pact. Germany invaded Poland, Britain was treaty-bound to intervene, and you know the rest.

Wars are born of ambiguity over whether a major power (Britain) would actually defend a minor power (Poland). During the election, Trump said we might not defend NATO allies that don’t pay their dues. If he repeats that as commander-in-chief and Russia believes him and invades Estonia or Latvia (like it invaded Ukraine last year), 27 countries are treaty-bound to intervene.

Peaceful democracy isn’t the default. Wars are allowed to happen. Democracies are allowed to crumble. As surely as age and decay are the fate of everything around us, war and autocracy are the defaults unless we take action to prevent them.

Maybe someone will stand up. Maybe that soldier will refuse to shoot down the Russian plane, ending his career to prevent war. Maybe the special prosecutor will refuse to prosecute, ending his career to preserve our democracy. But those extraordinary acts aren’t the default.

We can no longer afford to rely on someone else to solve this. That wishful thinking is the reason I didn’t write this until after the election. It’s why 2% of voters voted third-party, pretending that Clinton was the same as Trump, and why 47% of us didn’t even vote. Wishful thinking dug this hole, and it’ll keep digging until we accept that truly bad things do happen, and that we cannot count on anyone but ourselves to stop it.

I’m going to give you some steps to take, but first a word for the disengaged and the Trump supporters.

To those of you who are disengaged: I get it. Every election, both parties say that this is the most important election, that the other side will wreck America. Then the election ends and nothing changes. It can feel more like rooting for a sports team than deciding on the direction of our country. But do this for me: Take the visualization skills you’ve developed for your practice, and truly visualize each of those scenarios. Special prosecutors making political opposition a crime. A game of chicken with a nuclear power. Imagine them as clearly as you can, allow yourself to care about the outcome, and allow yourself to be disturbed. That’s the first step to fixing anything. (Don’t worry, visualizing won’t make it so, any more than the thousands of practitioners who visualized Clinton winning made it so. If you want, visualize a peaceful democracy afterward, one that we have all worked to preserve.)

To those of you who voted for Trump: I get it. No one in power seems to care about you, about how the economic recovery isn’t helping your family or your town or your culture. You voted for Trump in spite of his racist rhetoric and authoritarian tendencies, not because of them. I believe you. Now is the time to work for the change you need, while also defending the tolerant democracy we all need. Write Trump, tell him, “I support you, I voted for you, I want change. But please, stop attacking immigrants. Denounce the hate groups that act in your name. Publicly state that you will not lock up your political opponents. And listen to the generals, who really do know more about war than you. I support you, I want you to succeed, but America can’t be great if we abandon the things that make us exceptional.” You can email his team here.

And for everyone, here’s what we can do:

If you see a minority being harassed or threatened, take action. That might mean starting a conversation with the victim, ignoring the attacker, creating a social situation where the attacker feels awkward and leaves. (Here’s a handy guide.) Or it might mean stepping between harasser and victim, showing that hurting one of us is hurting all of us, that we won’t tolerate intolerance. Hate thrives when the rest of us are too afraid to act, and it shrinks when we refuse to accept it. So take action, whether it’s quiet or confrontational. Show how Americans embody our highest ideals.

(Some of us are wearing safety pins to show that solidarity, and as a pledge to take action.)

In the coming months, there will be leaders calling for letter-writing campaigns, protests, and the other acts of democracy we all take for granted. Listen to them. Act. We still live in a democracy, and we can preserve that if we choose to. Don’t just share on facebook or sign an online petition. Actually take the 15 minutes to write a paper letter, or the afternoon to join a protest. Show that you care enough to spend that time, to show our leaders that you will also care enough to vote. We can drive our leaders to action, if we are willing to take action ourselves.

And when people say it’ll all be OK, say, “No, it won’t be OK. Not on its own. Not if we don’t act. But together, we can make it be OK, if we work for it.” Then show them how.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

(We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming next week.)

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