Tom Nichols, Opinion columnist
Published 3:00 a.m. ET Dec. 28, 2020 | Updated 12:03 p.m. ET Dec. 29, 2020
Victory is not in doubt. Don’t give in to your fears or start bickering with each other when we’re so close to leaving this terrible year behind us.
Back in 1990, President George H.W. Bush faced a decision about going to war against Iraq after the surprise invasion of Kuwait in August. Victory was never in doubt, but it would still be a momentous step to take the United States and its allies into a conflict with what was then a significant military power.
Three decades later, this is still good advice. Americans face enemies both from within and from abroad. The country is being ravaged by a pandemic that has killed 1,000 times as many Americans as died in Operation Desert Storm, and at its worst has reached 9/11 levels of deaths almost daily. The Russians are plowing through the cyber defenses of multiple U.S. agencies. Congress could barely agree to send a pittance of relief to people facing cold, hunger and eviction.
Incalculable damage to America
And the president of the United States, instead of defending us from these physical and virtual threats, has become an avowed enemy of our people, our democracy and of our Constitution. He vetoed funding for the Department of Defense and threatened to stop the COVID-19 relief package before signing it Sunday night. He has used the Oval Office as a command center for meetings with seditious kooks and conspiracy cranks as he plots a military intervention against individual American states to punish them for having the temerity to insult his fragile and sociopathic ego.
This is no time for Americans to go all wobbly. Trump is trying to unnerve the nation in order to prepare us for yet more outrages, right to the last day of his term. But the new year is in sight and victory, as it was against Iraq in 1991, is not in doubt. The worst thing that could happen is for us to give in to our fears, or to begin bickering among ourselves, when we are so close to overcoming the terrible year we are about to leave behind us.
The people of the United States have much for which to be grateful as 2020 draws to a close. Despite the utter incompetence of the Trump administration and its war on science, actual scientists around the world worked together to create a vaccine in record time and shots are already in the arms of our first responders. We have been attacked by the Russians and other malefactors before, but competent professionals are working to shore up our defenses.
Most important, America has a new president-elect waiting to take the stage. Joe Biden is a decent man with long experience in national affairs. There is no doubt that he will be sworn in as president and Trump will leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, either by his own volition or escorted out by the Secret Service.
Still, we are saddled with this mad king for an additional three weeks and two days, and Trump can still add to the incalculable damage he has already inflicted on the nation.
Among the things we must be ready to face before Biden arrives are the possibility of a showdown between the White House and the U.S. military — a once unthinkable proposition — as well as any number of legal and political nightmares that Trump could trigger with his band of Acting Nobodies. He is still the commander in chief, and because the Republicans of his own party have shown not one iota of courage in opposing his schemes, he could even launch a military conflict if he so chooses.
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But there is no point in dwelling on our anxieties. This moment, and a better American future, calls instead for stoicism and resolve. Help has arrived to defeat the coronavirus; it is now up to each of us to assist our medical professionals in maintaining pandemic protocols while the vaccines make their way through the country. Help, such as it is, has been approved by Congress; in the meantime, it is up to each of us to ensure the safety and well-being of our friends and neighbors as best we can.
And help has arrived via the ballot box; it is up to each of us to not only stand with determination against Trump’s bizarre ravings, but also to set our faces silently and resolutely against the rage of Trump’s soon-to-be-exiled minions and his fanatical loyalists among us.
Reckoning ahead for Trumpers
Ignore Trump’s talk of coups. The courts, the military and the other institutions of American democracy are stressed and damaged but will hold against a rogue president. Ignore the trolling pardons of criminals and cronies. They are an affront to the conscience, but they are meant only to distract us from Trump’s many other abuses of power and the worse pardons yet to come of the Trump inner circle.
Ignore all of it — but remember the names of the people who have either defended this lunacy or who have stayed silent when it was their duty to speak out against it. The day will come to hold them accountable at the ballot box, in congressional hearings and in the court of public opinion.
It is a reckoning for warmer days and better times, all of which will be here soon. The brightest festivals of winter are upon us, and we should celebrate as best we can, while leaving Trump to stew and plot in the White House when he should be packing and looking for a new place to live.
In the coming weeks, Americans should hold to what is best in ourselves. We should be grateful for our democracy and those who still defend it, both in uniform and in the halls of our legal system. We should be grateful that our basic freedoms are still intact after the worst sustained assault from within since the days of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. And we should be grateful for the Constitution, whose wise requirements will force Donald Trump out the White House door and into the street on Jan. 20.
Stand fast and show faith in our traditions and our institutions. It is within our power to make the new year a better one — but only if we decide not to go wobbly.
Tom Nichols, a senior adviser to The Lincoln Project and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the author of “Our Own Worst Enemy,” coming in August. The opinions expressed here are solely his own. Follow him on Twitter: @RadioFreeTom
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