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What Trump, Covid, and a fraught election have taught us this year

When a nation fights to preserve what is precious, as we just have, it learns what matters most.
Image: Multiple boxes side by side. First box has Biden walking from it onto steps, second has poll workers counting ballots, third shows Dr. Fauci, fourth has raised microphones and last has Donald Trump walking out.
Let's take some time to appreciate the lessons we've been forced to learn this year.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

In a year that has thrust thousands of people into therapy, strained and snapped personal relationships over bitterly bifurcated politics, claimed 260,000 American lives in a vicious pandemic, plummeted 1 in 4 Americans into joblessness or poverty wages, and exposed gaping holes in our democratic processes, expressing gratitude during the holidays may feel like a bridge too far.

A nation comes to more greatly appreciate that which it has lost or almost lost.

But give thanks we should. Because a nation comes to more greatly appreciate that which it has lost or almost lost. And when a nation fights to preserve what is precious, as we just have, it learns what matters most — things like freedom, faith, and facts — and embraces individuals who help to defend those things. By that measure, we have much for which to be thankful.

Our national security was challenged by adversaries foreign and domestic — and it held. Our free and fair election process was pummeled — but prevailed. Science and facts were vilified —but will rise victorious. And our faith, in ourselves and our institutions, was questioned — yet it shows signs of overcoming.

Freedom, faith, and facts persisted — not mysteriously or magically, nor by overwhelming margins. Rather, those enduring values remain because of the might and determination of the collective conscience of Americans, and because of specific people who came to embody our representative will. For that, we should be thankful.

Freedom, faith, and facts persisted — not mysteriously or magically, nor by overwhelming margins.

In this year, and the years throughout President Donald Trump’s tenure, our freedom, expressed in our uniquely American form of democracy and rule of law, faced unprecedented challenges. The Trump administration flagrantly flouted congressional oversight, and a special counsel investigation previously found at least 10 incidences where the president obstructed justice.

Foreign adversaries attempted to interfere, as they did in 2016, with the 2020 election, but were decidedly defeated by professionals dedicated to preserving our process. Election officials, from both the GOP, the Democratic Party, as well as from neither party, held firm in their oath to uphold the laws of their states. In places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, poll workers and election officials, including those secretaries of state and judges in those states, did the right thing — even in the face of death threats. For this preservation of our free society, we should be grateful.

Faith was imperiled this year as well. Biblical scripture defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But you don’t have to be religious to have faith. Merriam-Webster dictionary says faith is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Our democracy remains a relatively young, seldom tested, experiment in governance. It remains to be seen whether or not our concept of a republic with three equal branches of government, frequently elected leaders in the executive and legislative branches, an independent judiciary, and strict adherence to a constitution and the rule of law, can sustain itself.

But, with each test of our government, we gain further proof of “things hoped for” — that our system, and our faith in it, may hold. That’s the kind of test we’ve just been through, and it’s not over yet. But even some Republican leaders have denounced Trump’s attempts to subvert our system and have helped to restore our faith in the institutions that embody our democratic values. For this victory, in this moment, we should give thanks.

With each test of our government, we gain further proof of “things hoped for.”

Facts took a beating this year. Trump spewed countless false and dangerous claims about the coronavirus. He falsely and repeatedly asserted that he won reelection. Many of his followers seemed to buy the snake oil Trump was selling. We learned a lot about the natural human tendency to accept simple solutions to unpleasant and complex problems — even when those “solutions” amounted to nonsense.

However, among the heroes of this year were the epidemiologists and scientists who taught us the personal safety precautions that could save our lives, identified the therapeutic drugs to alleviate our suffering, and developed the potentially life-saving vaccines that will allow us to defeat Covid-19 and claim victory in the battle of fact versus fiction. We should acknowledge them with deep appreciation.

Dedicated journalists also helped breathe life into facts when those facts were seemingly flailing for life. White House correspondents, television and print reporters, and cable news anchors dared to ask hard questions and reveal unpleasant truths, even while under personal attack by the president himself. The Associated Press’s “A look at what didn’t happen this week” was just one example of the media’s effort to shine light on the dark recesses of disinformation. Give thanks for a free press.

Fiction versus fact also threatened our national security. Domestic deception threatened to defeat data and repeal reality. QAnon quackery, violent militias, race-based hate groups, and anarchy adherents, were all motivated by falsehoods and fictions, often amplified on social media. While the president and the attorney general claimed that violence in our streets was led by Black Lives Matter and Antifa protestors, FBI Director Christopher Wray gave us the facts — race-based hate groups were the main cause for concern. Some champions of truth were terminated for challenging the president’s false narrative, and protecting our free elections from interference, like Chris Krebs, the director of CISA. Others, like Wray, were threatened with dismissal.

While we’re in the spirit of gratitude, and if we’re employing my dictionary’s definition of “thankful” as “conscious of benefit received,” then we should express gratitude for one more individual. This person helped 80 million of us fight valiantly for our freedom, reestablish our faith in democracy, and reject falsehoods and fantasies in favor of fact. As we head into this holiday season, let us say, “thank you” to our outgoing president, and express our gratitude for what he’s taught us by offering him this gentle farewell — “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out. “