Commentary: We learned plenty these 4 years. The lessons apply going forward

By Ryan Skinnell, The Fulcrum on

Published in Political News

Whatever happens in the next few months, we are unequivocally at the end of an era. Last month, American voters stepped up, turned out in record numbers and changed the course of history. Now is a good time to take stock of what we've learned and how we can use those lessons going forward.

In the past four years, we have learned an incredible amount about democracy and leadership.

We learned about personality cults, malignant narcissism and charismatic leaders. We learned about emoluments, quid pro quos, self-dealing and impeachment. We learned an awful lot about keeping tax returns secret.

We learned about nepotism, loyalty oaths, security clearances and the Presidential Daily Brief. We learned about our nation's allies and standing in the world — and about treaties and peace accords, political and military alliances, and international health and justice organizations.

We learned the difference between administration officials who are Senate-confirmed and only "acting." We learned about the rule of law and how it can get subverted. We rediscovered the obscure Third Amendment and what it could mean for the military quelling protest in the capital.

We learned to differentiate representative democracy from fascism and authoritarianism. We learned that "politicians who emerge from democratic practices can then work to undo democratic institutions," as Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote way back in 2017. We learned about failed states, oligarchies and banana republics.


We learned about the role of government in public health and public faith. We learned about truth, lies and propaganda. We learned about mutual aid.

We learned that a small group of dedicated bad actors can do a tremendous amount of damage if they have access to the levers of power.

And we learned all this at a dizzying pace, like a college student cramming all night for a test in the morning, because every morning posed a new test.

But we learned about far more than our democracy and the ways it is threatened. We also learned we are not helpless.


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