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Leonard Pitts: Defeating Trump won’t erase forces that made him possible

We should probably start thinking about what we’re going to do after Trump.

Of course, if the nation decides it really does want a vulgar, narcissistic bigot with the impulse control of a sleep-deprived toddler as its 45th president, the options left to thinking Americans will be few, but stark:

Either curl up in a fetal ball for four years or jam the pedal to the metal on the northbound interstate and don’t stop till you see moose. Try to get there before the Canadians build their border wall.

If, however, the more likely scenario prevails and the electorate rejects Donald Trump, we will face a different set of options. The first is to finally take a stand against the forces that brought us here.

Those forces — economic insecurity, ignorance, bigotry and fear — are hardly new. Many observers, this one included, have bemoaned them for years. Trump’s innovation has been to drag the last three into the light, to render dog whistles and codes obsolete with his full-throated, wide-open embrace of all that is ugly and shameful about us.

Assuming his rebuke in November, the natural tendency will be to mop the brow and sigh in relief at the bullet we just dodged. This would be a mistake. Defeating Trump would not erase the forces that made him possible. As the last few years have shown, those forces, like some virulent cancer, tend to redouble after setback and return stronger than before.

You thought George W. Bush was a piece of work? Meet Sarah Palin. You think Sarah Palin was scary? Meet Trump. It would not be a good idea to wait around and see who trumps Donald four years from now. So after Trump, there are things we must do:

1. Confront economic insecurity. We need to elect leaders who understand that corporations are not people; only people are people and they are struggling. Their wages are stagnant, their finances precarious and the wealth that is supposed to trickle down from the grotesquely overfed money pigs at the top always seems to evaporate en route. It is time for this to change.

2. Confront ignorance. It is no coincidence Trump is especially popular among the less well-educated. The less you know, the more fearsome and confounding the world can seem, and the more susceptible you are to the authoritarian figure who promises to make everything all right again. Education must be rescued from the anti-science, anti-history, anti-logic, anti-intellect agendas of conservative school boards around the country. Knowing things is important. Facts matter.

3. Confront bigotry. Stop pretending it doesn’t exist, stop making excuses for it, stop acting as if it will go away if you only ignore it. In our schools, civic groups, mosques, churches and synagogues, we must evolve some form of truth and reconciliation that allows us to walk through disparate pain up to common ground. Only in this way can we diminish the power of bigotry as a cudgel.

4. Confront fear. Fear is bigotry’s firstborn child. Both are heightened in an era wherein the majority feels itself, its position and prerogatives, under siege by the ascendance of various minorities — racial, religious and sexual. So it becomes ever more important to find strategies that help us to locate in one another our shared humanity.

And oh, yes…

5. Confront apathy. Vote.

This is how we can change the paradigm, cool the temperature, drain the swamp.

Or we can pretend this temper tantrum, this national nervous breakdown, means nothing once Trump is gone. But to embrace that option is to miss the point. Donald Trump is a reflection of the ugliness within us, but only that. The ugliness itself is ours and we are long overdue to face it.

The day after he is gone would be an excellent time to start.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.

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