When entire countries fail to confront serious challenges, it doesn’t end well. During the past half century, we Americans have lived in a very forgiving time, and seeing the world through rose-colored glasses had limited consequences. The climate was stable, our economy dwarfed the competition, democracy was on the rise, and our military strength made the U.S. the sole global hyperpower. Today, every one of those things has changed. If we continue to ignore the real threats we face, America will inevitably suffer serious consequences.

What clears the scales from the eyes of a nation? Pearl Harbor did. 9/11 did. A crisis can shake the public consciousness. But a crisis may come too late for a course correction that can prevent tragedy. The only cure for wishful thinking is leadership. Winston Churchill emboldened a complacent Britain and rallied the world. Abraham Lincoln held the Union together. Ronald Reagan shook us from our malaise. Lech Wałęsa inaugurated a movement that brought down the Iron Curtain. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired us to “believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” And Volodymyr Zelensky’s stunning display of courage—“I need ammunition, not a ride”—showed us what real character looks like.

President Joe Biden is a genuinely good man, but he has yet been unable to break through our national malady of denial, deceit, and distrust. A return of Donald Trump would feed the sickness, probably rendering it incurable. Congress is particularly disappointing: Our elected officials put a finger in the wind more frequently than they show backbone against it. Too often, Washington demonstrates the maxim that for evil to thrive only requires good men to do nothing.

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