A new series is airing on HBO about the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in Russia. It is an extraordinary docudrama which hews very closely to actual events. Some characters are amalgams of numerous real-life people, but the feel is authentic, the acting superb, and the history revealed of this event is as disturbing as it gets. But for the courage and self-sacrifice of soviet plant workers, a huge portion of eastern Europe (primarily Ukraine) would have been uninhabitable for centuries to come, 50 million people would have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands would have died premature deaths. The reality is bad enough: more than 50 dead, thousands with significant adverse health effects, and 50,000 people forced to move from the area.

The disaster was caused by arrogance and ignorance. To see if the safety measures installed in the plant would work as intended, the Soviets disabled several of them and grossly over-manipulated the plant’s power apparatus. The result was the explosion and melt-down of a nuclear core. The experiment was stupid; the director of the plant was a dictatorial fool, and the resulting contamination of the area is still too dangerous for habitation. But when the event first occurred, the Soviets didn’t want to tell anyone about it, and sought to put out the fire as fast as possible. They did so by dropping sand, boron, and lead from helicopters on the nuclear fire — and by exposing numerous people to dangerous radiation without their knowledge.

The sand, boron, and lead blanket did not put out the fire, but did provide it with an insulating blanket that forced the heat down, creating molten, flowing lava. The lava was headed toward  a large metal tank full of water. Had the lava gotten to the water, it would have flash-vaporized the water — held tightly in a large steel container — and the resulting explosion would have had the force of 10 bombs the size dropped on Hiroshima in World War II. That would have spread nuclear contamination far and wide.

To stop that from happening, three plant workers were asked to go down into the bowels of the plant, open the water gates, and drain out the water before the lava stream reached the tank. By this time, it seemed clear that it might be a suicide mission. The radiation levels in the plant were so high that the three men knew that they probably would die soon afterwards. But they went anyway for no material reward, and thus saved millions of people from death and harm. Whether they died immediately or survived is somewhat foggy. The TV series implies that they died. Other sources claim they survived. Regardless, it was an act of incredible faith by the workers in their leaders.

Shifting to the current day, farm bankruptcies have risen as the nation’s agriculture businesses suffer from the U.S. vs. China trade war. Similar to the Chernobyl disaster, the current trade war also was caused by arrogance and foolishness. Depending on your political leanings, you may think it was justified. It was not. That China has misbehaved and made unreasonable demands upon those who want to do business in that country is true. But the best way to bring China in line with fair trade principles is most definitely not by the U.S. unilaterally imposing tariffs and structuring trade negotiations as a test of which country is dominant and which country’s leader is the “toughest.” President Donald Trump gave the Chinese as their only choices either imposing their own tariffs and fighting back; or capitulating to U.S. demands and being seen by the rest of the world as weak. The Chinese predictably chose the first option.

Those interested in ancient history might point out that had the U.S. participated in the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (a proposed agreement between 12 nations not including China), a wonderful mechanism for confronting China might have existed. But since it was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s trade policy, Trump promptly cancelled it upon gaining the presidency. Another alternative might have been to solicit a unified front against China by most of the world’s major trading nations. That also was rejected by Trump.

Now new tariffs are part of the trading environment between the U.S. and other nations. A similar psychology existed in the early part of the Great Depression. In 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law. That contributed significantly to the severity of the depression. Students of history know that tariffs are just another form of crony-capitalism (government picking winners and losers). A few people love the current tariffs because their formerly non-competitive products are cheaper by comparison with foreign products subject to those tariffs. But the nation’s farmers understand that these tariffs have caused their products to be non-competitive. Ultimately, of course, U.S. consumers will suffer the most in the form of higher prices.

It may take many years to repair the trading relationships Trump has spent a short time destroying. They may never recover. As the evolving belligerence between the U.S. and Iran becomes more worrisome, the relationship between the U.S. and its former NATO allies likewise may suffer permanent damage. The U.S. under Trump is blowing up bridges around the globe. His followers appear to be unconcerned. Their blind faith in him is most puzzling.

How can those U.S. voters who will be most injured by Mr. Trump’s trade and foreign policy failures have the same kind of blind faith in their leader that the Soviet workers in Chernobyl once had in theirs?

Much of the harm caused by the beneficiary of this blind faith will not be visible immediately. Like Chernobyl’s radiation poisoning, it will be insidious, serious, and indiscriminate—and apparent only after far too much time has elapsed.

Craig A. Van Matre is a retired attorney formerly with Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis and Taylor.