Do you want to know the scariest part of what just happened in New Hampshire. It's that in a few short months. too many of us have grown too used to the idea. The idea that a guy with no policy ideas other than that his orange-topped brilliance will force the Chinese to cower, the Mexicans to pay for a giant wall and that he will "make America great again" can actually capture the presidential nomination of the party of Abraham Lincoln. The idea that a short-fingered, anti-woman tweeting, anti-immigrant hate-mongering vulgarian named Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States.
As I write this, the newsroom TVs are glowing red, white and blue with the predictable pundit prattling. There's a lot of focus on the race for second place in the Granite State, and on who's moving up going into the next round of states. But let's not dismiss Trump's victory tonight. We shouldn't. We can't. There's too much at stake.
Trump's appeal, especially to blue-collar independents, is testament to the anger that a large and powerful voting bloc -- dominated by older white males -- is feeling in an era when America is becoming increasingly non-white and the middle class is continually undermined. The unlikely rise of the inexperienced real-estate magnate will probably be compared to other iconic political moments -- from LBJ's moral defeat in the snows of New Hampshire in '68 to Obama's surge eight years ago.
Do not listen to them. There has never been anything like this in the nearly 240-year history of these United States. The rise of Donald Trump is no credit to political strategy or calculation, but rather it is a case of the chickens coming home to roost -- in a democratic system that has been badly broken for decades.
The public's quest for entertainment crowding out any serious political discourse. Old-time hatred toward women, racial minorities and immigrants repackaged and re-branded as "a war on political correctness." A vainglorious billionaire successfully selling his "independence" -- because so many of our elected officials have been bought off by other billionaires over the years. And a news media -- desperate for eyeballs and ad dollars -- that can't stop hyping this yuuuuugely entertaining hijacking of democracy, because the latest flap is just so outrageous! Donald Trump's rapid march on Cleveland and possibly the White House is the culmination of so many dangerous things that we've willfully ignored for so many years.
Until now, when it's nearly too late.
America has survived a lot of things -- the shame of slavery, the burning of the White House, a civil war, the shame of Jim Crow, attacks on Pearl Harbor and on Lower Manhattan, a senseless war started with the lies of a Democratic president and a senseless war started with the lies of a Republican president. Maybe it could survive the presidency of Donald J. Trump...but I'm not 100 percent convinced. His campaign so far has offered the cult of a personality as a stand-in for the rule of law, and that could pose a very grave threat to the American experiment in liberty.
At home, Trump has already promised to essentially suspend the Constitution to end birthright citizenship for millions of Americans while carrying out the mass deportation of 11-12 million human beings -- a move that would make the disgraceful World War II interment of Japanese-Americans seem like a Sunday hike in the park. Abroad, Trump has committed himself to a violent and reckless foreign policy in the Middle East that could bring us to the brink of World War III. In a world where we've foolishly built the nuclear weapons that could destroy the planet many times over, an arrogant and impulsive egomaniac who gets his foreign-policy know-how from watching retired generals on Fox News could have the keys to the nuclear suitcase.
And this was before the New Hampshire campaign, where Trump promised America that he would bring back the war crimes of the torture era in a way that make waterboarding seem like a Main Line yoga class, and where he stood on a stage (allegedly repeating the words of a supporter, but still...) and called a U.S. senator the P-word, in another new low in a season chock full of them.
America needs to wake up. Tonight.
It's only mildly reassuring that half of all Americans understand that a Trump presidency would be an embarassment to America. Trump right now has a big lead in the key states from South Carolina to Florida that makes it doubtful that any Republican rival can catch him. And 2016 has so far been a political season unlike any other. So while I continue to think the Hillary Clinton email controversy is overblown, no average citizens know all the facts yet, and the FBI director -- a GOP holdover from the Bush era -- may well push for criminal charges that would roil the fall election. And if Bernie Sanders -- who's offered actual policies to the working class instead of slogans -- grabs the nomination, he will be submitted to a barrage of red-baiting that would have made Joe McCarthy blush.
And stopping Trump is not easy. His supporters have mostly closed their ears and their minds -- labeling the many valid criticisms of the real-estate developer as merely pointy-headed liberals resenting a man who "tells it like it is." For all the countless hours of bad, fawning journalism about Trump, there's also been a lot of good journalism about his failings as a businessman and as a human being and his ridiculous scam of a "Trump University" -- and no one seems to give a (bleep.)
The fragile majority of Americans who smell disaster in a Trump presidency needs to stick together. Whenever there's an opportunity, righteous citizens need to remind their neighbors and co-workers that the 2016 campaign -- as entertaining as it can be at times -- isn't a bonus season of "The Apprentice" or "Survivor," but a fight for the survival of America as a sane and functioning democracy.
I've used this quote before, but it's especially relevant right now: The late Yogi Berra said once of the shadows in Yankee Stadium, "It gets late early out there." New Hampshire may have been the first primary, but already it feels pretty late. I know that I'm posting this in the dead of a winter night. But it's time to wake up, America.