The call presumably came in around 3 a.m., Washington, D.C. time, and it was every bit as horrible as one fears when the phone rings in the dead of night.

Three bombs in Brussels, Belgium -- two at the crowded main airport ticketing area (at 8 a.m. local time), and another about an hour later at a subway station near the headquarters of the European Union. More than 30 people were killed by the blasts, and as many as 200 injured. An entire continent was terrorized, with flights, trains and other activities canceled. And the Islamic State -- ISIS -- claimed credit.

It was shocking, it was sickening -- and sadly, it was nothing new. New York, London, Paris, Madrid -- and let's not forget, despite our Western ethnocentrism, Mumbai, Istanbul, or the regular horror shows of bombings in places like Baghdad and Beirut.

And so we have the rituals that are all too familiar -- the "thoughts and prayers," and the politicians with their oh-so-carefully crafted sympathy tweets and statements. We get to be reminded one more time of the philosopher Hannah Arendt's phrase, "the banality of evil." But the crimes against humanity committed by those who brand themselves as "freedom fighters" but are really just vicious thugs -- showing their "courage" killing innocent travelers at a ticket counter or clerks reporting to their desks at the World Trade Center -- can never be considered banal, not if society's moral center is to hold.

The final ritual is the one that is most life affirming. As night fell this evening on the Belgium capital, hundreds gathered in the Place de la Bourse, the city's central square, to hold hands, to write messages of peace with chalk, and to sing patriotic songs. To declare, boldly, that we will not be afraid.

In other words, the kind of bravery that can so quickly dissipate here at home when people start running for president of the United States.

We shouldn't even have to talk about this -- but it becomes so unavoidable. In a time like March 2016, when America is more wrapped up in the race for the White House than any year since the tumultuous events of 1968, presidential politics tramples everything, including the rituals of mourning the dead.

Indeed, most Americans hadn't even heard of the Brussels killings when they woke up this morning at 7 a.m. to hear the Queens-soaked blather of one Donald J. Trump -- apparently eager to comment on the terrorist attack before all the facts were known, which of course would fit Trump's M.O. of not knowing facts, generally.

For American voters, if nothing else, the Brussels attacks were a reminder that dealing with unpredictable and unhappy world events is one of the most important things that the next president will do, especially now that passing legislation or even getting your Supreme Court justice pick voted on is no longer a thing. In the current primaries and the November general election, voters will have to weigh: Is this candidate capable of a level and reasoned response in a crisis, or just a hothead? How knowledgeable are his or her advisers? And, this year for the first time, is this candidate capable of picking up an iPhone and starting World War III in 140 characters or less?

Ironically, the Brussels crisis struck as Trump -- with the GOP nomination firmly in his sights -- was wrapping up a whirlwind tour of D.C. in which he upended every conventional notion of what a potential U.S. president should know and how he should conduct himself.

While in the nation's capital, Trump unveiled a beyond-undistinguished foreign policy team that includes a 2009 college grad who lists going to the Model UN as one of his top achievements -- exactly who'd you want handling a crisis like an ISIS terror attack. He gave the Washington Post editorial board an English-as-a-second-language answer about fighting ISIS, and then told a young woman who'd asked him a tough query: "I really hope I answered your question" adding, "Beautiful." He spoke to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC and got a huge laugh when he claimed he'd studied President Obama's Iran deal "actually greater by far than anybody else" -- a notion that struck everyone there as absurd.

After news of the attack in Belgium, it got worse. He went on CNN and brought back his call for waterboarding, the form of torture that is banned by international treaty (one signed by Ronald Reagan, no less) and has served as a tool to recruit young anti-American jihadis. He insisted that torture works and if you don't believe him "talk to General Patton" -- who died in a 1945 car crash.

Still, looking at the wider race for the White House, it may be be too easy to shut down Trump's know-nothing party when there are other candidates who craft "smarter" appeals to the same horrible instincts of xenophobia and religious hate. Today, that was Trump's leading GOP rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who called for special, extra police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods in the United States, a worse-than-lousy idea with an uncomfortable reek of how some 20th Century dictators had policed religious enclaves.

Take another step back, and I think you'll agree the level of foreign policy debate in this race -- the most heavily covered presidential election ever, at least on TV -- hasn't been up to snuff. On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with an interesting history of opposing U.S. militarism, has so far flubbed his chance to offer a unique foreign policy perspective. The one candidate with actual foreign-policy experience, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has enough experience to raise questions about her judgment, from her vote for the Iraq war as a senator in 2002 to her advocacy for the ill-fated 2012 Libya intervention.

Then there's the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize too early in 2009 and thus has to earn it every day, has done a lot of things you don't even hear discussed widely in the 2016 debates, like negotiating with our adversaries such as Iran and Cuba -- which, ironically, is where he was when today's 3 a.m. phone call came. Obama's measured approach on foreign affairs -- negotiation-oriented, but with the occasional drone strike -- has brought measured results. His efforts in Syria with the rise of ISIS -- dropping a lot of bombs, mainly -- not only hasn't worked so well but has fueled the refugee crisis, which has placed great pressure on Europe. And that pressure was likely a factor in the horrors of Paris and now Brussels.

This is the real world -- in which a smart, rational problem-solver with some of the planet's brightest advisers struggles slowly to make headway. Now imagine this world that gave us Brussels -- but with a hothead like Donald Trump holding the nuclear briefcase or with an amoral Islamophobe like Ted Cruz calling the shots.

It's 3 a.m. Does America know where its next president is?