This is no longer an election campaign. This is a war. And Donald Trump is the enemy.
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When you live in a war zone, you tend to develop a keen sense of when a war is beginning. It feels like the first, long, G-laden climb of an old unsteady roller coaster. There is the slow white-knuckle crank to the cliff, and right after, the flash of vision and sudden reality and dread that whacks you from the view at that all-too-brief pause at the top.
The Republican Party knows it. They tried to stop Donald Trump. They tried to stop him because they fear that Donald Trump could be the end of America.
They tried to warn us. They threw everything they had at him. They went so far as to boycott their own convention.
They tried to prevent a war against America. A war, declared by Trump on the very day 13 months ago that he announced his candidacy. A war against the American Experiment, against its democracy, against its Constitution, against its principles of equality, against its aspirations to goodness, against the richness and might of its diversity. Against the American people.
The Republicans failed. And they're scared to death.
When you live in a war zone abroad, America looks different. A nation stripped to its essentials. The last best hope of people who have nowhere else to turn.
Until this campaign, until Donald Trump, we saw a country which stood for a quest, a quest for liberty for the oppressed, a quest for opportunity for those long held back, a quest for advancement based on merit rather than nepotism and corruption, a quest for a nation in which the quality of your character would matter more than the specifics of your color, gender, or faith.
Now we see a nation threatened. A nation targeted by one of its own. Come January, the land of the free and the home of the brave could become the United States of Trump.
This week, when the Democratic Convention began, stumbling over itself, Donald Trump was in full gloating mode. This man, who is so colossally unprepared for high office — even for local office — was fully ready at the beginning of the week to take the presidential oath.
But something miraculous is happening in Philadelphia. Something that could save the American experiment. You could hear it in the fire and the urgency and the heartache and the humanity of speaker after speaker, Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, the Mothers of the Movement, Donna Brazile, the President and the Vice-President, Tim Kaine and the quietly lethal former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
They've gone to war. Every one.
They've been magnificent. But there remains one person who outdid them.
This week, the speaker who did the most damage to the Trump campaign, and who's made the best case for Hillary Clinton, was Donald Trump.
Psychically unable to cede a stage to anyone else, Trump convened a news conference in Florida on Wednesday. He wanted us to get to know him better.
And now we have.
By turns insulting and incoherent, he is running for president as a man deranged, inept, clueless, unable even to begin to control so much as his own words and actions.
Regarding those who had hacked, stolen, and leaked emails of Democratic Party officials, Trump — heeding none of the significance of his own words in a democratic society — declared:
"Honestly I wish I had that power. I'd love to have that power.
And then, the quicksand of his thought processes shifting, he added "But Russia has no respect for our country."
We've gotten to know him, all right. We have gotten to know a man who will stop at nothing to gain what he wants. We have come to know why. He has forced us to see it. He is sadistically vindictive, flagrantly hypocritical, proudly divisive. He will harm anyone, say anything, declare the opposite, to get what he wants.
During the news conference, Trump spoke as if the election were already in the bag. Having begun his campaign by declaring war on Hispanics, women, Muslims, immigrants, and war veterans and Republicans like John McCain, he was confident that he now had the votes of all of them.
In the manner of the unapologetically megalomanic, Trump has decided that the task of unifying the American people is both beneath him and beside the point. His goals, he tells us, are larger in scope:
Remarking that Russia and its leader were not behind the hacking and the timing of the leaks, he declared:
"Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with people, wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I'm all for it."
Only then did he drop the bomb. "And if it is Russia — which it's probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it's really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything. But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this — Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing."
Here was a man who had placed himself at the head of a patchwork army united in little but a molten, unquenchable hatred of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Many, with legitimate grievances and disagreements, are simply hoping for the best. Others, the white supremacists, the doomsday preppers, the home-office Hitlerjugend, are hoping for the very worst.
Trump, meantime, revels in his ability to elude the demolition debris of his own pyrrhic success. In only 13 months, he has destroyed a political party founded 162 years ago to end slavery and work toward equal opportunity. He is turning any last semblance of the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Trump.
That's what he does. He rebrands, he talks big, he mismanages, he stiffs, he exploits, he profits. Then he declares bankruptcy and moves on.
Donald Trump has finished with the Republican Party. Now his target is the nation as a whole.
This is a war which America did not start, but must win to survive. America is not used to fighting wars on its own soil.
In the manner of people who cannot control themselves, Donald Trump is daring America to stop him.
It won't be the Second Amendment to the Constitution that protects the weapons which will win this war. It will the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th — which protect the most powerful weapon that human beings have ever devised:
Take it from someone who lives in a far-away war zone, a place where we've learned what it's like when democracy comes under assault from the very top down:
On Tuesday, November 8, vote as if American democracy itself were under attack. Because it is. No one disputes that Donald Trump can do anything he puts his mind to. That's precisely the problem.
Whether you like it or not, you're at war. Register to vote. Vote for Hillary Clinton. Get others to vote for her as well.
If, after this week, you still believe there's no difference between Hillary or One Nation Under Trump, you can start now preparing your rationalizations to your neighbors about how well-meaning you were back on Election Day.
If, in that postwar future, your neighbors haven't been taken away yet. Or you haven't.