Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican presidential nominee, and I am afraid.
Not of him. Not really. Trump is neither the first nor the last lying sociopath to walk the Earth — if America's multitudinous anti-Trump forces do what we need to do between now and November, he won't see the Oval Office. I will admit that I'm not unconcerned (I suddenly find that I intend to canvass just as hard for candidate Clinton, about whom I'm not particularly thrilled, as I once did for candidate Obama, about whom I was), but I'm not afraid of him. Not really.
Neither am I afraid (not really) of the campaign's ugliness, though I know it will only get worse. The 2016 campaign is and remains appalling — but the campaign will end.
I'm afraid of the morning after. I'm afraid of what happens when Trump loses.
Trump is not (by any means or measure) the only misogynistic, bigoted xenophobe in the 21st century Republican Party, and in the process of winnowing its primary field, the GOP has given increasingly clamorous voice to a profoundly embittered, violently enraged, and often well-armed minority, in the process normalizing it.
Bitterness, rage, and violence have always been part of the American story, but since roughly the moon landing they've been at least nominally verboten in American politics. The dog whistles and code words with which we're familiar came into common usage because Americans realized that it wasn't always socially expedient to state their hate outright.
The head of the American Freedom Party ("arguably the most important white nationalist group in the country," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) and erstwhile Trump delegate William Johnson (who has said "the skinheads thought I was too extreme to run the organization") recently clarified our new political reality for Mother Jones: "[Trump] is allowing us to talk about things we've not been able to talk about. So even if he is not elected, he has achieved great things."
Indeed. For the first time in the decades since the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK, we find that it is once again hip — or, at the very least, socially acceptable — to be awful. Supporters of the AFP told Mother Jones that Trump's "honest discourse" has allowed them to feel "emancipated."
We've seen in recent years how violent words once emancipated can lead to violent consequences — we've seen mosques attacked, women's health care providers murdered, African Americans slaughtered with their Bibles open before them.
Many angry voters have legitimate grievances, and I certainly don't believe the vast majority of Republicans seek violence — but they don't have to. Chaos doesn't require tens of millions of angry Americans. It only requires a few Americans who believe tens of millions support them. Those who commit politically motivated violence invariably believe they're acting on behalf of people who are too afraid to do so.
Humans become more bold, not less, when they believe they're not alone, and they're particularly prone to bold violence when they find themselves backed into a corner. Trump's supporters and fellow travelers have felt themselves to be backed into a corner for eight long years — as Trump's former butler has made abundantly clear in a series of Facebook posts, one of which declares that Barack Obama "should have been taken out by our military and shot as an enemy agent." The slogan "Make America Great Again" didn't spring from untilled soil.
So what happens when the Great White Hope of angry, embittered, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic America flames out?
I don't know, and that's why I'm afraid. I think about the rage and resentment that are everywhere fanned, named, and given a place of pride in today's GOP, and though I fervently hope Hillary Clinton is elected, I wonder where that rage and resentment will go if and when she is. I know my fear is a win for those who benefit from it, but I can't do anything about that now. Here it is, rooted in my belly, climbing through my veins.
In truth I've felt something like it since the day President Obama announced his candidacy — though that fear has never been quite so amorphous, being laser-focused on a single life. I expect it will live in my belly until Barack Hussein Obama achieves a natural end to his days, or I achieve my own.
Many years ago, when I lived in a different country, I watched a minority of my fellow citizens demonize the leader for whom I'd voted. I watched as they and the opposition party wrapped him in Nazi imagery, I watched as they prayed publicly for his death. I wanted to believe it would come to nothing, that the peace he sought would be greater than their loathing of it, but then I watched as he was buried. It didn't take all of Israel's extremists to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin — it only took one.
The 2016 presidential campaign is ugly and appalling, but it will end. Then — if we're lucky — America will find out what happens when the angry and the aggrieved are told to go home.