Trump has gotten as far as he has after running a campaign most notable for its complete lack of policy substance and a media strategy that consists of pathological lying. He has exposed giant chunks of the press corps as craven and pathetic. He has shown that 45 percent of the voting public, give or take, is willing to elect someone who has spent the past year campaigning openly as a crass bigot who hates the women he’s not having sex with (and he probably hates them, too). He has proved that running as a white nationalist is not an immediate disqualifier for the presidency of the United States in 20–freaking–16. Politicians have always run “against” institutions or people, whether they are insurance companies or government bureaucrats. But never in modern history has someone gotten this far in political life by running an entire campaign based on grievance and rage, and against society’s less fortunate.
The controversy that broke out over the pro-Sanders hashtag #BernieOrBust earlier this week was another manifestation of the underestimation of Trump’s unique threat to democracy. Whatever you think about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, there are quite clearly millions of people in this country (many of them very progressive) who have not wrestled with who Donald Trump is and what he represents. (Even scarier is the fact that so many Americans have wrestled with Trump to some degree, and find him palatable enough.) It’s certainly possible that if the election is close in October, the country will witness a belated freak-out, followed by a huge Democratic turnout wave. But it would also be nice not to wager our future on people becoming appropriately serious only as the clock ticks down.