Most Americans probably don’t share this sense that Trump is defiling something noble. For many Trump critics, his misogyny, nativism and religious prejudice are more urgent indictments. For many Trump supporters, the whole idea of nobility in politics is a sham. They can point to Richard Nixon oozing anti-Semitism on the secret tapes, or Bill Clinton having a dalliance in the private hallway near the Oval Office. In this view, political honor is an illusion, dignity is softness, and reverence is pretense. Trump, in refreshing contrast, acts and talks like someone from the real world.

I would dispute the assumption that racism and verbal cruelty are characteristic of ordinary Americans. But in this case, cynicism is also a form of historical blindness. American presidents have often risen to extraordinary moral leadership. Consider Franklin D. Roosevelt pushing a reluctant country toward support for Britain, with the future of liberty in the balance. Or Dwight Eisenhower sending in the 101st Airborne to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. Or Ronald Reagan insisting that the Cold War could be won, because the yoke of oppression does not fit human shoulders.