The day after one of the greatest political upsets in world history, I dug out my July 2016 exchange with “David,” an Ohio left-wing retired law professor whom I once considered my best friend. He wrote:
“Donald Trump — the screaming, the red face, the slashing hand gestures, the repeated appeals to familial blood spilled by outsiders, the vow to deport 3 percent of the American population.
“The demonization of our present leaders as stupid, as weak, as corrupt, as criminals, as traitors, as not citizens, as not Christians.
“The mischaracterization of our country as broken, as suffering, as crushed underfoot by foreign forces.
“The assertion that only he can save us …
“This is unique to American politics, Larry. But the world has seen this before.
“If you can’t see it after last night’s speech I am afraid you will never see it.
“You have spent your entire career denying that racism still exists. You were wrong. Racism is a powerful force, a dark and tempting lure that can be used by a fanatical leader to frighten and manipulate multitudes. Now you have a raving lunatic racist as the Republican nominee. What will you do? Will you continue to support him? Will you stay silent? You are a man of great influence, and I have faith in you to do the right thing and help to save our country.
“Name one time I ‘denied that racism still exists’! One. I’ve never written such a thing, said such a thing, or believed such a thing. It is beyond insulting.
“Not only does racism still exist in America, but bigotry does. And you are an example of it. You’re bigoted against conservatives, against people who believe the government is too big, against people, like my father, who grew up in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression, who believed that racism, sexism and whatever ‘isms’ you want to put forth are no longer major forces in America.
“By making such an asinine statement you reduce yourself to the subterranean level of credibility you claim Trump possesses.
“After that I need not — and won’t — respond to anything else you said in your email.
“But I will say this. Get used to it. You just heard the next president of the United States. He’s going to get elected. And it will be, in no small measure, because of the hysterical, unfair, demonic characterization of him by you and others who, by doing this, malign many soon-to-be Trump-voting Americans, who feel they’re working harder and longer and making less money as a result of the policies of the last eight years.
“When he gets elected, go to the nearest mirror — you played a large role in it.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I have a much better handle on how much of America feels and thinks than you do. You think you do, but you don’t.
“I’ve seen the Trump phenomenon divide friends and families. I never really thought it would happen between you and me.
“But this is the first time I truly feel insulted, demeaned and caricatured by you — simply because I see things differently. I have many, many left-wing friends. I live in California. Honestly, how many conservative friends do you have? I bet the answer is — after this letter — none.
“These kinds of divisions are inevitable when people are presented with choices that are this momentous. Americans faced a similar choice in the 1850s, Germany in the 1930s. I told you before that Trump is a categorically different candidate. He is not a (John) McCain, or a (Mitt) Romney, or a George or Jeb Bush, men with whom I disagree but who are honorable, decent people, and none of whom support Trump. Trump is a demagogue and a racist. He openly admires dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, and if the report regarding his keeping the book of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside is accurate, then him as well. He openly appeals to violence and has expressly vowed to imprison his principal political opponent if he wins and has implicitly called for her to be assassinated if he loses. He rejects the Western alliance of democratic nations in favor of doing business with the Russian kleptocracy.
“I am not deceived as to Trump’s popularity. You are right that many people adore Trump. I had hoped you were not one of them. His level of support does not change his essential character; it is what makes him dangerous. I deeply mourn our friendship. But this is just the beginning of this conflict, and the choices we make will define all of us.”
This is, indeed, “just the beginning of this conflict” — the conflict between those who denounced Trump as a racist and a bigot and the American voters who see him and his vision in a very different way. Deal with it.