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Steinberg: The beginning of Trump’s end

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he would build a wall across the United States southern border and force Mexico to pay for it. | AP file photo

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Whew.

That was fast.

Let history show that the wheels started to come off the Donald Trump bandwagon over the first week of June 2016.

On Friday he was cruising along, while sentient patriotic Americans of both parties squirmed with pit-of-the-stomach dread that this erratic, unqualified bigot might somehow become president of the United States, leading our country to ruin with his misguided, mean-spirited, almost-insane policies.

By Monday, Trump was in the ditch, insisting that his denunciation of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel for being of Mexican heritage was not a gaffe but a legitimate, defendable position. Democrats who have had the this-can’t-be-happening vice tightening on their heads for weeks felt it loosen a few turns as even Republican allies began shying away in disgust. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Trump’s words “the textbook definition of racist comments.” On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk withdrew his support, with more sure to follow, as Republican politicians weigh winning the presidency against preserving their own chances at re-election. On cue, Trump tried to backpedal and tap dance away from his own unambiguous remarks.

Self preservation isn’t the only factor at work here. Part of it is simple defense of our nation and its way of life. What Trump is too stupid to understand is this: if we begin to denounce our fellow citizens as being incapable of doing their jobs because their parents were Mexican immigrants, or because they’re Muslim, or Catholic, or whatever lineage or credo is disagreeing with Donald Trump at the moment, then the country unravels and we become just another balkanized hellhole.

OPINION

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The risk is real. The Soviet Union, remember, was a big, powerful place before it began dissolving into its constituent parts because people decided they were Ukrainians and Uzbeks or whatever first and Soviets not at all. If we’re not all Americans, we’re nothing. It might be a flimsy tissue of connectivity at times, Swiss cheesed, stretched and threadbare. But it’s the only thing binding us together as a nation. Without it, we’re just a bunch of factions living in the same place.

Yes, predicting the political demise of Donald Trump has so far been a loser’s game. He has been the liquid metal Terminator, blown apart into a fine spray of mercury droplets by whatever godawful idiotic blast came out of his mouth. Yet able to reconstitute himself with the encouragement of his rabble of supporters who hate Hillary Clinton more than they love their country and who batted aside serviceable moderates to embrace him.

Maybe Trump will do it again. The dust cloud settles, a single moment of hope, then instead of the credits rolling, the wreckage stirs, the red eye glows, the thing stands, shedding rubble, a big shrug and a grin and forward march toward November. It happened before.

But this feels different. The stakes are clear, if they weren’t before. Sure, some Republicans will attempt that false equivalence trick of theirs where Hillary Clinton ignoring State Department email protocol is somehow on the same level as Donald Trump undermining the judiciary system. Many will buy that. They’ll amp up the rhetoric and the anger and try to shout the truth down. They can always blame the media for reporting what Trump says.

But the truth remains, clearer this week than it was last, for anyone who cares to see: Trump is a demagogue opposed to the rule of law, the rule of decency, anything but the rule of Trump. His candidacy is not about a squeezed middle class or dissatisfaction with the establishment. It is about contempt for America, the America of immigrants, of ethnicities and faiths. Eight years of chafing under an African-American president has driven the Republican Party insane and now they’ve embraced Donald Trump, the embodiment of their weaknesses and flaws. I would almost pity them. But the GOP did this to themselves, firing blindly at Barack Obama and riddling each other. We can’t let them do this to the nation as well.

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