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Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and America’s principles 

Last month in Japan, President Obama focused international attention on the kinds of principles that should define a great nation.

In a careful, eloquent speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, he mourned the losses there and all of the losses of that war and others. Acting as part teacher, part preacher, he noted that violence seems to have been woven into human nature from the beginning. And he urged that the world find ways to rise above that violence, that we "change our mindset about war."

The memory of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he said, should remind us that "we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently." We should strive "to see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition; to define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build."

"And perhaps above all," he said "we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race" and choose a future "in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening."

In a different time, in a different political climate, in a United States that was less fixated on hate and anger, people of every political persuasion might read Obama's speech and be proud, of him, and of the country that elected him. But this is not that time. And so as Obama gave that speech, back at home the Republican Party's candidate for president was hurling insults and threats, urging destruction, and stoking the anger of an apparently anger-hungry, aggressive nation.

And rather than repudiating him, one after another Republican leader has lined up behind him, putting the perceived interests of their political party above the needs of their country.

And the person who will run against him, the only person who stands a chance at keeping him out of the White House, is a person who is widely disliked and distrusted.

I've tried to resist the feeling that doom is staring this country in the face. But that's becoming more and more difficult, and I'm not alone. You can hardly read any newspaper columnist today, liberal or conservative, and not find a sense of horror and dread.

"Democracy, freedom, civilization -- it all hangs by a thread," the conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote recently. "America was always just an idea, a dream founded in the faith that men were capable of great good. It was a belief made real by an implausible convention of brilliant minds and the enduring courage of generations who fought and died. For what?Surely, not this."

"Donald Trump has taught me to fear my fellow American," the Post's Richard Cohen wrote. "I don't mean the occasional yahoo who turns a Trump rally into a hate fest. I mean the ones who do nothing. Who are silent. Who look the other way. If you had told me a year ago that a hateful brat would be the presidential nominee of a major political party, I would have scoffed. Someone who denigrated women? Not possible. Someone who insulted Mexicans? No way. Someone who mocked the physically disabled? Not in America. Not in my America."

Not in mine either. And yet, as the primaries and the polls have proved, Trump has strong, passionate support.

In his Hiroshima speech, Barack Obama described the future I want, laid out by a president who exemplifies our better nature. And I'm worried. America's senseless anger and hatred is broader than I thought. And even if Hillary Clinton is able to eke out a win, that anger and hatred won't go away.

And that's as big a threat to the country's future as Trump himself.


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