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What Trump’s support says about the country 

There's a risk that I'm overreacting, but I'll ask this anyway: In Donald Trump's continuing strength, are we witnessing the rise of a disturbing new political movement rooted in nationalism and ethnic hatred?

I've been concerned about Trump's rantings for months, but until recently I thought he had no chance to be nominated, let alone be elected. Now, despite Ted Cruz's recent surge, I wouldn't bet against Trump. And just as scary is the racism and xenophobia that Trump's candidacy has unleashed.

Thousands of people are cheering him on at campaign events. In Iowa, in New Hampshire, in Arizona, South Carolina, Alabama.

How real is that support? It's hard to tell. But Trump is leading in nearly all the polls. And until this past weekend, none of Trump's outrages had dented his poll numbers - not his mocking of John McCain's Vietnam War record, not his slurs against Mexicans, not his call for keeping Muslims out of the country.

And late last week, the New England Police Benevolent Association - which represents about 200 local police and corrections-facility unions - endorsed Trump for president.

Will all of this translate into the Republican nomination? I still think not. Trump isn't the first American who has captured public enthusiasm by capitalizing on fear and bigotry. Usually, in the end, we come to our senses. And surely, one way or another, that'll happen before next November.

But that won't undo the immense damage Trump is doing, to the Republican Party, and to the entire country. And it won't cork the hatred he has set loose.

In the New York Times last weekend, Timothy Egan noted that several white supremacist leaders are publicly praising Trump.

Those few extremists "probably don't amount to a hill of beans," said Egan. "But what about the 35 percent of Republican voters, in the New York Times/CBS News poll, who say they're all in with the man siegheiled by aspiring brownshirts and men in white sheets?"

"What he's done is to give marginalized Americans permission to hate," Egan said.

"Donald Trump isn't the problem," said the headline on a Slate article. "It's time we face the fact that he's just channeling the bigotry of the Republican Party's base."

Actually, Trump seems to be channeling the bigotry - and the hatred and anger - of people of all political persuasions. It's hard to calculate how much deeper his support runs than the crowds turning out at his rallies. But we have no reason to think they're all Republicans. No reason at all.

"Well, if the media would just quit paying attention to him," more than one person has said to me. On the contrary, the media need to keep up the coverage, and all of us need to pay attention - to what Trump says, how the public is responding, and what that says about this country.

Trump's rivals seem paralyzed, trapped between wanting to pull the campaign in a saner direction and not wanting to offend his supporters. Republican Party leaders are apparently taking him seriously, at last, and are discussing ways to keep the nomination out of his hands.

But their goal is just to keep him from destroying their party's reputation and its chance to win the presidency and keep control of the House and the Senate. Hardly any are speaking out against the language - and the man himself - as contrary to American values. Hardly any are warning that Trump's rants can inspire violence and hatred. Hardly any have noted that he is a threat to the country, its citizens, and its reputation abroad.

Their silence speaks volumes, about them, and about their principles. And their silence, like the roars of the crowds at the Trump rallies, suggests a danger every bit as scary as the terrorism they're obsessed with.

Note that it's the xenophobic Cruz who is gaining on Trump.

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