This time, our eyes are wide open.
Exactly two years ago, many Americans held their noses and voted for Donald Trump. Some were conservatives willing to tolerate his vulgar excesses in hopes of getting tax cuts, a repeal of Obamacare and a friendlier judiciary. Others had Clinton fatigue. Sure, they were concerned about Trump's words about Mexican "rapists" and what he liked to do to women — but maybe those were just words. Maybe Trump could build a coalition across traditional party lines to get things done.
Now, all Americans have seen the results with their own eyes:
Trump defended neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville.
He oversaw a policy separating young children from their parents and warehoused the kids at the border, including some who have yet to be reunited.
He took Vladimir Putin's word over that of the U.S. intelligence community, accepting Russia's denial that it interfered in our election.
He implemented a ham-handed attempt at a "Muslim ban": a travel ban that caused chaos and, in its early incarnations, was struck down as unconstitutional.
He then challenged the legitimacy of a "so-called" judge who temporarily blocked the ban.
He swung erratically from the verge of nuclear war with North Korea, threatening "fire and fury . . . the likes of which the world has never seen before," to declaring he had fallen "in love" with dictator Kim Jong Un and pronouncing the nuclear threat ended — though no agreement had been reached.
He fired the FBI director, attacked the attorney general and his deputy, and undermined the rule of law by portraying the Justice Department and the FBI as "corrupt."
He lied about hush money paid to an adult-film actress, as recounted in a guilty plea by the lawyer who arranged the payment.
He had hired Paul Manafort and three other senior campaign advisers who eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted in a sprawling and ongoing criminal probe of Russia, Trump and the 2016 election.
He attacked the news media as the "enemy of the people."
He befriended some of the world's most loathed autocrats, including Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose extralegal death squads have killed thousands; and he refused to take serious action after the Saudi regime murdered and dismembered a Post contributing columnist in Turkey.
He opened personal rifts with the leaders of Britain, Germany, Canada and other countries that had been stalwart allies.
He has released an unending stream of invective on Twitter and in speeches, often in vulgar and misogynistic terms.
He insulted John McCain after the Arizona senator's death, initially not ordering flags to be flown at half-staff.
He has established a whole new level of mendacity, averaging 30 false or misleading statements a day now, and totaling 6,420 such bogus claims during his presidency.
And he has exploited and worsened divisions among Americans, coarsened public discourse and used racial hatred, resentment of women's gains and fear of immigrants and minorities as political weapons.
Now, we are seeing Trump close the midterm campaign with openly racist appeals:
He derided "globalists" to fuel a conspiracy theory about Jewish billionaire George Soros invisibly working against America, even after Trump was urged to stop using anti-Semitic tropes.
He fabricated an "emergency" about a caravan of Central American asylum seekers, hundreds of miles from the U.S. border, and ordered a massive mobilization of the military, declaring that the troops should be able to fire on unarmed people.
He declared that he can unilaterally revoke the Constitution's guarantee of citizenship for anyone born in the United States.
He offered more conspiracy theories even after a crazed Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to CNN and a dozen of the president's oft-cited enemies, and when a lunatic apparently motivated by the Trump-inspired paranoia about the caravan murdered 11 Jews worshiping at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
And he closed the campaign with a vile ad showing a Mexican man who killed two police officers, accompanied by the message: "Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay" — though the killer came to the United States during the presidency of George W. Bush.
On Tuesday, voters will make a decision in what is the purest midterm referendum on a sitting president in modern times:
Will we take a step, even a small one, back from the ugliness and the race-baiting that has engulfed our country?
Or will we affirm that we are really the intolerant and frightened people Donald Trump has made us out to be?
If we choose the latter, 2018 will in some ways be more difficult to take than 2016. This time, we don't have the luxury of saying we didn't really know what Trump would do.
Our eyes are wide open.
November 3, 2018
Dana Milbank wrote this. It appeared in The Washington Post.
November 3, 2018