Donald Trump has been formally nominated as the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Now, every American voter faces a question that must overrule all others: Should we give the nuclear codes to a man with absolutely no national security experience at all, who explicitly rejects all professional military advice, and whose well-documented personality is ruled by narcissism, dishonesty, the thinnest of skins, a quickness to anger and an absolute lack of impulse control?
Presidents have meaningful but deeply limited authority in domestic matters. There is only so much they can do to effect the economy, immigration policy, the Second Amendment, or social issues like marriage equality and abortion. But presidents have virtually unlimited power when it comes to ordering American troops into battle to kill and die.
It is no exaggeration to say that an American president can, with almost nothing standing in their way, wake up from a nap and decide to end every life on earth in the span of that afternoon. Incidentally, the man who actually wrote The Art of the Deal for Trump fears that, if elected, he could well do exactly that.
With this understanding, Donald Trump stops being funny pretty damn quickly. With this understanding, arguments about whether Hillary Clinton is liberal or conservative enough, or takes good enough care of her email, begin to sound ludicrous. With this understanding, all of us need to face a simple and terrible truth, unprecedented in our nation's history: We face a presidential nominee so irredeemably unfit to serve as commander-in-chief that he poses a genuine threat to the country.
We should not use the word "threat" lightly -- especially in this context. So let's consider, for a moment, the ramifications of what Trump himself says he will do. In other words, let's do what may be the hardest thing anyone can with respect to Donald Trump, and take the man at his word.
For instance, it isn't hard to draw a line between Trump's campaign rhetoric and the possibility of the biggest crisis in civil-military relations in our time. Trump has repeatedly said that he will order American troops to abdicate our values by demanding they execute policies like torture ("waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse") and killing the family members of suspected terrorists. His "policy" thinking is driven apparently not by what is good for our national security, but by a bloodthirsty drive to match the savagery of our enemies. And no matter how many senior national security leaders insist these orders will be refused, Trump maintains that his cult of personality will force our men and women in uniform to obey him.
Trump also would reimagine the international system in his own image. Since at least 1987, he has been arguing that the world is "laughing at" America for funding global security. However inflated his conception of his own net worth may be, Trump is indeed a businessman at heart; he is incapable of understanding anything but purely transactional relationships, so he can't get beyond "everyone pays 50-50 for tanks and planes." This simplified thinking has driven him to start Twitter fights with multiple world leaders, question the utility of NATO in a time of increased Russian aggression, and insult the very Muslim allies abroad who are so key to his implausible plans to defeat ISIL "big time." The shortsighted, calamitous Brexit vote is the ideal foreign policy model for Trump -- as opposed to the Greatest Generation's tireless sacrifices to weave the security and prosperity of nations together by way of international institutions.
And of course, Trump has a downright frightening track record when it comes to nuclear weapons. In keeping with his views on allies and protection fees, he's posited that a conflict between Japan and North Korea "would be a terrible thing but if they do, they do." This is, of course, an extension of his musing that perhaps Japan, South Korea and even Saudi Arabia should simply get their own nuclear weapons; as for the United States, he has refused to rule out using tactical nuclear weapons in the Middle East or even in Europe. Considering that Trump's answer to a question about the nuclear triad was to say that "nuclear changes the whole ballgame" -- especially given that he had been asked the same question by the same host months earlier and taken none of the intervening time to understand our nation's most powerful weapons -- this bravado and ignorance is negligent on a scale that could threaten humanity.
Individually, any of these ideas would be damaging to national security. Taken together, they're a catastrophe.
But Trump's ideas, as bizarre and dangerous as they are, are not even the real problem -- it's Trump's fundamental character that is the real dealbreaker. There is no better version of him, no world in which he changes his mind or spins himself into another set of positions, which can change that reality. It is simply impossible at this point for anyone to claim not to know that Trump is irredeemably unfit for command.
The truth about Trump is staring us in the face. The choice each of us must make is to admit that truth, or hide from it. This isn't about politics anymore. It is a question of patriotism and personal character.
GOP leaders who have not done so already must finally put country above party and admit that Trump is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief. It will feel good to stop twisting yourselves into knots to justify his latest embarrassment or outrage, and it will feel even better when you come out of this election cycle with your reputation and your integrity intact. Doing anything else is craven and un-American -- and if that isn't good enough, it's the right move for you in the long run.
GOP leaders who do publicly oppose Trump but who have made a career out of publicly smearing Hillary Clinton must also admit an uncomfortable truth: she is a more or less conventional politician, not a bigoted monster or temperamental child. As long as the indefatigable "both sides are to blame" chorus continues to paint Clinton and Trump as a somehow equivalent evils and clings to the impossible dream of an independent swooping in to win the White House, they're only making Trump's election more likely.
And finally, for the rest of us, it's time to finally cut through the noise and get serious. Whatever you think about any of the other important issues on the table this year, please: for just one minute, close your eyes and really imagine Donald Trump sitting in the oval office, with the nuclear suitcase open before him. Imagine him holding your son's or daughter's life in his hands -- in fact, all of our lives in his hands.
Then, make your choice.