Gene Kerrigan: Donald Trump, the angriest white man
For many, it's not who wins the White House that matters, it's who doesn't win
Did you see the knife going in? Last Tuesday, as the Trump presidential bid seemed on the verge of imploding, Barack Obama spoke softly. He appeared at his most thoughtful. In truth, he was being vicious, partisan and unforgiving.
And the knife wasn't going into Trump.
There's a lot more at stake than the future of Donald Trump's presidential ambitions.
Obama said that if he'd lost in 2008 or 2012 he'd have had no doubt that John McCain or Mitt Romney would be fit to lead the country - despite his disagreements with them.
But that's not the case with Trump, he said. Trump lacks "the judgement, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world".
Seeming to appeal directly to the leaders of the Republican Party, Obama said: "If you are repeatedly having to say, in very strong terms, that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?"
He seemed to be speaking in sorrow, encouraging his opponents to have the courage of their convictions, to abandon Trump as a danger to the country.
But, that wasn't the aim. Obama was seeking to chain the Republicans more firmly to Trump.
There is indeed a dump Trump movement within the Republicans. In November, there are Congressional elections, too. Wealthy donors are disgusted that the buffoon is damaging the prospects of candidates they are financing. Hard-nosed Republicans are genuinely worried at the prospect of Trump in charge of the nuclear codes.
Obama's words aimed to neutralise that movement. After he spoke, if the Republicans ditched the loudmouth it would seem they hadn't the brains or the courage to do so until Obama took them by the hand. And the notion that their party leaders took advice from Obama would enrage the Republican base even more.
The aim is not just to defeat Trump but to do lasting damage to the Republican Party. "What", said Obama, twisting the knife, "does this say about your party, that this is your standard-bearer?"
Given the American veneration for the military, it was Trump's attack on the parents of a dead soldier that caused him severe damage. Perhaps even more damaging was his casual acceptance of a Purple Heart medal from an adoring veteran.
A Purple Heart is given to soldiers who have been wounded. A less self-centred politician would have thanked the veteran and insisted on returning the medal. Draft-dodger Trump accepted it with delight, gave a thumbs up and announced that he'd "always wanted a Purple Heart". He treated the respected medal as though it was a rare stamp, baseball card or Pokemon.
There are three things going on in the US election. First, and least (although most entertaining), is the Trump candidacy. Second, the long-term struggle between the Republican and Democrat parties. Third, and most important, the coalition of interests that is changing the structure of power in US politics.
Trump is dangerous. He's a bird-brained fascist without the organised party that might ground his movement within the racist, misogynist base that won him the Republican nomination. He is from the Great Leader school; he doesn't argue, he makes grand gestures - build a wall, keep out the Mexicans, ban the Muslims, kick out the immigrants, fix the economy, Make America Great. There's a violent edge to his rhetoric.
The New York Times put a video online from inside the Trump rallies, with the worst of American society whooping it up, eyes alight with joy: "F**k Islam! Build the wall! F**k those dirty beaners! Send them bastards back! Get out of here, you fag! Tramp! Bitch! Kill her! Kill the bitch! Trump the bitch! Hillary is a whore! F**k you, Hillary!" A mention of Obama: "F**k that nigger!"
T-shirts, badges: "Life's a bitch, don't vote for one."
Followers held up their right hands and swore a loyalty oath. Disgusting, but fortunately - so far - Trump doesn't have his Goering, his Goebbels or his Himmler.
He's already laying down the basis for a whinging afterlife, if he loses in November. The election will be rigged, he says.
His aim will be to continue the struggle by trying to delegitimise a Clinton victory. Just as many Republicans never accepted Obama's victory (claiming he wasn't born in the USA), so they will continue in the event of a Clinton victory (the election was rigged against us).
The Republicans spent eight years encouraging the racism they hoped would delegitimise Obama's presidency. They laid the groundwork for Trump's more vulgar bigotry. Even today, after Obama's eight years in office, 43pc of Republicans believe him to be a Muslim, over 20pc believe he was born abroad.
The result: Republicans have lost control of the party to Trump. He's far less inhibited in inspiring bigotry, and far more efficient at it. He almost casually threw aside his Republican opponents, exposing them as weak and uncertain.
Of more interest is the unannounced coalition focused on getting Hillary Clinton into office. It's the coalition that won two terms for Barack Hussein Obama.
Much of Trump's appeal is to angry white men who want back the country they knew, and their fathers knew, in the good old days. It was a country based on segregation. If you were white, you had a head start in everything - jobs, housing, the front of the bus.
Many who support Trump got a raw deal from the American dream - but they believed it was their country, it belonged to people who look like them and think like them. Sharing - with people who don't look like them, women, gays, people born elsewhere - is difficult.
As civil rights progressed, and all that followed from that, angry white males increasingly swapped Democrat for Republican. In 2008 and 2012, the Republicans hugely attracted the white vote, particularly the male white vote.
Once, that would have tipped the balance. In 2008, though, all those who felt threatened by the politics of angry white males came together to elect Obama. African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, women, gays.
In 2012, Obama won 93pc of the black vote, 73pc of Asians, 71pc of Latinos. Mitt Romney won the white vote by a margin of 20pc, but it wasn't nearly enough.
The undeclared coalition was of people who - rightly - fear that the Republicans would make their lives hell.
Many of us may have had grand notions of what Obama might do, but the people who elected him wanted him to protect their civil rights, reproductive rights, employment rights, healthcare rights, and so on.
For many, it was significant that they were electing the first black president. If Clinton wins, it will be significant that they are electing the first woman president. But, overwhelmingly, it will be about the rights that will be pushed back if the Republicans win.
Trump, the angriest white male, insulting everyone else, should ensure the Democrat coalition holds.
Anything might happen. A major terrorist attack, a Wikileaks document dump that ruins Clinton.
One or other candidate, or both, might get shot.
Voting is not always about getting someone elected. It's often about stopping something happening.