It’s the loaf. Not the crumbs.

I’m witnessing a shift in my understanding of the trumpeter. And I don’t like my conclusion one bit. Of course we know he’s a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, con artist, etc. etc. — generally speaking a bad excuse for a human. But if we follow that logic, we’re missing the point. We’re looking at bread crumbs and forgetting to look for the loaf. Tossed around by a whack-a-mole media we jerk one knee after the other, over and over. The puppet master pulls one loony toon string one day, another the next. And off we go, strung along each time.

In the process, we lose track of what’s really happening in America. Trump and trumpism are not one-offs. They represent a coherent whole. The millions of Americans who endorse and support him are not all idiots. They’re not all crazy. And they’re not all, as Hillary made clear in an understated (if undiplomatic) remark, to be put in the same basket. Yet the ones we need to understand are those we understand the least. It’s not the Republicans that coldly support him out of tribal loyalty to the GOP. It’s those who actually agree with him.

We don’t want to think that the World’s Greatest Democracy could be endangered. We want to think that without a history of fascism or authoritarianism it can’t happen here. America couldn’t possibly vote a post-fascist into power. We want to believe if that ever were to happen, we Americans would toss his ass out on a rail. We want to believe he would never, ever have the support of the House, the Senate or the Supreme Court.

The inescapable conclusion that I didn’t want to come to is this. What we want to think is blinding us to the strength of the ultra-right, post-fascist movement that began as a trickle with the Tea Party and became a flood once it found a mouthpiece. A trumpeter, if you will.

The right elements have been here a long while — the consolidation of wealth controlled by an elite sliver at the top that changed much of our American playbook without much fanfare. There was the housing crisis, great recession, economic downturn, and a large immigrant group to scapegoat. The angst was there. The anger was boiling up. All that was missing was a mouthpiece. Because the Tea Party elbowed out older-style Republicans, the GOP changed enough that it created fertile soil for 2016’s far right candidates. Trump’s mouth was just louder, nastier, and more clever than the rest. In 2016, he knew how to rile up the masses, just as Hitler knew in the late 1920’s.

By looking at Trump piecemeal, in crumbs instead understanding the loaf, we endanger the foundations of our democracy no less than the blind Germans that allowed Hitler to crawl, slither, smash and flatter his way to the top. When Hitler came to power, Germany was a constitutional democracy with a free press and an independent judiciary. No one was more surprised than the Weimar Republic’s ruling politicians who thought they could control that boisterous little man. He fooled them alright.

They saw too late that he was a pied piper of hate alternately cajoling, inciting and bullying masses of people into following him off the cliff. And into the abyss that became a chilling part of Europe’s history.

Europeans thought it couldn’t happen again. And yet…, Europe’s parliaments today are littered with post-fascist parties. That is, ultranationalist, anti-immigration parties that work within a constitutional framework. Bad enough. We, however, have a two-party system, which means that if a post-fascist is President and he has down-ticket support, we are in a far worse position than European nations.

I believe we need to take a step back. We need to stop thinking in the sound bytes we’re handed. We have to go beyond media short-form narratives. We need to stop picking up bread crumbs and go for the loaf. We need to think in a systemic way. We’re not electing a candidate. We’re electing a philosophy, and a profoundly changed GOP, that will tear down the foundations of our democracy. This is a choice between two systems of government — democracy or an authoritarian post-fascist reign.

Trump has already made clear what he would do with a free press. And the Supreme Court. And women’s rights. And those of people of color. And educators. And science. Once in power, he’d carry through. Historically, bureaucracies and institutions such as government, the military, the police and national guard fall rapidly into line. If we think we would just be suffering through four years of a whacko who would probably be advised to cool his jets anyway, we really need to look at the larger picture. Or we could be in for the same sticker shock as Germany in 1932.

We can only solve a problem once we admit it exists. We cling to our World’s Greatest Democracy mantra as passionately as we do thoughtlessly. That has put us on the edge of losing its basic tenets. Conservatives and progressives share the confusion. So few days left before the election and we still wonder where in three hells this guy came from. We’d better get a lot more serious than we’ve been about understanding the home-grown problems we have and figuring out how to fix them.

We need to lose the absurd minutia and piecemeal thinking about Clinton. We would do much better to look to the root of Trump’s rise to power. To figure out how to solve the discontent, how to balance economic power so we decrease poverty and increase numbers in the middle class. We’d better hurry up and realize we’re not fighting the Democrats vs. Republicans. We’re fighting for democracy and against an authoritarian regime right here at home.

Trump didn’t create the fortress Amerika concepts he touts. Picking up on growing discontent, he gives a large minority of Americans enough electricity to get jolted into motion. We need to outbetter and outgreat him. If we don’t want to have to make America great again at some distant point in the future, we’d best keep America good to keep it great.