Writing about Trump just after the first Republican debate, back in August 2015, I summarised Trump's stance as follows:
"In short (the message appeared to be) I buy people to do what I want. I sack people because it makes me richer. I abuse others and am proud of it. I have no principles at all, except the principle of me."
And I added:
"There are those out there who support Trump because, as they put it, he "says it like it is". That's fine, and these people will probably flock towards the Trumpster in even greater numbers after the debate. Those, however, who were actually listening to what he says, instead of how he says things, might find (now or in the near future) that they do not like him at all. I know that if I were a god-fearing, conservative, principled American, I would absolutely loathe everything Trump stands for."
A month later, in September, I revisited Trump's appeal:
"I'm beginning to think that the current views the GOP has - on conservatism, on religion and on just about every other "holy" aspect of Republicanism - aren't quite right. I'm beginning to think that the GOP may, in fact, be barking up the wrong tree. And I feel that Trump is making this apparent (...)
What voters are looking for, is someone who will Get Things Done. It doesn't matter if those things are all honest-to-God truly conservative; it doesn't matter if they are all religiously conformist; it doesn't even matter if taxes will never be raised again or if the size of the federal government is drastically reduced. All these things are secondary (or tertiary) at best (...)
If the GOP doesn't recognise this, and if their politicians do not recognise this, they are in very real trouble indeed. They're going to get trumped big time."
The world - certainly the USA - changed after this. On November 13, 2015, one of the most horrible terrorists attacks of recent years took place in Paris, France. And on December 2nd, in San Bernardino, California, 14 people were shot by a US citizen (of Pakistani descent) and his Pakistani wife.
A few days later, Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the USA, at least "until we figure out what the hell is going on". At more or less the same time, he stated that "the other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families". In February 2016, he followed this up with an endorsement of the use of torture. Waterboarding was fine, he said, but "we should go much stronger".
Meanwhile, his views on race came under question. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups clearly support Trump, and whilst Trump repeatedly "disavowed" them, these disavowals were remarkably perfunctory. For the present at least, Trump has flatly refused to address the question why they support him.
Two days ago, Trump called off a rally he was to hold at the University of Illinois in Chicago, after protesters turned up in their thousands to disrupt the event. When the cancellation became known, scuffles broke out between the protesters and Trump supporters, setting off a scene reminiscent of, say, the Ferguson riots. The next day, in Kansas City, police used pepper spray to disperse protesters who had just been removed from another Trump event. Nevertheless, Trump refused to back down from comments he made earlier regarding such protesters, comments which inevitably must - to some - be seen as an encouragement to act aggressively towards them.
And now, the question no longer seems to be whether the current political climate could lead to further escalations; it is, rather, what scale those escalations will assume. The question is not whether more people will be pushed around and shoved and hit, but rather how many will be seriously injured or even killed.
Trump has always been astonishingly brash, almost compulsively untruthful and eminently chaotic. He was also, however, relatively innocuous. The threat he posed was real, but it was, essentially, a threat to the GOP establishment, and that was as far as it got. In the light of recent events, however, it is clear that this is no longer true. Trump has now emerged as a dangerous, extreme and unpredictable populist; his words attack the democratic core of the United States and pose severe risks to America's place in the world. Not just his supporters, but those who oppose him are reacting, and their actions are becoming increasingly volatile.
In a statement after cancelling the rally in Illinois, Trump told his supporters: "please go in peace".