The Washington Post's centrist editorial board nearly always publishes a presidential endorsement -- the exception was in 1988, when the paper didn't like either candidate -- and it's likely to do so again this year. But with months remaining before that happens, the newspaper did something a little different over the weekend: the Post's editors announced who they won't endorse.
In a rare, full-page editorial, the Washington Post published a piece that described Donald J. Trump as "a unique threat to American democracy." It was a rather brutal indictment, shining an unflattering light on the Republican nominee's "politics of denigration and division" and "his "contempt for constitutional norms."
The paper went on to describe the GOP candidate as "a peril," who, if elected, "would be dangerous for the nation and the world." The Post concluded that Trump is "a unique and present danger," who "represents a threat to the Constitution."
And while such language is certainly fair under the circumstances, it's also unexpected. The editorial board of the Washington Post does not have a reputation for being overtly partisan or incendiary. Sunday's editorial is a reflection, not of editors who see an unqualified candidate, but of Americans who appear to be quite frightened.
And they're not alone. CNN's David Gregory, a veteran of Republican and Democratic White Houses, said this week that Donald Trump is like "a child playing with matches who doesn't understand how badly he and the country can get burned. It's a very serious thing."
The New York Times' Timothy Egan argued last week that Trump's candidacy should cause "fear" among Americans -- "for the republic, for a democracy facing its gravest peril since the Civil War."
Vox's Ezra Klein wrote a compelling piece last week on the degree to which Trump has left him, on a very personal level, feeling scared. The night of the Republican's convention speech, Ezra said he felt "genuinely" afraid for "the first time since I began covering American politics."
Ezra added yesterday, after Trump's bizarre press conference in which he called for Russian intervention in the U.S. election, "It's weird to keep saying this, but this is not okay. This is not a man with the temperament, the steadiness, the discipline to be president. The issue here isn't left versus right, or liberal versus conservative, or Democrat versus Republican. It's crazy versus not crazy."
What's striking about all of this is how unusual the tenor and tone are. Every four years, Americans hear familiar phrases: it's one of the most important elections in decades; so much is on the line; voters have a clear choice between distinct directions; etc.
But not since Goldwater in 1964 has so much of the American political mainstream felt compelled to say with striking clarity, "Wait. Stop. This is different. This isn't normal."
Whether or not voters care remains to be seen, but the warnings the public is now receiving -- alarms that will likely grow louder between now and November -- are unlike anything Americans have seen in at least a generation. That should serve as a reminder to the electorate about just how much is at stake.