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Donald Trump’s Message

CAMBRIDGE – Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination as its presidential candidate in November has caused consternation. The Republican establishment fears he will not be able to defeat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. But some observers worry more about the prospect of a Trump presidency. Some even see Trump as a potential American Mussolini.

Whatever its problems, the United States today is not like Italy in 1922. The Constitution’s institutional checks and balances, together with an impartial legal system, are likely to constrain even a reality-TV showman. The real danger is not that Trump will do what he says if he reaches the White House, but the damage caused by what he says as he tries to get there.

Leaders are judged not only on the effectiveness of their decisions, but also by the meaning that they create and teach to their followers. Most leaders gain support by appealing to the existing identity and solidarity of their groups. But great leaders educate their followers about the world beyond their immediate group.

After World War II, during which Germany had invaded France for the third time in 70 years, the French leader Jean Monnet decided that revenge upon a defeated Germany would produce yet another tragedy. Instead, he invented a plan for the gradual development of the institutions that evolved into the European Union, which has helped make such a war unthinkable.