Should history record the sudden collapse of American democracy, it will be illustrated by CNN screenshots of Stormy Daniels strapped to a polygraph. You know, that staged photo of the porn actress in a tight yellow T-shirt with her preposterous fake breasts that the TV networks couldn't show often enough before her underwhelming "60 Minutes" interview.
TV couldn't get enough of Stormy's "assets." Hers was a scam worthy of the man-child president himself -- a professional wrestling-style publicity stunt.
A lie detector? Why not a Ouija board?
Other than demonstrating that she's a whole lot smarter and more self-possessed than her impulsive former paramour, however, Stormy failed to titillate an easily distracted nation. Mob-style threats, nondisclosure agreements, defamation lawsuits? Where were the bawdy details that the panting "60 Minutes" audience awaited? Was it nothing more than a Bourbon Street striptease?
No, it wasn't.
Early polls showed voters believing the porn star (and the Playmate) 3-to-1 over the president of the United States. But so what? Anybody who didn't already know Trump's an eternal teenager who goes for the brazen, silicon-enhanced Barbie doll type probably voted for him.
To the extent that they bought the tease, Americans are a nation of yokels. Or, as the great misanthrope H.L. Mencken put it in 1923: "The most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the Middle Ages."
The antics of the Trump White House furnish living proof daily. But nobody's really laughing. Indeed, to anybody paying serious attention, the nation has rarely faced such danger -- virtually all of it Trump's doing.
Former high-ranking G.W. Bush administration official and longtime president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass put it this way on Twitter: "@realDonaldTrump is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea. This is the most perilous moment in modern American history -- and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events."
Washington Monthly's Martin Longman makes the same point from elsewhere on the ideological spectrum: "This is the most dangerous moment for humanity since the Cuban missile crisis."
For both men, it's the appointment of the Mustache of Death that has provoked immediate alarm. Trump's new national security adviser has never seen a war he didn't like. Unlike the president himself, who (falsely) boasts about opposing Bush's Iraq War, John Bolton was an early and enthusiastic proponent. As an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, he played a key role in "stovepiping" bogus intelligence about Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
Bolton was memorably described as a bureaucratic infighter by colleagues during 2005 congressional testimony. Every large organization has them. A leader who keeps such sycophants near him is invariably characterized by weakness, incompetence and false bravado.
Worse, Bolton still argues that invading Iraq, the most catastrophic foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, was a terrific idea. As innocent of military experience as Trump, he's mad keen to send other people's sons and daughters into combat.
In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Bolton called for a pre-emptive strike on nuclear-armed North Korea. How many hundreds of thousands would die on the Korean peninsula during that conflict troubles him not.
Bolton has long promoted a bombing campaign and "regime change" in Iran -- a nation with more than twice Iraq's population and almost four times its land area, with a far more forbidding landscape.
Either or both actions could easily start World War III.
Meanwhile, as the Mueller investigation comes inexorably closer and Trump's lawyers have evidently resigned for fear he means to perjure his way out of it, there will always be the strongman's temptation of starting a war. Or attempting a constitutional coup by firing Mueller. Bolton will be there to flatter Trump and urge him on.
I'm persuaded that hope resides mainly in the young, specifically the amazing kids of Parkland, Florida, and their cohort nationwide. Should Trump provoke a showdown, millions of patriotic Americans would fill the streets of every big city in America.
Until last week, I'm not sure we all knew that.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at email@example.com.)