Although it may not feel like it to everyone, America is still a young country. To most heads of state in Europe, America can still often look and sound like the high schooler who thinks that he – it's always a he – knows everything.
To them America is often the overconfident boy who thinks he's the greatest thing on two legs and acts like it, always blowing his own trumpet and overlooking his many flaws.
That kind of crowing, supercilious behavior is typical of a certain kind of teenager but it quickly runs into trouble in the adult world, which is what America has been doing in recent decades, to a degree never seen before.
One of the most arresting things about the Donald Trump years was that to the outside world he looked like the personification of the ugly American.
Born to great wealth and contemptuous of all those weren't, all his life Trump was protected from the consequences of his own excesses by his father's fortune, so of course, he divided the world into winners and losers, embracing his special destiny and developing the emotional depth of a Pop-Tart.
But the truth is Trump is really an ugly avatar of the American Dream, he represents its shadow side, the one that sits on a big crock of gold like an overfed leprechaun and gives a middle finger to his critics all over the world.
In his view, there is only numero uno, and the rest – including his own family members – can go to hell. Americans are going to pay for many, many years to come for having let this particularly ugly genie, this stark reflection of all their own darkest fears and loathings, out of the bottle.
It's not an accident that the Trump presidency followed on the heels of the successful Barack Obama one. It was by design. Trump had always personified the conservative backlash to it, going further in his own criticisms than any other candidate dared.
Even now so many white people here still like to tell themselves that Trump represented key policy differences with the Democrats and was elected because of them, but the truth turned out to be much starker, he was really elected to stem the filthy tide of diversity and cultural and social change that threatened their increasingly fragile realities.
Trying to halt human progress that has been centuries in the making is a pointless task, however. All the much-feared changes that Trump was elected to prevent have all still arrived. First of all, we are witnessing a racial reckoning, where debates over the legacy of centuries of slavery, exploitation, and the oppression that built vast fortunes for some here are refusing to be silenced.
Conservative white voters' angry overreaction to the Black Lives Matters protests and the calls for the nation's true history to be taught and discussed says more about white fear than it does about black resolve.
Besides, it's all a matter of record. You can halt, censor, and suppress the truth as long as you like, but you can't change the basic facts of history. Those facts have decided to speak for themselves now. Loudly. It's too late to silence them.
The reality of climate change has also arrived. Most of the west coast is currently enduring record-breaking droughts and wildfires, ones that send choking smoke across the entire continent through the midwest as far as New York City, which is enduring its own summer of unprecedented flash floods.
The reality of gun violence has also arrived, underlined by a record-breaking season of shootings. In Chicago 200 children have been shot since the start of the year, 72 people were shot just this weekend. Nationally, there were 314 fatal shootings and 751 injuries during the Fourth of July weekend in 2020. Just what kind of independence does that actually celebrate?
The reality of digital misinformation campaigns and their effectiveness at sowing division and discord has also arrived. Daily we learn of the overseas troll farms and psych-op campaigns that are bought and paid for by our deep-pocketed adversaries (and even by our own opposing parties) to curry influence and drive discussion across social media.
It turns out that almost half the country has been successfully influenced by these bad online actors to embrace whack-job conspiracy theories and ideologies that harm themselves (through vaccine refusal, or the embrace of extremist politics) and others. Recall how Trump's own Twitter account inspired millions to act against their own interests and risk their lives in the face of the relentless virus.
All of this worries me as it should you, but it's not Trump's slouching return to politics that keeps me awake at night now. That particular dog and pony show is over, he lost. It's the thought that someone more sophisticated will come along soon to steal his mantle.
Someone who knows how to tone down the contemptuous teenager act whilst still cannily embracing all the white-hot resentments that Trump reflected and ignited.
Someone to whom the Capitol Insurrection was not a desecration of American democracy, not the Hitler-like coup the head that General Milley compared the Trump-directed insurrection to, but a promising herald of its new fascistic political direction.
Keep your eyes open. You'll know him the moment you see him. He's coming.