By Tom Ehrich

It seems that some white men are feeling discouraged and threatened. The world they expected to enjoy has changed, in ways that seem unfortunate to them.

They feel buffeted by a rising tide of brown skin and non-Anglo accents. Their personal financial circumstances have deteriorated, and they are being encouraged to blame immigrants and minorities for causing that. The world seems dangerous, and partisans tell them to blame the U.S. government. As a result of distorted news coverage, many white men don't trust the government, don't trust entire categories of their fellow Americans, and don’t trust a democratic political process. Many loathe having a black man in the White House.

It is unclear what they want. Perhaps a return to better days, such as the 1950s, when they were children and the nation was 80% white and largely segregated. Perhaps a white-power insurgency that would restore white privilege. Perhaps a Christian theocracy. Perhaps a race war to be waged with violence. Perhaps a military coup that they think would turn disorder into order.

Or maybe they just want to shout and be heard. Those feeling invisible want to be seen. The impotent want to be potent. It's hard to know. No coherent political agenda seems to be emerging, and those seeking Tea Party support seem more determined to stoke outrage and shouting than to do anything concrete.

American history has seen these impulses before. Fear is a constant in human life, and so are scoundrels who would exploit that fear for their own benefit. Those who are truly undermining society with their greed and conniving are goading the weak into looking elsewhere for scapegoats.

It is tragically rare for American leadership ranks to welcome men and women of honor, like those who founded the republic and those who saw the nation through a depression and world war. More often we get rascals and predators, bullies and buffoons.

We are in the midst of such a sorry display. How far it will go remains to be seen. Whether level heads prevail and whether those stirring the pot can walk mobs back from the edge of violence and intolerance remain to be seen. Once people have shouted the worst that is in their hearts, can they then relax and resume the neighborliness that has marked American life at its best? Once they have declared war on all forms of compromise and declared God absolutely on their side, is there any room in their hearts for getting along?

Politicians like Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz are exploiting the frustrated and weak. They are giving cover to extreme excesses of bigotry. They are undermining the rule of law. They are promising what they cannot deliver, even if elected, and setting people against each other in ways that cannot be patched up easily after Election Day.

It is difficult to imagine any electorate taking them seriously, and yet they seem to speak for many. Such is the impotence that the 1% have visited upon common citizens. Such is the difficulty of being a just and merciful nation in a world gone mad with intolerance, civil war, religious extremism and rage. Such is the face of weakness at a time when we need strength of character. Such is the outcome of the propagandizing of information.

It is time for these frustrated white men to get over what they think they have lost and to step up – “man up,” as the saying goes – as good citizens who want the best for an entire nation, not just vengeance for themselves.