Would he order psychiatrists to break the minds of dissidents and terrorists, as Soviet medics did under Stalin?
Would he order soldiers to throw young men and women out of helicopters and airplanes into the ocean, as Argentina’s military dictators did in the 1970s and ’80s?
But then again, no serious candidate for the American presidency—or for the leadership of any other functioning modern democracy—had ever fetishized torture the way Donald Trump did.
No modern presidential candidate had declared entire races and religions to be the enemy.
The legal and linguistic wiggle room that democracies created to insulate themselves from charges of torture speaks to the grave moral opprobrium that was directed toward the practice.
Which is why Donald Trump and his supporters’ extraordinary embrace not just of acts of torture but of the word itself was a watershed moment.
More than half a millennium ago, as the Spanish Inquisition gathered steam, the fanatical grand inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada, wrapped himself in the mantle of faith and declared that he would torture to save souls and destroy heretics.