As shattering to the American psyche as Charlottesville was (and is), its aftermath is having equal impact.
While the sights and sounds of marches, clashes, violence, and death in Virginia are now ingrained in the country’s consciousness, so, too, is the tumult that has followed.
It has widened a gash in the nation. From it come outrage and anger — and a backlash strong enough to question the viability of a presidency.
We’ve not seen its like.
Yet, given what’s come and gone during the campaign and incumbency of Donald Trump, it’s fair to wonder: Are we just in another moment of white-hot reaction that cools in time (the Access Hollywood tape, the speech to the Boy Scouts, the tweet ostensibly banning transgender people from the military), or have we reached a pivot point?
It is striking to see military leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, corporate leaders on White House councils, and major national charities peel away from Trump.
And the range of response to the president’s post-Charlottesville remarks — from calls for presidential censure to condemnation by Trump fans of the media — shows that ideological divisions may be deeper than we suppose.
What to make of it all?
Anonymous voice messages I (and no doubt many in the media) receive are likely representative of, according to polling, more than a third of the nation.
This from a female caller: “Trump isn’t wrong, and I’m Jewish. It was both sides. Trump can’t breathe without you people knocking him down. You people are talking out of two sides of your mouth.”
This from a male caller: “I’m sick and tired of no one taking the other side. Those anti-protesters were professionals paid for by George Soros. They go everywhere to start trouble. Get your facts straight! You got your head so far up your” (you know, an anatomical aperture difficult to reach with one’s head).
There is also lots of email. This from an African American entrepreneur I know: “It’s hard for me to figure out what’s real and what is truly driving the division in our country. Is it fear, race, Trump, folks not understanding our democracy? How did we go from electing the first black president to what we have today?”
How? It’s pretty clear that electing the first black president prodded bigotry, and that since then, dog-whistle campaign pledges to “take our country back” have let it off the leash.
And when it ran free in Charlottesville against people of color, Jews, gays and others, it did not, despite the president’s assertions, include “very fine people.”
There were zero “fine people” involved in that anti-American atrocity.
That any public official suggests otherwise is reprehensible. Just as it is reprehensible for any public official to suggest, as Missouri Democratic State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal did, that the president be assassinated.
Yes, there was violence committed by individuals on both sides in Virginia. But there was murder committed by an individual only on one side.
What, if anything, happens now?
How or if this president regains some semblance of balance after stumbling into a self-shoveled abyss (canning Steve Bannon doesn’t do it) remains to be seen.
How Trump keeps the support of his party after underscoring its perceived (fairly or not) reputation for intolerance is an open question.
The president is scheduled to hold a rally for himself in Phoenix on Tuesday evening, yet another event for him to seek solace, affection and affirmation from his faithful followers.
This comes at a time the nation could use some solace, affection and affirmation from the person it elected as its leader.
Which raises the larger question: Can Trump stop being president of his united base and start being president of the United States?