Taken as a photo, a moment in time, what's about to happen on the steps of the U.S. Capitol is concussive; a palimpsest from a rougher, crueler era that was merely painted over, rather than transformed, by the progressive advances that so many people assumed would continue, inevitably, with every passing year.
But it's not a moment. The investiture of President Donald Trump is a natural development the nation has been building toward for half a century.
A friend assigns its origin to the '70s sitcom All in the Family, which, she says, made it all right — even funny — to say out loud the things that people had been shamed into murmuring quietly, in private. You know, shamed by political correctness.
Actually, Archie Bunker's open bigotry was as a liberal fantasy, orchestrated by producer Norman Lear, the ideological ancestor of Aaron Sorkin.
Yes, there were laughs every time Archie unleashed another opinion about "your fags," or "your Jews," or "your spades," but his role was that of the racist dunce, always schooled in the end by the innocent decency of his wife Edith, or an actual encounter with one of the minorities he casually belittled.
But All in the Family did, for the first time, shine a light on the deaf slanging between conservatives – Archie – and liberals, represented by Archie's educated, progressive son-in-law Michael Stivic.
The show petered out after eight years, its novelty gone. It was surpassed by reality – a polity that just kept getting more vicious, eventually leaving its banks and flooding the U.S. with the hatred-soaked, nearly murderous discourse that buoyed Trump and floated him into the White House.
As of today, the real-life Archie is president, the most powerful man in the world, immune to shaming or schooling. He actually feeds on it.
In retrospect, it's easy to pick out events that deepened the national odium: the emergence of Fox News, the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 economic catastrophe.
"Nearly murderous," incidentally, is not meant as hyperbole. Violent conflict becomes possible when two sides begin to dehumanize each other, and it's not even controversial to suggest that has happened in the U.S.
Fake news on the internet, which used to be called conspiracy theories, is most often framed to accomplish exactly that. Falsely suggesting Barack Obama was born elsewhere (Africa) and is likely the enemy (a Muslim) was the theory pushed by so long by Trump, a clear effort to dehumanize.
In fact, Trump explicitly declared in one of his most elegant tweets from 2014 that the other side, the "haters and losers" who oppose him, are genetically inferior, or as he put it: "They cannot help the fact that they were born fucked up!"
The man from North Carolina who opened fire at Comet Ping Pong Pizza here in D.C. did so because he believed a conspiracy theory — "Pizzagate" — about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of the restaurant. He was not crazy — just stupid, armed and nurtured on a bunkered ideology.
Conservatives reading this will at this point have already stopped reading, having decided that this is just more lying by the dishonest elite media, which is in the thrall of the elite radical left.
Actually, if the media is in thrall, it's to the status quo and the establishment, and, judging by some of the fawning at his recent events, to Trump.
But it is true that urban liberals regard Trump-nation conservatives as coarse, offensive, mildly defective mouth-breathers.
In Bethesda, Md., where I once lived, I cannot remember having met a single social conservative or gun advocate. The Tea Party was regarded as aliens. Those people lived in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Bethesda, where they shun liberals in exactly the same manner, avoiding any social contact, despising from afar.
And this is their moment.
They're not just ascendant, they've beaten the living daylights out of liberals, urinated on their bruised bodies, sliced off their ears and poured sugar into their gas tanks.
They're crowding wolfishly into comments sections on news sites, proclaiming the end of political correctness, saying that minorities need to learn to live like minorities, demanding an end to "negative news" and elitist fact-checking.
They want to know why the dishonest, lying media can't get it through their heads that YOU LOST.
DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? THE ELITES LOST! YOU. LOST. AND MERYL STREEP IS OVERRATED.
Even Obama has stopped declaring that "there is no blue America and red America. There is only the United States of America." That was aspirational drivel. Inspiring, perhaps, but unmoored from reality.
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Such Obama-type voices as still exist are talking rapprochement, telling liberals that they must at least listen to the people who voted Trump.
That's not going to happen. It's impossible to know how Trump and Congressional Republicans are going to govern, but what matters most to Trump nation is that the beat down continues.
Do whatever you want, just give us more tweets about losers and haters and dishonest lying liars.
Nominally, a presidential inauguration is a moment for the nation to come together and celebrate the peaceful handover of power to a democratically elected leader.
Nowadays, that's just a fantasy gurgled by unctuous television anchors. More than 60 Congressional Democrats are boycotting the ceremony.
Liberals will turn away from Trump's inaugural speech, holding onto the fact that Clinton harvested close to three million more votes than the new president, imagining a day four or eight years from now when someone like Senator Elizabeth Warren takes the oath, and payback can begin.
And as long as there is still any comity out there to pulverize, the American descent into brutality will continue.