With the nation facing the greatest strain on its fundamental stability since the Civil War, Donald Trump is ending his turbulent presidency.
The US Capitol attack on January 6 capped four years in which Trump aggressively stoked the tensions of the country and, through his open embrace of racial language and conspiracy, provided oxygen for the growth of White nationalist extremism.
In the process, Trump not only broke the barriers between the Republican Party and extremists of the far right, but also greatly intensified a trend that preceded him: a growing willingness within the mainstream of the GOP to use anti-small-d-democratic means to maintain power in a country that is evolving demographically away from the party.
The parties have gradually pulled apart, especially since the 1990s, with Republicans rallying the voters who are most unhappy with the way America is changing demographically, culturally and economically, and Democrats mobilising the most comfortable with the changes.
The Trump presidency, particularly its chaotic final months, has shown that both the parties’ leaders and rank-and-file voters are now divided not only by their political preferences, but also by their assessments of the underlying realities of the nation, and even their dedication to traditional democratic norms.
In one sense, in a mirror image, the two parties move away from each other: the vast majority of voters in each party now say in polls that they view the other side as a threat to the future of the nation.
But that judgement is provoking a more drastic reaction within the GOP than among the Democrats, as various elements of the Republican coalition have adopted a series of anti-democratic acts culminating in the widespread support of GOP elected officials for Trump’s attempts to subvert the November elections and last week’s unprecedented attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.