If this was regarded as a new beginning by most Americans, it was regarded apoloclyptically by others who promptly proceeded to lose both their minds and any pretense of enlightenment.
These are the people who immediately declared it their fervent hope that the new presidency fail, the ones who cheered when the governor of Texas raised the specter of secession, the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the "Black" House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.
In the debate over health care reform, they are the ones who have disrupted town hall meetings, shouting about the president's supposed plan for "death panels" to euthanize the elderly.
Now, they are the ones bringing firearms to places the president is speaking.
The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly--and, yes, legally--strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson's quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with "the blood of...tyrants."
It remains unclear...what the substance of the president's supposed tyranny might be.
When and if the implied violence comes, perhaps its author will explain. Meanwhile, expect those who stoked his rage--i.e., the makers of Internet myths, alarmist rhetoric and blatant lies--to disdain any and all moral responsibility for the outcome.
These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: "There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole."
Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual... Such as when you look at a guy who thought it is a good idea to bring a gun to a presidential speech and find yourself stunned by incomprehension. On paper, he is your fellow American, but you absolutely do not know him, recognize nothing of yourself in him. You keep asking yourself: Who is this guy?
This isn't liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were.
And change, almost by definition, always comes too fast, always brings a sense of stark dislocation. As in the woman who cried to a reporter, "I want my country back!" Probably the country she meant still had Beaver Cleaver on TV and Doris Day on Your Hit Parade.
Can one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.
The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.