But beyond all that–beyond the issues of competence, corruption and policy preference–the job of the president at an emotional level is to provide stability and reassurance to the nation during times of turmoil. George W. Bush was a terrible president who used the occasion to deceived the country into at least one (if not two) unnecessary and immoral war(s), but at the very least he capably performed this spiritual duty after the 9/11 attacks with flying colors. Jimmy Carter was a far better president than most give him credit for, but his inability to provide the moral resolve and confidence the nation craved at the time led in part to the rise of Ronald Reagan, an actor whose sunny disposition and engaging confidence pleased most Americans even as they belied corrupt, cruel and catastrophically destructive policies.
Faced with yet another high-profile case of far-right terrorism and a society fraying ever more surely along cultural and partisan lines, Donald Trump is utterly unable to even pretend to unite the country–just as he proved incapable of doing so after the far-right marches in Charlottesville resulted in the death of innocent young activist Heather Heyer at the hands of an extremist right-wing killer. After a fervent Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to over a dozen high-profile liberal and Democratic targets, all the president and his supporters could do was spin conspiracy theories and wallow in even deeper grievance against their opponents and against the media, somehow portraying themselves as the victims in all this.
Of course, the chief reason Trump cannot heal the country is the fact that Trump himself is the one stoking the violence: white supremacists and “men’s rights advocates” sees him as one of their own, and he does nothing to dissuade them. The targets of their anger and their bombs are the targets of his incitements and his barbs. A president who governs explicitly on behalf of an aging and declining political base stewing in cruel resentment and fearful of being culturally and demographically superseded by a younger, more diverse, more ethically conscientious population, cannot possibly bridge the divide toward a united future.