The president of the United States leads the world's largest economy and commands the largest, most deadly military in world history, one that possesses the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. Ultimately, however, what gives the president his authority and legitimacy is his status as representative of Western morality and ethics: without that, he is just another bully or corrupter.

Last week again made clear the extraordinary gap between the demands of the U.S. presidency, in particular that moral dimension, and the ability of Donald Trump to meet them. The White House wrestled with continuing dysfunction and an incoherent and inconsistent foreign policy. But most disturbing — indeed damning — was President Trump's response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his inability to forthrightly and without qualification condemn neo-Nazi and racist demonstrators. His equivocation has cost him, his administration and his country dearly.

On Aug.11-12, a group of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to ostensibly protest the removal of a statute of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park in the city. The "Unite the Right" rally was in fact a reassertion of white power and supremacy, punctuated by anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi sloganeering, and populated by members of the Ku Klux Klan, extremist militias and other white supremacist groups. They were confronted by other groups that opposed their message of intolerance. The groups clashed and a man rammed his car into some of the counter-protesters, killing a woman and wounding 19.