America is a place where there’s now an ‘immunity to the unacceptable’
At the heart of the latest twist in the Trump story is a question you can pose a few different ways.
Is there a line for Donald Trump? Is there a point of no return for the former president? Could a sex offender be president?
So often it’s said that the people of the rural counties in just a few of America’s states are those who can swing the country’s direction.
In the shadow of Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, Donald Trump has always found his loyalists and there are, of course, those who will never be moved.
Driving south along the west side of the Shenandoah National Park, I passed a house that’s barely visible behind the Trump flags, banners and yard signs. One said “Behead Biden”.
But beyond this unwavering loyalty, what about the more nuanced Republican voters?
Shenandoah County has voted for a Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1932.
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The whole electoral district in this part of Virginia has not supported a Democrat for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
‘Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect’
In a break from mowing her lawn in the small town of Mount Jackson, Bobbi Rosenberger agreed to a quick chat.
Self-deprecating, she wondered aloud if her hat would make her look like a “redneck” – her word.
The conservative values here are as strong as they get. It’s a Republican heartland, and the conversations are a lesson for those who choose to ridicule or dismiss the people here as thoughtless Trumpian rednecks, as so many do.
“I am not stuck in my political designations. I follow what candidate I think would be best,” she told me.
“I am not going to pigeonhole myself into one candidate. I want to see who decides to run. I probably would vote for Trump. But I want to see all the other candidates before I make my final decision.”
I asked about the fact that a jury has concluded that he is a sex offender. Her answer was telling. Yes, she was willing to forgive him but that’s a judgement based as much on how much she despises the alternative.
“Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.”
Read more: What other investigations is Donald Trump facing?
In our conversation, her despair about what she sees as the damaging, liberal, woke direction of the country under Biden was palpably clear.
“Biden is a shameful disgrace as a leader for our country. Someone who cannot even give a speech properly, who can’t hold the train of thought. He obviously has dementia.”
Some don’t believe the sex offender story. They think the complainant, E Jean Carroll, was just after the money. They buy the Trump line that it’s all a witch-hunt.
Others accept that his moral compass might be off, but it doesn’t matter to them.
They feel his ‘no bull’ attitude represents them. He is their street fighter, he says it like it is, he isn’t like other politicians. Warts and all, they’ll take him over all the others.
‘Welcome to America’
Up the road, on the back of his tractor, I met Bobby Jones.
“It’s sad to see – the Republicans and the Democrats; it ain’t like it used to be where they had just small differences. Now they stand like two completely different countries,” Mr Jones said.
I asked about the latest Trump twists.
“I’m not gonna say he’s a good man or bad man,” he told me.
“All I’m saying is that on my standard of decency, he at least did try to help get rid of abortion.
“He did try to help keep jobs going. He did try to keep jobs in the United States. He tried to look out for the people. If he did something immoral, I don’t agree with that. I think it’s terrible. But look at what Biden is doing. Have mercy here!
“In DC and all the northern areas we hear about how they vote for the Democrats. Well, how can they with all that going on?” he asked.
A few fields away, another revealing conversation with factory worker Rick Lutz.
“He’s just paying the price because they are scared of him. They just want to crucify Trump. Like I said, they’re all dirty. But I like Trump better!” Mr Lutz told me, adding with a laugh: “Welcome to America.”
You might think the most damaging part of this latest twist in the Trump story was his own response, in recorded evidence played at the E Jean Carroll trial, where he was asked about comments he’d made in 2005 in the infamous Access Hollywood tapes.
“It’s true with stars that they can grab women by the pussy?” he was asked by E Jean Carroll’s lawyer.
Trump replied, “Well if you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.”
It so often feels like America has got to a place where the entrenchment, the polarisation and the distrust of the other is so deep that nothing shifts views. It is a place where there’s now an immunity to the unacceptable.