Gov. Ralph Northam has served his nation and commonwealth with admirable distinction and dedication. So it gives us no pleasure to see his rapid fall from grace. He is by all accounts a decent and considerate man. And yet, his poor judgment has undermined his standing with Virginians in ways that we believe will permanently impair his ability to act as an effective governor. He should resign and return to his profession as a physician, with the thanks of those he has served as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and for the past year, governor.

Earlier this week, Northam made remarks about late-term abortion that troubled many of his constituents. Some of the attacks against him were cynical and misleading. But the governor’s remarks on such a sensitive subject were intemperate and careless. We deserve better from our leaders, especially given the current national political environment.

But it is the revelation of a photo from his medical school yearbook page, showing a man in blackface standing next to someone dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, that injures his standing and reputation beyond repair. We all act foolishly in our youth. But a college graduate, studying to be a physician, in a state with Virginia’s troubled racial history, should know better than to reduce that history to a callous joke. The photograph reveals a lack of adult judgment that is disturbing. It does not erase Northam’s service in the military or his compassion as a physician. It does, however, strongly suggest that he should, for the good of Virginia, step down from its highest office and allow Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to succeed him.

In tomorrow’s Commentary section, Frank Atkinson, a one-time aide to former Gov. George Allen, discusses the Virginia Way, which in very recent memory placed a high value on bipartisan accomplishment. Atkinson even mentions Northam’s efforts to bring greater comity to Capitol Square. We do not doubt the governor’s sincerity. He is an able and amiable man. But the photograph — not from his youth but from his days as an accomplished young man — harkens back to an uglier Virginia way, one tainted by the unpardonable stain of Jim Crow — and the physical, economic, and social injustice of segregation and racism. It is a past that still haunts us.

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