In a divided nation, a presidency hangs in the balance

Supporters of Donald Trump react Tuesday as Fox News predicts he will win North Carolina at the Republican Party of Seminole County, Fla.
Supporters of Donald Trump react Tuesday as Fox News predicts he will win North Carolina at the Republican Party of Seminole County, Fla. Orlando Sentinel

World markets spiraled as American voters showed themselves be even more divided than any serious pundit could have imagined, leaving in doubt their decision about the 45th president.

No matter what the final tally shows, whether voters selected the experienced Democratic insider Hillary Clinton, or the bombastic and divisive businessman, Donald Trump, either candidate will confront the herculean and perhaps impossible task of calling us to a common purpose.

We are the richest and most powerful nation in the world, the very definition of First World. And we are divided rural and urban, north and south, coast and inland. We are frightened of the present and of the future, and harken to a gauzy past that wasn’t very good for large numbers of us. We are separated by education, gender, race and ethnicity. Income inequality and the sense that the system is, as Trump says, rigged infects the nation’s psyche.

Once the electorate’s verdict is rendered, the victor must reach out to the whichever side has lost because it must be clear to both sides that we cannot flourish so long as we are are in this state of division.

If Trump should fall short, he will challenge the result, dragging the election through the courts for weeks and possibly months. Clinton similarly could challenge the outcome.

The Democratic Party would stand for nothing less, understanding the implications of a Trump presidency on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the uncertainty he would bring to domestic and foreign policy. This is the man who questioned the wisdom of our NATO alliances, raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons and claims he knows more than the generals about how to defeat the Islamic State. Such hubris.

Clinton, who entered the campaign as well-prepared as any recent candidate to become president, was wounded deeply by this miserable campaign and her own blunder of using a private email server. If there had not been the email scandal, there would have been some other trumped-up issue. The reality is that many Americans willingly elected and re-elected an African American, and could not bring themselves to cast votes for a woman.

Trump poisoned our politics, or more likely he tapped into poison that already courses through the body politic. From his first campaign speech, he insulted Americans who didn’t look like him, or whom he regarded as weaker. Those views were intoxicating to more than we knew. Or voters overlooked his most off-color comments, hoping that a strongman could restore what they see as their fading hopes.

Trump purportedly represents “change,” whatever that means. And he did tap into real grievances. Many Americans, especially white working-class men, are concerned that the recovery has passed them by, and that the increasingly global economy is stacked against them. There is fury with the establishment, whether it’s Washington, D.C., or Wall Street or the media.

The same sentiment that led voters in the United Kingdom to exit from the European Union washed over our shores. Many in our electorate, like the Brits, lashed out at globalism and free trade agreements, the currency of today’s economy. In reaction, world markets Tuesday night tanked.

Alarming though that is for people with well-funded 401(k)s, many of Trump’s voters have been unable to catch a break in a world where high school diplomas and blue-collar skills that once guaranteed living wages no longer do.

Pollsters’ predictions of a relatively easy Clinton victory were subsumed by the reality that this nation is more divided than any pundits could imagine. Trump won several states that until a few days ago seemed in Clinton’s column.

California was a bulwark against Trumpism. Trump had no message for the Golden State and all but ignored it during his campaign.

In a state of immigrants that prides itself on its diversity, Trump derided Muslims and Latinos. In a state that relies on trade to drive its economy, he offered narrow protectionist policy. In a state that has led the way in the fight against climate change, Trump denies global warming exists and even said there is no drought. But California stands apart from Ohio and Idaho and Kansas all the other states that aligned themselves with Trump.

Clinton has made clear that she would attempt to be president for all Americans, whether they voted for her or not. If she wins, she must make good on that promise.

Trump promised to kick down doors and change Washington’s ways. He surely would. But if he ultimately is victorious, he must reach out to the people he insulted, the Muslims, Latinos and women, and in whatever way he can, make clear that they are welcome in his world. He must show the grace he failed to display during the campaign. To have any hope of governing, Trump must find it within himself to be president of the entire nation.