World markets tanked as American voters elected Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president over the far more experienced insider, Hillary Clinton, showing themselves to be even more divided than any serious pundit could have imagined.
The bombastic and divisive businessman will confront the herculean and perhaps impossible task of calling us to a common purpose. We hope it’s clear to Trump that we cannot flourish as long as we are in this state of division.
Republicans retained control of the House and Senate, a repudiation of President Barack Obama. Trump and the Republicans almost certainly will repeal the Affordable Care Act, move swiftly to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left when Antonin Scalia died in February, and attack existing trade deals. We are, in short, headed for a dangerous ride through uncharted territory.
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 has infected the nation’s psyche.
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 and perceived 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.
California was a bulwark against Trumpism. Trump offered 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.
Trump promised to kick down doors and change Washington’s ways. He surely will. But he also 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.