In fear and triumphalism, a split US gets set for Trump’s accession
‘Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind,’ says Clinton
Hillary Clinton supporters watch TV coverage of the US presidential election in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Seattle as Donald Trump emerges as winner. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty
The glass ceiling was left uncracked. Underneath, as the electoral map bled red and shockwaves rippled among the Democrats, heads fell into hands and tears flowed.
Workers dug confetti back out of air cannons at Javits Centre in Manhattan and Hillary Clinton’s supporters traipsed home into the New York night in a daze. What had just happened?
Americans woke up not to their first female president but a candidate who has never before served a day in public office. Donald Trump, who his opponents warned could not be trusted with the nuclear codes and baited with a tweet, was elected the 45th president of the United States in a stunning, resounding victory.
The scorched-earth presidential contest that blazed for 17 months lit a prairie fire across the country and burned even hotter with his against-the-odds election.
In New York, Trump supporters clashed with protesters outside Trump’s headquarters in expletive-laced verbal exchanges. “We don’t want the United States to wind up like what Angela Merkel did with Germany and [then] Britain took a stand,” said one Trump fan wearing a “Trump Brexit” badge.
Women and migrants
Fears were stoked about how a Trump presidency would affect women, people of colour and immigrants, just some of the people insulted by the brash property and entertainment mogul during his hateful campaign.
A Canadian immigration website crashed under the weight of visits from Americans considering a move north. The Irish Embassy in Washington and consulates around the US received twice as many queries as normal from Americans about how to secure Irish passports.
Parents wondered how to explain to children waking up that the man they heard boast about grabbing women’s genitals because he was “a star” would be the next US president.
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Defying expectations (again) in an astonishing campaign, Trump reversed the electoral gains of Barack Obama in critical battleground states. He even swept the Rust Belt, winning states from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin across the industrial north that a Republican had not won since Ronald Reagan’s 1980s landslides.
Pollsters were left red-faced. “We blew it,” wrote University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato and his fellow analysts in an online post entitled: “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.”
The outsider Trump is the first non-politician president since 1952 and, at 70, the oldest ever elected for the first time. He confounded critics by firing up disgruntled, mostly white, voters who felt forgotten by Washington, left behind by an uneven economic recovery and unsettled by the rapid changes in America’s racial and social make-up.
“”This was a white-lash against a changing country, it was a white-lash against a black president in part,” said black political commentator Van Jones on CNN.
Others saw it differently.
“Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard,” said Republican speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, who had clashed with Trump during the campaign. He “turned politics on its head”, he said, in what was “the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime”.
The new Republican president heads to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a Republican Congress in place after the party retained control of the House and Senate, the first time it has controlled government since 2006.
The election outcome hands an unpredictable insurgent – a man who has threatened to rip up international trade and defence agreements and encouraged nuclear proliferation – unprecedented power as the next “commander-in-chief”.
He will preside over new appointments to the US supreme court that will set the ideological tone of the country on the most highly charged social and political issues until the middle of this century.
The bitterly fought election reflected what was at stake. The fact that Clinton, falling short on her second presidential bid, won the popular vote by 59.6 million (47.7 per cent) to Trump’s 59.4 million (47.5 per cent), yet lost in the state-tallied electoral college, reflected the divisions across the country.
An emotional Clinton, reeling from the biggest upset in modern US politics, offered an exhortation in a painful morning-after concession speech that was devoid of the bitter rhetoric that defined the election.
“I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” she said, wearing purple, the colour of bipartisanship. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”
‘Wounds of division’
Standing in the White House’s Rose Garden, President Barack Obama called on Americans to unite behind a candidate who has promised to unwind the signature achievements of his eight-year presidency.
“We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country,” said a chastened Obama of the man who once questioned his place of birth and the legitimacy of his right to serve in the White House.
The president said he was encouraged by Trump’s election-night vow to “bind the wounds of division”.
Now the task turns to a transition. A celebrity who became famous for firing people on a television show must hire 4,000 people to help him run the most powerful country in the world.
For tens of millions of Americans and many more around the world, it will be painful and horrifying viewing.