Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. The unthinkable became the inevitable just after 3am Eastern Time when Hillary Clinton conceded defeat. Like many, I began the night thinking there was little chance that we would ever reach this point, believing instead that demographic data and superior Democratic organisation would be enough to ensure victory. We were all wrong.
In his victory speech to assembled supporters in midtown New York, the president-elect struck a somewhat conciliatory note. Trump thanked his opponent for her years of service and promised to ‘bind the wounds of division’ that he inflicted on America. He promised to ‘dream big and bold’. There was also the outlines of a political agenda: action on inner cities, infrastructure spending and veterans affairs. In a further nod to conciliation there was no immediate mention of immigration.
But the nature of his victory makes this unlikely to last. Trump won a convincing electoral college victory that dismantled the supposed Clinton ‘firewall’ of blue collar states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. His victory came on the back of an astonishing ‘spiking’ of the non-college educated white vote but also, exit polls suggest, high support amongst college educated whites and 29 per cent of Latinos. There is now a new political map.
Trump Republicans – the days of Paul Ryan’s leadership are surely numbered – will control the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate and the fact that ultra-conservative Republicans like Senator Jeff Sessions were singled out for praise by Trump is not a promising sign of things to come. With undivided conservative government, prizes like the repeal of Obamacare and a supreme court seat will soon be within reach and any desire to remain conciliatory will fade.
Watching the results come in at the official Clinton campaign party was a particularly grim experience. Her supporters began the night with cheery resignation about (predicted) setbacks in North Carolina and Ohio. This soon turned to desperation, with hours spent hoping in vain that the votes of urban democrats in places like Wayne Country, Michigan would be able to offset huge Republican support in rural areas. The paths to victory narrowed with every hour, before vanishing completely. By the time campaign chairman John Podesta took the stage to send us home the convetion center had long begun to empty out. The walk back took us past groups of tearful Clinton supporters, foreign journalists and NYPD officers.
Throughout the night the contrast between the rhetoric of the Democrats’ campaign and the reality of the results became painfully apparent. Love did not ‘trump’ hate last night. If progress was on the ballot with Clinton, then it was rejected – along with temperament and experience. Trump’s punishment for boasts of sexual assault and stoking racial divisions will be at least four years in the White House. Assumptions about the inevitability of progress have been found badly wanting.
If courage is grace under pressure then Clinton has certainly been a courageous candidate. It is hard to imagine how difficult this defeat must be and harder to see how the Democrats rebuild in the short term. Like many, I badly underestimated Trump and his ability to build a winning coalition around white America in an increasingly diverse country. We were all wrong.
Charlie Samuda is a former adviser to the Labour party and is studying at the Harvard Kennedy School. He tweets at @CharlieSamuda
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