Skip to main content
u.s. election 2016

David Shribman

History happened Tuesday: An outsider president. A profound change in the governing style of the United States. The emergence of a new insurgency among blue-collar voters that captured the White House after capturing the attention of establishment politicians. The possibility of a fundamental demographic realignment between the two major political parties. The emboldenment of heretofore peripheral groups on the right and their debut in mainstream American politics.

Donald J. Trump's remarkable comeback triumph in the American election Tuesday sends to the White House a political novice who has shattered all the conventions of politics and unsettled his rivals in the United States, the markets in world financial centres, and American allies around the globe.

Mr. Trump will take office in a deeply divided political landscape that nonetheless has been altered by the battle he conducted with former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. Even had he not won the ultimate prize, he reshaped American politics in the course of an unprecedented year of upheaval, transforming the country perhaps even more profoundly than any political figure since Ronald Reagan, perhaps since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Opinion: With Trump, Americans voted in a new world order

Related: Snapshots from a post-Trump world: Reaction from around the globe

Read more: Trump is president now. What happens next? A U.S. election primer

Tuesday's election brought to an end a distinctive, sometimes disturbing, seemingly interminable, and always riveting political season that saw outsiders – Mr. Trump in the GOP, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont –dominate, and then shape, the American conversation.

Together the two rebels, who disagree on much except for their contempt for conventional politics, brought withering attention to the stubborn prerogatives of the rich and powerful, led the country to a searing evaluation of how it is governed and how its riches are distributed, raised questions about the international profile of the lone global superpower, and shook the confidence and perhaps even the convictions of Ms. Clinton, who in response abandoned her long-time, ardent support of international trade agreements and adjusted her position on the financing of university education and the minimum wage.

As a result, Ms. Clinton, steeped in the common assumptions of American life and comfortable in the powerful institutions of the country, was defeated in a ferocious and oftentimes demeaning contest in a year when the powerful institutions and common assumptions of American life were belittled and devalued – so much so that, in reaction to this raucous rebellion, the last three nominees of the Republican Party almost certainly did not vote for the party's nominee.

At the same time, the presidential contest brought attention to the ability of political figures – even those who deplored the compromises that are inherent in politics-as-usual – to make dramatic mid-course adjustments.

For years in the 19the century, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri engaged in an epic feud with Andrew Jackson. Later, when the two reconciled, Mr. Benton was asked whether he knew Mr. Jackson. "Yes, sir, I knew him, sir," he replied. "General Jackson was a great man, sir. I shot him, sir. Afterward he was of great use to me, sir, in my battle with the United States Bank." So if change was the theme of the year, change of a different sort – in politicians' positions, in their alliances, in the political profiles – was the operative motif of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a bitter rival of Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries, endorsed the man who called him Lying Ted. So did Marco Rubio of Florida, re-elected to the Senate Tuesday night having supported Mr. Trump despite being derided as "Little Marco." Ms. Clinton, who once described the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed trade agreement among Canada, the United States and 10 other nations, as the "gold standard," nonetheless declared her opposition to the pact.

And Mr. Trump, a transformational figure, changed his party affiliation, his views on abortion, and, in the course of his campaign, his position on building a wall along the Mexican border, boosting the minimum wage, and on banning Muslims from the United States.

What for the future? Americans would like a little more of the Benton view, which celebrated reconciliation with Mr. Jackson, a war hero who was president from 1829 to 1837.

The recent McClatchy Poll undertaken by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that nearly two thirds of Americans think Washington compromise is essential. Other polls have similar findings. Reconciliation may not be in the air in the capital, but it is on the minds of Americans.

So overnight the questions will accumulate. Is Mr. Trump inclined to reconciliation, or perhaps to occasional compromise? Will he abandon his freewheeling style and adopt a presidential mien? Can he reassure American allies troubled about his lack of experience and his skepticism of existing power relationships?

Almost no expert predicted Mr. Trump's victory – but then again, almost no one expected him to survive the bruising Republican primaries and caucuses. And from the start, the Trump campaign has been at war against experts: the experts who told him he could not be a plausible presidential candidate; the experts who said he had to alter his unfettered style and his unfiltered rhetoric; the experts who said his issue positions on a wall on the Mexican border and restrictions against Islamic immigration were un-American; the experts who said his personal habits, especially his conduct toward women, were disqualifying; and finally the experts who said he could not win the election.

He defied the experts in every regard, sometimes with impish delight, sometimes with unabashed pleasure. He did so again Tuesday night, defying experts and expectations. In January he becomes the 45th president of the United States. Stranger things have happened, but not often.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe