The world is stunned. How could this be possible?
Nobody saw it coming. Not the pundits, not the pollsters, not the wisest minds in the nation. The Republicans didn't expect it either. The party establishment had all but written off Donald Trump and were scrambling just to save the furniture. His campaign insiders had all but conceded defeat. By the final days of the campaign, even the candidate was sounding as if he didn't expect to win.
Today, the entire world is stunned. How could the greatest democracy on Earth elect a rogue outsider whose main attributes are ignorance and a pathological need to bully? How could a character with no political experience, no campaign machine, no ground troops, and no party apparatus take it all?
This was far, far more than the revenge of uneducated working-class white people. It was a thunderous message from a broad spectrum of mainstream Americans: the prosperous middle classes of the heartland. They are, most of them, perfectly nice people. They are the suburban moms, the self-employed small businessmen, the plumbers, teachers, real-estate sales people, bakers, bankers, and all the other folks who make the world go round. Most of them are not economically desperate. Most of them are good citizens and good members of their community. They are the friends, the neighbours and the relatives of people just like you.
Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the most qualified candidate in history. Donald Trump was declared by the entire mainstream media to be unfit for office – and during the campaign he proved it over and over again. The voters ignored all that. They decisively repudiated the entire Washington establishment, the elites, and the mainstream media they no longer trust or believe. They elected Donald Trump because they believe the elites are entirely corrupt, and he is not.
We'll have until the end of time to argue about how the unthinkable became reality. Meanwhile, there's the immediate future. What kind of president will he make?
Donald Trump will be the most reckless president in history. He has promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. He has promised to deport millions of illegals. He has promised to tear up trade deals, renounce the Paris climate treaty, and declare trade war with China. He wants to gut NATO, the security alliance that has kept Europe and the Western world safe since the Second World War by withdrawing troops from NATO allies and making them pay for their own security. He has wondered aloud why Japan and South Korea shouldn't be able to develop their own nuclear weapons.
He admires Russian President Vladimir Putin. He says he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals do. He is, by his own admission, a very quick study with superb instincts.
He has threatened to target his opponents, including his media opponents.
His main promise is to revive the economy (which, in fact, is doing rather well). He will do this by restoring manufacturing jobs, punishing companies that export jobs to Mexico, and bringing back the coal companies. None of that, in fact, is possible. The main threat to manufacturing jobs is automation, not free trade. The coal industry is already dead. He can't turn back the clock. What he can do is roil the global financial markets and send foreign investors fleeing to safer havens. He has even talked about cutting a deal on the national debt – not the kind of speculation to inspire confidence in the U.S. dollar. As Larry Summers, the former U.S. treasury secretary, told The New Yorker's Evan Osnos, his trade and economic policies would trigger a protracted recession.
Much of his agenda isn't feasible, of course. There's not enough money or law enforcement or detention camps or national will to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, including families who've been in the United States for decades. Most Trump voters – even those who want immigration reform – would not support it. Other parts could be disastrous. He could set off a new nuclear arms race, and would at the very least encourage Mr. Putin's territorial ambitions. With Donald Trump in charge, the world would surely be a less safe place.
Many Trump voters didn't think a lot about what he'd do in office. They thought a lot of it was bluster. They thought that he'd be constrained by the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, by wise advisers, or by the alchemy of the Oval Office that might transform him into someone he is not.
But what you see is what you get. Donald Trump's massive flaws of character and temperament make him the biggest threat to American liberal democracy in our lifetimes.
The U.S will survive. But it won't be pretty.