So, why are we shocked?
The answer, I suppose, is that we should not be.
There was after all plenty of writing on the wall before the election, so much of it, in fact, that the brickwork below was barely visible. (And here I’m ignoring all the gloaters who now claim that they saw it coming a year ago, when they could have done no such thing.)
First, normally sensible Britons joined those who fail to qualify as such and voted to leave the European Union. Brexit had nothing to do with America, of course, but Britain’s ‘bid for freedom’ invested Trump’s campaign with a theme. Brexit told us something significant was afoot in the political hinterlands of once-industrial Britain. The same impulses were alive and waiting in the American rust-belt. Trump spotted it right away, promising Brexit-plus-plus-plus.
Another signal we ignored was the one sent by American pollsters. Weeks before the campaign ended they had Hillary opening up a significant lead, some said in double digits, suggesting that the result was a foregone conclusion. Even when, days before the election, the lead had shrunk to low single digits, we were still being assured that Hillary would take the election by collaring all the votes she would need in the Electoral College. Talk about storm warnings: those of us acquainted with how wrong the poll-takers had been at the time of the British general election – a dismal performance they repeated for the subsequent EU referendum – should have smelled more proverbial rats than the Pied Piper could have summoned.
And then, to cap everything, the Cubs went and won the World Series for the first time in more than a century. If that wasn’t a clear signal of a world turned upside down, I don’t know what is. Next thing we know, those other perennial losers, the New York Jets, will be in the Super Bowl.
The day after the shock was administered it is starting to wear off, but there are surely more shocks to come.
Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior? I’m serious. Someone has mentioned it. At least at Interior she would have some idea where everything is without having to look at a map (although, on second thoughts, I’m not even sure about that). There has been talk of Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State. (No, Newt, Georgia is also a country, honestly.) And Rudolf Giuliani for attorney general? He cleaned up New York City, so why not the United States.
Palin! Gingrich! Giuliani! Just when we thought it was safe ….
The pundits have been interminably busy analysing what went wrong for Hillary Clinton, and a contribution from me would not add much.
Suffice it to say that it is now clear that much of the electorate, on both sides of the Atlantic, was up in arms, ready for battle, and happy to spear any opponent who even remotely represented what they saw as a discredited political establishment, and from the left as well as the right. In Britain, Corbyn took over the Labour Party on a surge of membership apparently drawn from disaffected left-wing idealists. In America, Clinton only won the nomination for the Democrats after a bruising fight with Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist.
We can only speculate what a Trump-Sanders contest would have produced. My money would have been on Sanders.
But then my money was also on Clinton, as some of my friends who kept their wallets closed, are now all too ready to point out.
Those same pundits, raking over the political coals, will now be engaged in trying to work out what kind of president Trump will be. Battered by my previous forlorn predictions, all I can say now is that I have no idea. The man is a complete cipher. I retain my doubts that he is qualified for the job, but can only concede that Trump the president may be just as big a surprise as Trump the candidate turned out to be.
My guess is that he will, for a start, forsake all that bumptious ill-judged nonsense he spouted on the stump. He will not prosecute Hillary Clinton. Nor will he build a wall across the border with Mexico. He will not abrogate the treaty with Iran because it is not solely America’s to abrogate, having been signed by a number of countries that he will not wish to offend. He may wish to use a Republican Congress to get rid of Obamacare, or at least radically alter it, and he may use the same facility up on the Hill to put some meat on border controls.
As for the American economy – which in the end is what this election was about – since he has never held elected office, my guess is no better than that of the man standing next to me in the bus line. Ditto his foreign policy.
Almost by definition, then, Trump is bound to surprise us. The only question is whether the surprises turn out to be exhilarating or appalling. If he shakes up the Beltway, and Wall Street, and Foggy Bottom, and all the cosy assumptions that have governed America’s domestic and foreign policies, bringing little or no acknowledged credit to the White House, then we are in for an interesting ride.
Even so, I’m sorry Trump won. He ran a despicable, overheated and often downright offensive campaign – denigrating women, Muslims, Hispanics and, frankly, anyone with a decent sense of propriety. It brought out the worst in him, which in turn appealed to the worst in us. His rhetoric (and grammar) is that of the playground, and not that of a fee-paying school.
He may indeed be a despicable man, but who knows where the real man ends and the manufactured one begins. We have looked, sometimes with wonder, at that strange sweeping pompadour atop his head; now we will have the opportunity to evaluate what goes on underneath it.
I can only presume that there actually is a real person somewhere inside that shiny suit.
We are about to find out.