What in the hell just happened?!?

The great white hope himself.
The great white hope himself.
Image: Reuters/Chris Keane
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The American people have chosen. They want Donald Trump.

So why is everyone so shell-shocked? Because the polls clearly have yawning blindspots and huge margins of error. Because the media took for granted the Obama coalition, maybe, and the muscle behind Clinton’s getting out of the vote. Because they assumed politics, empiricism, and experience would prevail.

Trump, evidently, knew what they didn’t: that voters feel more than they think. And that a huge swath of America has been feeling really, really bad for a very long time. Trump’s stirring nationalism, empathy for their victimhood, and assurances of a return to glory make them feel so good, that they thronged the polls without the help of the party-powered get-out-the-vote machine behind Clinton.

One of most astonishing things about this election is that we’ve reached the end with really only a sketchy sense of who Trump’s base is and what they’re struggling with. The “poor white guy who lost his job to China” meme doesn’t hold up; as Gallup’s analysis showed, Trump supporters are whiter and older than the average voter—that we knew—but they’re also richer, and work in trades less exposed to foreign competition. But something is clearly making them anxious.

What they do have in common—as Trump’s upset proves—is fear. Trump supporters’ chief worries are terrorism, immigration, and Mexican immigrants. Is it any coincidence that his top punching bags were Muslims and Mexicans? Obviously not.

Not only is it startling that so many people came out for Trump; it’s that so few people turned out against him. Maybe that shouldn’t be startling. Trump, after all, has changed the standards of the basic decency and civility America requires of its leaders. All the things Americans have known were character essentials of candidates, well, weren’t. You don’t need endorsements of your peers. Coyly avoid disavowing the praise of white supremacists? That’s cool. Question a federal judge because his parents were Mexican immigrants? Fine. Sneeringly say that paying no income tax, despite being a billionaire, “makes me smart”? That’s fine, too. Call America’s electoral system “rigged”? Sure. Hurl ridicule and insults at the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq? Go ahead. Describe grabbing women “by the pussy”? It took America a second to reflect, but then, yep—that’s totally okay too.

In fact, throughout the campaign, it has seemed that it was this ugliness itself that made Trump so damnably appealing. The more he swore, the nastier the things he insinuated, the more distant he seemed from the starchy-collared technocrats droning on about taxes—the ones who show up in Washington willing to compromise.

There’s no ground for give and take in Trump’s world. His diagnosis of America’s problems are epics of good versus evil. Sure, they hinge on solving problems—e.g. apocalyptic crime levels, roving bands of bloodthirsty “illegals,” a Benghazi-plotting rival—that don’t exist on any systemic level. But this ripped-from-the-comic-books moral battle is easy to understand, which makes it easy to understand how to solve. The fictitious weaknesses of Trumpian America can be fixed with swagger, violence, and a congenital knack for deal-making. They can be solved, in other words, much more easily than rising healthcare premiums, or the appalling erosion of the US education system.

It’s almost as though Trump supporters weren’t just voting for a candidate; they were also voting for a vision of what they dream of the American presidency to be: a cowboy toughie who creates jobs, coal demand, and a functional social security system through the flinty force of his will (and not, say, by haggling with Mitch McConnell). President as real American hero.

That was the job Donald Trump applied for—and he got it. (Clinton didn’t even realize there was an opening.)

The trouble for Trump—and all of us, now—is, his job won’t actually involve decreeing a border wall into being or masterminding the theft of Iraqi oil. Every day for four years, Trump will face the grinding tedium of leading a lumbering, viciously divided US government. The bitter tradeoffs—keep his campaign promise to expel unauthorized immigrants? Or not crash the economy?—soon confronting Trump won’t be solved by sly negotiating or slick salesmanship.

Back during the primaries, the New York Times reported that the Trump campaign had approached John Kasich about being his vice president. In the story—which the Trump campaign disavowed—Trump’s people supposedly told Kasich that his job would be handling both foreign and domestic affairs—an unusually comprehensive brief for a veep. What would the president do, he asked? Focus on making America great again.

Well, the American people are ready for the greatness they’ve been promised. Your move, Donald.