Donald John Trump was elected the 45th president of the US on Wednesday in a stunning culmination of an explosive, populist and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held ideals of American democracy.
The surprise outcome, defying late polls that showed Hillary Clinton with a modest but persistent edge, threatened convulsions throughout the country and the world, where sceptics had watched with alarm as Trump’s unvarnished overtures to disillusioned voters took hold.
The triumph for Trump, 70, a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the world of business to government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration.
The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Clinton, but of President Barack Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the US had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.
In Trump, a thrice-married Manhattanite who lives in a marble-wrapped three-story penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, they found an improbable champion.
“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Trump told supporters at a rally in New York City, just after Clinton called to concede.
In a departure from a blistering campaign in which he repeatedly stoked division, Trump sought to do something he had conspicuously avoided as a candidate: Appeal for unity.
“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” he said. “It is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.”
Bolstered by Trump’s strong showing, Republicans retained control of the Senate.
From the moment he entered the campaign, with a shocking set of claims that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals, Trump was widely underestimated as a candidate, first by his opponents for the Republican nomination and later by Clinton, his Democratic rival. His rise was largely missed by polling organizations and data analysts. He suggested remedies that raised questions of constitutionality, like a ban on Muslims entering the US. He threatened opponents, promising lawsuits against news organizations that covered him critically and women who accused him of sexual assault. At times, he simply lied.
But Trump’s unfiltered rallies and unshakeable self-regard attracted a zealous following, fusing unsubtle identity politics with an economic populism that often defied party doctrine. He seemed to embody the success and grandeur that so many of his followers felt was missing from their own lives—and from the country itself.
For Clinton, the defeat signalled an astonishing end to a political dynasty that has coloured Democratic politics for a generation. Eight years after losing to Obama in the Democratic primary—and 16 years after leaving the White House for the US Senate, as Bill Clinton exited office—she had seemed positioned to carry on two legacies: her husband’s and the president’s.
But over and over, Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate were exposed. She failed to excite voters hungry for change. She struggled to build trust with Americans who were baffled by her decision to use a private email server as secretary of state. And she strained to make a persuasive case for herself as a champion of the economically downtrodden after delivering perfunctory paid speeches that earned her millions of dollars.
Uncertainty abounds as Trump prepares to take office. His campaign featured a shape-shifting list of policy proposals, often seeming to change hour to hour. His staff was in constant turmoil, with Trump’s children serving critical campaign roles and a rotating cast of advisers alternately seeking access to Trump’s ear, losing it and, often, regaining it, depending on the day.
Even Trump’s full embrace of the Republican Party came exceedingly late in life, leaving members of both parties unsure about what he truly believes. He has donated heavily to both parties and has long described his politics as the transactional reality of a businessman.
Trump’s dozens of business entanglements—many of them in foreign countries—will follow him into the Oval Office, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest. His refusal to release his tax returns, and his acknowledgment that he did not pay federal income taxes for years, has left the American people with considerable gaps in their understanding of the financial dealings. But this they do know: Trump will thoroughly reimagine the tone, standards and expectations of the presidency, molding it in his own self-aggrandizing image.
He is set to take the oath of office on 20 January.
©2016/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Amy Chozick, Ashley Parker, Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin contributed to this story.