Sometimes there comes a crack in Time itself.
Sometimes the earth is torn by something blind. . . .
Call it the mores, call it God or Fate . . .
That force exists and moves.
And when it moves
It will employ a hard and actual stone
To batter into bits an actual wall
And change the actual scheme of things.
—Stephen Vincent Benét, “John Brown’s Body”
Hand it to him, the hard and actual stone who changed the actual scheme.
There were actually many stones, some 60 million, but Donald Trump did it, battering not just the famous blue wall but a wall of elites and establishments and their expectations.
The moment for me that will never be forgotten:
I was in a busy network green room late on election night. We were scrolling down, noting margins in various battlegrounds, looking for something definitive. Then someone read aloud from his phone: “AP calls it—Donald Trump elected president of the United States.” There was quiet for just a moment. I wrote in my notes “2:32 a.m., 11/9/16.” Soon we went into the newsroom for a panel, and I said what I thought, again from my notes: “We have witnessed something epochal and grave. It is the beginning of a new era whose shape and form are not clear, whose personnel and exact direction are unknown. But something huge and incalculable has occurred. God bless our beloved country.”
I am not one of those who knew how the evening would end. I saw Hillary Clinton winning for all the usual reasons. Now the usual reasons are pretty much out the window.
But some things should be said:
First, our democratic republic is vibrant and alive. It is not resigned. It is still capable of delivering a result so confounding it knocks you into the next room.
Nobody rigged this. Nobody hacked it. There weren’t brawls at polling places, there was kindness and civility. At the 92nd Street Y I got to embrace three neighbors. All this in a highly charged, highly dramatic and divisive election. We did our democratic work and then went home. It all worked.
Second, Donald Trump said he had a movement and he did. This is how you know. His presidential campaign was bad—disorganized, unprofessional, chaotic, ad hoc. There was no state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote effort—his voters got themselves out. There was no high-class, high-tech identifying of supporters—they identified themselves. They weren’t swayed by the barrage of brilliantly produced ads—those ads hardly materialized. This was not a triumph of modern campaign modes and ways. The people did this. As individuals within a movement.
It was a natural, self-driven eruption. Which makes it all the more impressive and moving. And it somehow makes it more beautiful that few saw it coming.
On the way home Wednesday morning I thought of my friend who runs the neighborhood shoe-repair shop. He is elderly, Italian-American, an immigrant. I had asked him last winter who would win the Republican nomination and he looked at me as if I were teasing. “Troomp!” he instructed. I realized at that moment: In America now only normal people can see the obvious. Everyone else is lost in a data-filled fog.
That was true right up to the end.
Those who come to this space know why I think what happened, happened. The unprotected people of America, who have to live with Washington’s policies, rebelled against the protected, who make and defend those policies and who care little if at all about the unprotected. That broke bonds of loyalty and allegiance. Tuesday was in effect an uprising of the unprotected. It was part of the push-back against detached elites that is sweeping the West and was seen most recently in the Brexit vote.
But so much depends upon the immediate moment. Mr. Trump must move surely now. When you add up the votes of Mrs. Clinton, Jill Stein,Gary Johnson and others, you get roughly 52%. Between 47% and 48% voted for Mr. Trump. It was an enormous achievement but a close-run thing, and precarious.
The previous 16 months were, for the Trump campaign, the victory project. What has to begin now is the reassurance project. The Democratic Party is in shock but will soon recover. Mainstream media, tired and taken aback, will reorient soon. Having targeted Mr. Trump in the campaign, they won’t be letting up now. Firing will quickly commence.
There is something I have seen very personally the past few days. The impolite way to put it is the left believed its own propaganda. The polite way is that having listened to Mr. Trump on the subjects of women and minorities, etc., they sincerely understand Mr. Trump and Trumpism to be an actual threat to their personal freedom. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly citizens of good will and patriotic intent who never deserved to be deplored as racist, sexist, thuggish. But some were not so benign or healthy.
The past few days I’ve heard from a young man who fears Jews will be targeted and told me of Muslim friends now nervous on the street. There was the beautiful lady with the blue-collar job who, when asked how she felt about the election, told me she is a lesbian bringing up two foreign-born adopted children and fears she will be targeted and her children somehow removed from her.
Many fear they will no longer be respected. They need to know things they rely on are still there. They don’t understand what has happened, and are afraid. They need—and deserve—reassurance. Trump apparatus: Find a way.
The president-elect should make a handful of appointments quickly, briskly, with an initial emphasis on old hands and known quantities. Ideological foes need not be included but accomplished Washington figures, especially those from previous administrations, should be invited in. It is silly to worry that Mr. Trump’s supporters will start to fear he’s gone establishment. They believe in him, are beside themselves with joy, and will understand he’s shoring up his position and communicating stability.
Third, there are former officials and true experts with esteemed backgrounds who need to be told: Help him.
They wouldn’t advise him during the campaign because of the stigma he carried as a barbarian and likely loser. It might damage their stature. Better to watch him go down to defeat and continue their career as big brains in exile.
But that’s over.
A Trump administration will be populated by three kinds of people: loyalists, opportunists and patriots.
The loyalists earned their way. “To the victor belong the spoils.” Back a long shot for president, and you’ll get a midlevel office in the Executive Office Building. The opportunists have a place in every administration—they spy an opening, have a friend who has a friend, wind up as undersecretary to the assistant secretary. That’s life among the humans, especially the political humans.
It is the patriots who matter, many of whom kept away from Mr. Trump in the past. They are needed now. They have heft, wisdom, experience and insight.
Donald Trump doesn’t know how to be president. He isn’t a reader of the presidency. He’s never held office. There’s little reason to believe he knows how to do this.
The next president needs you. This is our country. Help him.