Given the number of people in the city, New Yorkers rarely feel they’re on the same page with each other. The day after Donald Trump was elected United States president, however, they quietly mourned together. The weather, as if set in a Shakespearean drama, reflected the solemn state of the city’s inhabitants.
In the days leading up to the election, the weather was perfectly crisp. The annual marathon, which many New Yorkers consider to be one of the city’s great unofficial public holidays, went off without a hitch under the changing foliage of Central Park. The morning after the election, however, New York awoke to overcast and chilly skies: a perfect physical representation of the mood shared by many, if not most, of those living there.
It is no wonder that the city was ensconced in melancholy. This election was aggressive and full of anger from the start. Never before had two presidential candidates been so despised by the American people. Even for outside observers, the contest for the White House transcended the boundaries of acceptable discourse and manners.
The question most are asking now and will be considering for the next four years is simple: how did Trump and his campaign team identify the rage bubbling beneath the surface of American life? Perhaps the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American US president lulled liberal Americans into an erroneous perception of their country – racism and the fear behind it remain a constant in US society.
Trump didn’t create these sentiments, he merely harnessed rage and redirected it for his own purposes. The fact that he was able to do so in unorthodox ways – by diverting media attention and attacking minorities – is a testament to the erosion of the American intellect.
From a political vantage point, the US was warned of a Trump victory after the Brexit decision. After the United Kingdom’s shock vote to leave the European Union in the summer, mainstream media should not have discounted populist sentiment in the US to the degree that it did. In fact, the same principles apply to the success of both Brexit and Trump: rural, white, middle- and lower-class voters fed up with dwindling prospects in life and work. Faux populist rhetoric blaming immigrants for the country’s woes was propagated by elitist politicians who rebranded themselves as common people.
In this way, the Trump phenomenon was especially breathtaking. That an entitled New York real estate baron could be considered a champion of middle-class rights is only possible in an environment where measuring intellectual thought is discarded in favour of lowest common denominator television drama, masquerading as news and debate. Analysts have said Trump received US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) to $3bn in free media coverage for the mere fact that he made politics into a circus similar to reality television.
Indeed, part of New York’s melancholic state after election day was simply the fatigue of many who were subjected to the barrage of misinformation and “entertainment” news that typified this election cycle.
Underneath the rise of Trump and the rejection of informed fact-based discourse by a majority of Americans lies real, deep-seated anger about the direction in which the country is heading. Too many Americans are working too hard for too little while sectors of the economy enjoy record-breaking profits with the full knowledge they could be bailed out in the case of an emergency, as happened during the 2008 financial crisis.
Trump and Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders understood that the establishment had failed to address the needs of the middle class and that the time for radical change was ripe.
The president-elect still seems to be as shocked as the rest of the world that he actually won the election. He has reportedly ignored intelligence briefings and appears to be learning about the gravity of his new job as he goes along.
As The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson put it, Trump “seems unwilling to view the presidency as an office, which has defined limits, instead of as a new way to express his personal desires, which have none”.
Trump has made no secret that he will use his position in the White House to enrich his personal business ventures. He has already said foreign diplomats should use his hotels when visiting the country, and had his daughter Ivanka join meetings with foreign leaders, despite the clear conflict of interest.
There has been a collective feeling that the election of Trump as president is without precedent and that the divisions sweeping the US have never reached such a degree in the history of the republic.
The US has endured a civil war, race riots that have shut down cities and self-serving presidents in the past. Trump might be unique in his vanity, but he is not alone in history nor will he bring about the end of the country in four years.
Joseph Dana is an opinion writer at The National.