For my adult life, following the triumph of the civil rights movement, overt bigotry and racism have been socially unacceptable. Trump released these demons from the back room of the American psyche where they had been stuffed.
Trump was the candidate not of working-class America but of working-class white America. It is hard not to see his victory as partly, or perhaps mostly, a reaction to the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama, the first black man to occupy the White House. Some people might disregard the fact that Trump branded himself as a political figure by becoming a leader of the “birther” movement that challenged Obama’s legitimacy as holder of the nation’s highest office. I can’t forget it, or forgive it.
It is impolite to say such things so soon, I realize. Trump sounded gracious and inclusive in his victory speech, but of course he had to. Clinton urged the nation to come together behind its new leader, but of course she had no choice. The ritual of kind words and best wishes that follows an election is a great tradition, and I am glad it was observed.
We have no choice but to hope and pray for the best. But I would be dishonest if I claimed to see, in Trump’s election, anything positive except the fact that it ends a long and painful campaign.
There will be plenty of time for postmortems about the failures of the Clinton campaign. There will also be time for an extensive autopsy of the Democratic Party, which is at a modern-era low. Republicans will control the White House, both chambers of Congress, most governorships and most state legislatures. Democrats need new blood and new ideas — and they need to figure out how the GOP became the party of the working class, which used to be the Democratic Party’s core identity.
The old political order lies in rubble. Donald Trump is going to be president. The strength and resilience of the American experiment are about to be tested.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org