Jumping the shark

I dreamt about the US election last night, just as I did the night before. On Tuesday I dreamed that Trump might win; last night I dreamed knowing he had, and wondering what the future held.

Yesterday was one of those remarkable days in history that everyone will recall for years to come, and which will long be analysed and reported on in the press and history books long after the participants have passed on. Yesterday history jumped the shark. Donald Trump became US president. 

There’s a part of me that’s not surprised, and another part of me shocked still to the point of disbelief – as if any moment all of this is a dream I might wake from. 

In the pit of my stomach I think I suspected it would not be as neat and predictable as the pundits forecast. I feared that the polls might be misleading because many Trump supporters might not be willing to admit to it short of the ballot paper; and the great unknown was the turn-out. It doesn’t matter if most supported Clinton if they don’t go out and vote. 

Still, it doesn’t feel real. Yesterday was crazy as it unfolded. Today it feels still, as if the world numbed by the vote has stopped to ponder what now. ‘Surreal’ is a much abused and over-used word, yet it feels perfectly apt today. It’s strange here in faraway Australia, but if I were a liberal American I would be horrified, and every chance looking sideways at my fellow Americans wondering which of them could have voted for Trump.

Some of the stats are amazing. The exit polls say that 63% of white males voted for Trump, and over half of white women. The cities voted Democrat, but the rest of the country for Trump. Trump even had a surprisingly good Hispanic vote. 

It’s hard to understand and I wonder what I’m missing living so far away. Signs of social fragmentation and general decline have been evident for years, but I would never have believed it was so extreme. From the outside America looks like a nation divided, and the opposing factions poles apart. I wonder how that rift can be healed. I don’t know if it can be. I expect Trump to moderate now he is in power, but his election has validated those who voted for such extreme policies. His rise gives permission for the racist, sexist and generally bigoted to be their worst. It’s going to get a lot worse before any possibility of getting better. 

I remember when Obama was elected the first time and how there was a vibe around the office as it appeared he would get up. Everyone I worked with barracked for him, and there was a sense of hope when he was elected. It was a moment.

Yesterday was a moment too, but of a different kind. Everyone was fascinated to start with, then transfixed by the results. All of us in the office followed online as the polling results dribbled in and electoral map was slowly coloured in. Conversation was all about that. When Trump edged ahead there was a sense of uncertainty: it would correct, surely? The great hope was California and the more liberal states of the west, but even so it appeared that Clinton would need to regain the lead in several of the states she was trailing in. As it appeared more and more certain that Trump would win (and I think Anthony Green called that first) there was an edge of shocked disbelief. Work slowed. Conversation was dominated by the election. Thoughts finally turned to what it meant. 

No-one seemed remotely happy at a Trump victory. I live in a distant country, and live and work in a city, but even so, considering the great support from Trump in the US you would think some of that might have been exported here. Doubtless there are many Australians glad of his elevation, but the overwhelming sense right now is dread and confusion.

I watched a documentary the other day about the 2000 US election, where Gore was denied the presidency by a few recalcitrant chads and a partisan Florida legislature. I wondered then how history might have been different had Gore got up instead of Bush? Would there have been an Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that has flowed from that? Would there even have been a 9/11? We’ll never know. History pivoted that moment.

The same thing happened a few months ago with Brexit. History stepped to the right and went off in an unexpected direction. It happened again yesterday. Everything has changed, as if we have swapped narratives with some strange parallel universe.

2016. It’s a year that will be remembered for many things, one of those years that might echo down through the ages. I was there. I am here. This is now. What happens 2017 and beyond I do not know.

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