The United States wakes up Wednesday morning to a scenario that until very late Tuesday night, had seemed all but impossible: Republican Donald Trump is the 45th president. He will take office in January with his party in control of both chambers of Congress, and a Supreme Court vacancy waiting to be filled which will allow him to determine the ideological balance of the court for the foreseeable future.
With several states still counting votes, Trump had nevertheless amassed a commanding lead of 289 electoral votes to 218 overnight. In remarks to his supporters, he said, “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”
The result was a stunning rebuke to the Democratic Party in general, and to its nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular. She had been considered the odds-on favorite to win the Oval Office by even the most cautious forecasters.
Most of all, though, it was a slap in the face to President Barack Obama, who threw himself into the campaign to get Clinton elected. He now faces the prospect of having his legacy systematically dismantled by a man he has described as “unfit to serve” as president.
The victory hands Trump, the real estate mogul and former reality television star, an extraordinary opportunity to reshape the United States, both domestically and internationally. He has vowed massive changes to policy on trade, immigration, health care, national security, and a host of other areas -- frequently offering little in the way of details.
Because of the volume of dramatic change he has promised, the immediate effect of a Trump victory will be to throw much of the country into deep uncertainty -- something that was reflected in an across-the-board collapse in stock futures overnight. Major US indices were down about 2 percent at 6 a.m.
Many international markets were still closed when it became clear that Trump would win, but in Japan, the Nikkei plunged more than 5 percent as his eventual victory became more and more certain. As markets came online overnight, the reaction was almost universal panic, with early losses posted on almost every major index.
Among the many questions that will need answering in the weeks to come are:
What will become of the Affordable Care Act? Republicans have long sought to repeal the signature domestic achievement of President Barack Obama’s time in office, and Trump has joined them. Despite numerous flaws, the law allowed tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans access to healthcare coverage. What the future holds for them is now unclear, but no plan has been put forward to replace it that wouldn’t strip them of their existing insurance.
Will Trump follow through on his plans for undocumented immigrants? Trump, early in his campaign, promised to create a “deportation force” that would be in charge of rounding up and deporting some 12 million people who entered the United States illegally, including people brought to the country as small children.
What will happen to NATO? The future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has kept the peace in Europe since the years after World War II, is now in doubt. Trump has expressed doubt about the need for the United States to continue honoring some or all of the mutual defense treaty.
How will minority groups react? Trump’s victory will be extremely unsettling to racial, ethnic, and religious minorities of all sorts. Trump has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists. His campaign chairman is closely associated with the growing “alt-right” movement, which demonizes racial minorities, Jews, and others. He has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States. His supporters have, time and again, been associated with anti-Semitic and racist language.
How will women react? Many women expected to see Hillary Clinton become the first female president of the United States. Instead, they are facing the prospect of watching a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault -- and has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women -- taking the Oval Office in her place.
What will happen to current and future trade deals? Like Bernie Sanders, Trump has blamed some trade deals for the loss of jobs in America and promised to renegotiate those deals to be more beneficial to the US. Economists and international trade experts widely view his positions as misguided, so how trade policy will be handled in a Trump administration is a major question going forward.
Wither the national debt? Even the most charitable readings of Trump’s economic proposals find that they would result in massive increases in the national debt, rapidly taking it to levels that many economists view as economically unsupportable.
What will a Trump administration look like? Recent news reports have suggested that Trump is considering highly divisive figures for major cabinet posts, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Attorney General. While it’s far from clear that these and others will actually be Trump’s picks, the idea that he will choose top administration figures from his circle of advisers will be an early headache for Senate Republicans who would be called on to confirm them.
What about climate change? Trump has memorably argued that global warming is a hoax perpetrated on the US by the Chinese in order to make the US less competitive in the global marketplace. While the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is both real and dangerous, it is unclear whether Trump would support continued US participation in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
How’s Putin feeling about this? Though Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied it, multiple US intelligence agencies believe that computer hackers, acting on the orders of the Kremlin, have made multiple efforts to interfere with the presidential election, including hacking attacks on key Democratic party figures and institutions, like Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. Trump has gone out of his way to both praise Putin and to cast doubt on the findings of US intelligence agencies.
What about Trump’s business empire? Presidents who come into office have traditionally placed their assets in a blind trust, to eliminate the possibility that their official actions could be seen as self-serving. Trump has indicated that he will make a half measure and will instead transfer control of his global network of properties and brands to his children. Maintaining a “family business” with his children in charge does not satisfy the idea of a blind trust, nor does it satisfy the kind of transparency Americans expect.