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Now president, can Trump unite rather than divide?

As the man decried as a vulgar and dangerously unpredictable bully prepares to succeed Barack Obama, it remains to be seen whether he is now capable of bringing together a bitterly divided people, writes Colin Randall.
President-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel in the early hours of November 9, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
President-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel in the early hours of November 9, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

From leading a ragged “basket of deplorables”, as Hillary Clinton termed half of his followers, Donald John Trump has risen above the stench of a hideously unattractive US election campaign to win the sweetest of prizes.

But as the man decried as a vulgar and dangerously unpredictable bully prepares to succeed Barack Obama as the head of the world’s most powerful nation, it remains to be seen whether Mr Trump is now capable of uniting his bitterly divided people.

In the immediate euphoria of a victory that many around the globe thought improbable, there were hints of graciousness and magnanimity as the business tycoon acknowledged Mrs Clinton’s “very, very hard-fought campaign” and her long record of service to the United States.

This may seem the least a conqueror might say of their conquered, but it is a far cry from the “lock her up” rhetoric of the boisterous election rallies in which Mr Trump denounced Mrs Clinton as unfit to stand for office.

Now, over the coming four years, Mr Trump’s task is to persuade his fellow countrymen and women – all Americans, as he put it himself, and not just his supporters – that he represents them in spite of the divisions highlighted and exacerbated by the election.

Mrs Clinton’s remark that half of her opponent’s supporters could be put into a “basket of deplorables” was not an innocent aside plucked out of context from a vastly more measured analysis.

She went on to say that these people included the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”.

“And he has lifted them up,” she added. “He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.”

Some of them were irredeemable, she said, but “thankfully they are not America”.

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Beyond these hate-filled irredeemables were the ordinary Americans who felt let down by their government, the economy and an establishment that cared nothing about their lives or struggles.

Those, essentially, were Mrs Clinton’s words, too, to explain Mr Trump’s wider appeal and they help to explain the core reason for his success.

Just as Rome and Barcelona voted in local elections for anti-party activists untarnished by the successive failings of mainstream politicians, and as countries such as France, Austria and Germany edge closer to electing far-right groups or individuals to power, the US has chosen rupture to express its desire for change.

Now the incoming president, an immensely wealthy product of big business and reality television, has to show himself capable of being what he belatedly aspires to be: a head of state for all, a unifying force.

In his victory speech on Wednesday morning Mr Trump seemed to be trying to spread this message of unity even further afield, promising to “get along with all other nations willing to get along with us”.

Mr Trump’s ability to serve as a unifying force stacks up to a tall order, however, given his track record. Not only has he advocated a ban on Muslims entering the US and proposed scrapping president Barack Obama’s vaunted health care programme, but he has also promised to build a giant wall to keep Mexicans out of the US – that Mexico itself will pay for. That is without reflecting on the millions of Americans offended by his multiple lecherous and sexist remarks about women and allegations of historical sexual assault.

Trump supporters clearly bought into their candidate’s protestations that he was the victim of a media and establishment stitch-up – or perhaps felt comfortable with even his most outrageous sound bites and leaked confidences.

But whether the rest of the world can feel comfortable with a Trump presidency is another matter.

The new leader of the free world is accustomed to sniping from other countries: the French prime minister Manuel Valls called him “arguably a bad man”, while Boris Johnson, before becoming Britain’s foreign minister, said: “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

As the tremors of a widely unexpected election result reverberate around the world, they may be among a number of political leaders now reflecting on how they will deal with a man they once ridiculed and vilified.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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US ELECTION: The National’s full coverage

Trump wins

■ Rob Crilly in New York: Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States

■ US election 2016 live: Donald Trump wins

■ Live blog: Business world reaction to Trump victory

■ Opinion: What the first 100 days of Donald Trump will look like

■ In pictures: Election night

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Updated: November 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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