So it has happened. The thing that seemed impossible – that seemed, in fact, like a drunken dare that had got horribly out of hand – really has happened. The most powerful person in the world will soon be a man supported by the Klu Klux Plan.
This, of course, is the man who called Mexicans rapists and said he would deal with those rapists by building a giant wall. This is the man who said that all Muslims should be banned from entering the country and mocked the parents of a Muslim man who died for it. This is the man who thinks the best thing to do with a woman is to “grab her by the pussy” and stick your tongue down her throat. And this is the man who mocked a disabled reporter and threw a boy in a wheelchair out of a rally.
Donald Trump said he “hadn’t decided” whether he would accept the result of the election if his opponent won. Well, he seems to have decided to accept it now. “It’s time,” he said, in his victory speech, “for America to bind the wounds of division”. It was if the threats, and slogans, and chants of “lock her up” that had echoed across the nation over the past 18 months, had had nothing at all to do with him. But we were in a new world now. In this new world, you can say one thing, and then you can say another thing, and you may not even notice that the thing you just said was different to the thing you said before.
So what do you do? If, for example, you’re the leader of a country in Europe that wants to sell lots of things to America, what on earth do you do? Most world leaders, and senior politicians, had made it very, very clear that Donald Trump was not their top choice as leader of the free world. Trump’s comments about Muslims, said Theresa May, were “divisive, unhelpful and wrong”. He was, said Boris Johnson, “unfit to hold the office of President of the United States”. Trump, said French President Francois Holland, “makes you want to retch”.
On Wednesday, it was all a bit different. “I look forward,” said Theresa May, “to working with president-elect Trump. We are, and will remain,” she added, “strong and close partners”. Leaders across the world rushed to echo her. The man with the orange tan and the hair that looked like a flying squirrel suddenly looked like a god. Boris Johnson was certainly won over. It was, he said, time to stop the “collective whinge-o-rama”. He ducked the meeting specially arranged for EU foreign ministers on what the hell you do when a nut job gets the keys to the nuclear codes. Time to ditch the “doom and gloom” and let the sun shine in!
It took Angela Merkel to strike a different note. “Germany and America,” she said, “are connected by values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation and political views.” Her country, she said, would co-operate with America “on the basis of these values”. Which is about as near as a congratulatory message ever gets to a slap in the face.
Donald Trump’s victory speech came on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” in 1938, when thousands of Jewish people and businesses across Germany were attacked by Nazi forces. It took years and the loss of more than six million lives before anyone could even begin to put that broken glass back.
Is this really a time to let the sun shine in? Is it true, as Nigel Farage implied, after tweeting a photo of himself and Trump in a golden lift in Trump Towers, that the Trump who runs the free world will suddenly turn from a psycho to a pussy cat? The short answer is: we don’t know. We have no idea, and nor does Farage and nor does Trump, who has, for the past 18 months (and 70 odd years) been saying whatever pops into his head.
What we do know is that this man has had thousands of legal cases brought against him, including about 70 that are still live. We know that he has been accused of mafia links. We know that he has been bankrupt several times and that for many years he paid no federal tax at all. We know that he didn’t actually write his bestselling book The Art of the Deal and that the man who did thinks he is “staggeringly dangerous”.
We know that he doesn’t care about climate change and won’t be sticking to any new deals that try to curb it. We know that he has promised to increase public spending and cut taxes and might as well have said that he wants the solar system to forget about the sun and start to orbit around Trump Towers. And we know that his new best friend is Vladimir Putin, a man who thinks bombing children on hospital beds is an excellent way to boost your polls.
Do we have to deal with Trump? Well, yes, we probably do. America is still the world’s only superpower, and we have to engage with it just to keep the world safe. But can’t we take our cue from the current President of the United States, a man who stands for absolutely everything Donald Trump has said he is against? When he met him at the White House on Thursday, Barack Obama didn’t smile. He was civil. He was correct. He was grave. Only a fool meets danger with a cheesy grin.
Let’s hope things are better than we fear. Let’s hope that the threat so many Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans now feel starts to fade. Let’s hope the damage is contained. And let’s hope, and pray, and work, and campaign to make sure that the pendulum that has swung to hate and fear, and panders to the worse of us, can one day swing back to something that brings out the best.