In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking victory, many liberals woke up Wednesday morning feeling like strangers in their own country, or perhaps, as if they were the familiar ones and it was the country itself that had become the stranger. I heard it in the voices of friends. I read it in texts from family. I found it in newspaper headlines from some of my favorite writers and in tweets and Facebook messages. What kind of a country do I live in? they asked. Something important has changed. This is not the nation I thought I knew.
But America is what we thought it was. It is still a 50-50 nation, dominated by negative partisanship, in which about half of the country will reliably vote to defeat the other half for the foreseeable future. It is still a nation of propositional pluralism—“send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”—crossed with ineradicable xenophobia—“go back to where you came from.” It is still a country teetering on the razor’s edge of both a social-democratic revolution and 1950s-era conservatism. That’s the country Americans knew we had at midnight Tuesday morning. And it’s the nation reflected in the votes tallied on Tuesday night.
Here is what happened 36 hours ago. Hillary Clinton seems to have narrowly won the popular vote, yet narrowly lost the election, because of the geographical distribution of her support. Donald Trump won the electoral vote due to a margin of about 100,000 votes spread across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This critical difference represents about 0.04 percent of registered voters, a statistical speck. One vote in 2,500 was the difference between electing a liberal Democrat and rewarding a candidate for the most openly racist campaign in generations.