WASHINGTON: Donald Trump has stunned America and the world, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.
The Republican mogul defeated his Democratic rival, plunging global markets into turmoil and casting the long-standing global political order, which hinges on Washington’s leadership, into doubt.
“Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump told a cheering crowd of jubilant supporters in the early hours of Wednesday in New York, pledging to work with Democrats in office.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans,” he declared, in a conciliatory address in which he paid tribute to his defeated opponent and thanked his staff.
“Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said of Clinton, whose hopes of becoming America’s first woman president were brutally dashed.
During a bitter two-year campaign that tugged at America’s democratic fabric, the 70-year-old bombastic tycoon pledged to deport illegal immigrants, ban Muslims from the country and tear up free trade deals.
There was no disguising the concern of Washington’s European partners that Trump’s victory might destroy the Western alliance they still regard as a touchstone for stability and the rule of law.
– Nervous allies –
Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin offered warm congratulations and seized on the opportunity to urge Trump to help him get “US-Russia relations out of their critical condition.”
But EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker invited him to an EU-US summit at his “earliest convenience” to seek reassurances about trans-Atlantic ties.
And NATO head Jens Stoltenberg warned Trump, who spoke during the campaign of making US allies take a bigger share of the Western security burden, that “US leadership is more important than ever.”
Trump openly courted Putin during the race, called US support for NATO allies in Europe into question and suggested that South Korea and Japan should develop their own nuclear weapons.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted to Trump’s election by insisting that his country and the United States are “unshakeable allies.”
One ally took heart from Trump’s win. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said it guaranteed that his state would never have to accept the idea of an independent Palestine.
And some of the most enthusiastic support for Trump came from far-right and nationalist politicians in Europe such as French opposition figure Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League and British euroskeptic Nigel Farage.
– Markets rattled –
Trump, a businessman turned TV star turned-politico — who has never before held elected office — will become commander-in-chief of the world’s sole true superpower on January 20.
The results prompted a global market sell-off, with stocks plunging across Asia and Europe and billions being wiped off the value of investments.
Mexicans, fearing Trump’s vow to build a wall to cut America off from its southern neighbor, were dismayed and the peso fell to historic lows.
But it was not all economic gloom, Moscow’s stock market surged on the news and a Philippine property firm that is building a skyscraper licensed by the US tycoon saw its shares surge 20 percent.
– How did he win? –
Trump’s message was embraced by a large section of America’s white majority who have grown increasingly disgruntled by the scope of social and economic change in the last eight years under their first black president, Barack Obama.
Many Americans from minority backgrounds expressed dismay at Trump’s victory, which some saw as the result of what some observers said was a backlash against multicultural America.
Street protests over Trump’s win in San Francisco and Oakland, California led to small disturbances, with demonstrators facing off against police.
Although he has no government experience and in recent years has been as well known for running beauty pageants and starring on his reality television series “The Apprentice” as he is for building his property empire, Trump is the oldest man ever elected president.
Yet, during his improbable political rise, Trump has constantly proved the pundits and received political wisdom wrong.
Opposed by the entire senior hierarchy of his own Republican Party, he trounced more than a dozen better-funded and more experienced rivals in the party primary.
During the race, he was forced to ride out credible allegations of sexual assault from a dozen women and was embarrassed but apparently not ashamed to have been caught on tape boasting about groping women.
And, unique in modern US political history, he refused to release his tax returns — leaving a question mark over how much, if any, tax he has paid while running a global empire.
But the biggest upset came on Tuesday, as he swept to victory through a series of hard-fought wins in battleground states from Florida to Ohio. He amassed at least 290 electoral votes to 218 for Clinton, according to network projections.
– Supreme Court seat –
Clinton had been widely assumed to be on course to enter the history books as the first woman to become president in America’s 240-year existence.
Americans repudiated her call for unity amid the United States’ wide cultural and racial diversity, opting instead for a leader who insisted the country is broken and that he “alone can fix it.”
Trump has an uneasy relationship with the broader Republican Party, but it will have full control of Congress and he will be able to appoint a ninth Supreme Court justice to a vacant seat on the bench, deciding the balance of the body.
So great was the shock of defeat that the normally robust Clinton did not come out to her supporters’ poll-watching party to concede defeat, but instead called Trump and sent her campaign chairman.
“We are so proud of you. And we are so proud of her,” chairman John Podesta told shell-shocked supporters. “She’s done an amazing job, and she is not done yet.”
The campaign confirmed Clinton herself would speak early Wednesday.
– Slap to Obama –
The election result was also a brutal humiliation for the White House incumbent, Obama, who for eight years has repeated the credo that there is no black or white America, only the United States of America.
On the eve of the election, he told tens of thousands of people in Philadelphia that he was betting on the decency of the American people.
“I’m betting that tomorrow, most moms and dads across America won’t cast their vote for someone who denigrates their daughters,” Obama said.
“I’m betting that tomorrow, true conservatives won’t cast their vote for somebody with no regard for the Constitution,” he added.
His bet appears to have been flat out wrong, and America’s first black president will be succeeded by a candidate who received the endorsement — albeit unsought and unacknowledged — of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.