Tempus fugits without much month-to-month change. February is a lot like January, August a lot like July. But the pace of change quickens, and overnight everything old seems new again. The 2016 presidential election was a sudden and breathtaking upheaval of wishes and dreams as Americans divided themselves between those who want, or think they want, a fundamentally transformed United States, and those who yearn to “make America great again.” These opposing emotions of disappointment and expectation collide to promise a jarring ride through 2017.
A Pew Research Center survey finds that Donald Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton put attitudes upside down. On the eve of Election Day, 77 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans expressed optimism over their party’s futures. A month later, pollsters found that the two parties had traded places. Democrats feeling hopeful had fallen to 61 percent and Republicans excited about the future had risen to 79 percent.
The ebb and flow of hope follows the nation’s swerve to the right. A month after the final tabulation of the Electoral College, 64 percent of Democrats say they’re still disappointed in the outcome and 1 in 4 Democrats say their anger has not subsided. Among Republicans, 38 percent say they’re still excited over Mr. Trump’s victory and 48 percent say they’re “relieved.”
The numbers reflect the emotional highs and lows that have gripped social media since the election. Comedian Aisha Tyler tweeted the anger and essence of the Tyler routine: “Remember when mobs of gun-toting tea partiers flooded DC, pledged to assassinate Obama & burned him in effigy on the mall? Yeah, me too.”
That never actually happened, of course, but hysteria can make people see things that aren’t there, and trigger urges of “flight or fight.” Mr. Trump’s unexpected triumph sent disappointed Americans, who may love it but still want to leave it, fleeing to Canada’s official immigration website. Only a handful actually went anywhere, suggesting the never-Trumpers are preparing to fight behind enemy lines. Other Americans, invigorated by the prospect of a president committed to unleashing the economy, cheer announcements like the recent vow of Alibaba’s Jack Ma to create a million jobs in America over the next five years.
Both joy and anger are likely in the months and years of the Trump era. President Obama is doing what he can to make his successor uncomfortable long after he leaves the White House. He won’t be far away. He’s attempting to establish something of a shadow White House in the Kalorama neighborhood of the rich and semi-beautiful. As the Donald overturns the Obama mockery of “hope and change,” the community activist can call down “progressive” fire and brimstone on every Trump initiative.
Mr. Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform” America reflects his view that a nation of deplorables needs a radical transformation. He has taken his best shot by hacking away at the nation’s roots. Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” has the ring of a vow to restore and protect those roots. That’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, optimists and pessimists, as the troubled Obama years give way to the age of Trump.