Vic­tory achieved, but can Trump lead?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist

Colum­nist Dana Mil­bank weighs in on the stun­ning elec­tion re­sult — and what comes next.

Baker Melissa Alt showed up un­bid­den at Trump Tower on Elec­tion Day with a 40-pound cake in the form of a Don­ald Trump bust, and Trump aides liked the like­ness enough to dis­play it in the ball­room at Trump’s elec­tion-night party.

But there was some­thing wrong with the choco­late con­fec­tion. Alt was aim­ing to re­pro­duce Trump’s pout, but she wound up mak­ing him look star­tled and sad.

Af­ter Tues­day night, that’s the ex­act ex­pres­sion worn by tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and count­less more across the globe.

Just be­fore 3 a.m., the un­think­able had be­come of­fi­cial. In the ball­room of New York’s Hil­ton ho­tel, the Fox News screens in the room car­ried the sur­real ban­ner: “Don­ald Trump Wins Pres­i­dency.”

The theme from “Air Force One” played. From a bal­cony above the ball­room, Trump ap­peared, in the fash­ion of Bri­tish roy­alty or a cer­tain Ital­ian leader. He de­scended to the stage with family and aides, and the pres­i­dent-elect ex­ulted. “It’s been what they call a historic event,” he said.

It shocked jour­nal­ists. It shocked mar­kets. It ap­par­ently sur­prised Trump him­self. A petu­lant Trump on elec­tion eve told a crowd a loss would make this cam­paign “the sin­gle great­est waste of time.”

If only it had just been a waste of time. If only Trump’s can­di­dacy hadn’t ripped the coun­try apart by race, gen­der, re­li­gion and eth­nic­ity. If only it hadn’t turned the proud Repub­li­can Party into a xeno­pho­bic amal­ga­ma­tion of an­gry, older white men. If only it hadn’t left the coun­try bit­ter and all but un­govern­able.

Seven­teen months ago, Trump de­scended the el­e­va­tor at Trump Tower, blocks from his vic­tory party at the Hil­ton. He be­gan with rapists and crim­i­nals, and closed with “bad hom­bres” and a “nasty woman.” In be­tween, there was: his pro­posed ban on Mus­lims; vi­o­lence at his ral­lies; grop­ing al­le­ga­tions; Miss Piggy; his mak­ing scape­goats of mi­nori­ties; vows to put his op­po­nent in jail; en­cour­age­ment of Rus­sia’s hack­ing; and a threat not to honor the elec­tion re­sults.

Fi­nally, there was FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey’s Oc­to­ber Sur­prise, reopen­ing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Clin­ton and then clos­ing it nine days later — an in­ter­ven­tion that, exit polls sug­gest, may have tipped the bal­ance.

What­ever the cause, at about 9 p.m. Tues­day, the world changed. The early re­turns had looked grim, even on Fox News, play­ing on all TVs at Trump’s party. But when Fox News be­gan re­port­ing a tight race in Florida, guests from the nearby VIP re­cep­tions filled the ball­room.

The bil­lion­aire can­di­date of­fered his sup­port­ers a cash bar for the evening, and his antieli­tist fol­low­ers shelled out $13 for cock­tails, $13 for glasses of wine and $11 for beer. The booze flowed. Scores of empty bot­tles of Jack Daniels and Stolich­naya and beer were carted out, and hun­dreds of new glasses carted in. More empty liquor bot­tles were re­moved, and more cases of wine wheeled in.

One Trump aide turned to an­other and said, “We may be go­ing to Wash­ing­ton.” Rudy Gi­u­liani and other sur­ro­gates filed in; Sarah Palin taunted a re­porter about the re­sults.

As the Trump wins drib­bled in — Ohio, then North Carolina and Florida — the ball­room au­di­ence be­gan to sound like a football crowd: chants of “USA!,” “Build a wall” and “Drain the swamp,” fists pump­ing in the air, and plas­tic cock­tail cups (the ho­tel had run out of glasses) held high.

Af­ter Wis­con­sin and Iowa fell to Trump, al­most all on the floor were in red Trump hats, lustily boo­ing Juan Wil­liams when Fox News’ lib­eral com­men­ta­tor, an African Amer­i­can, protested Trump’s false state­ments about black peo­ple.

When Clin­ton cam­paign chief John Podesta ap­peared from Clin­ton head­quar­ters on the Fox News screens in the room to say Clin­ton wasn’t yet conceding, Trump’s sup­port­ers punched fists in the air and raised mid­dle fin­gers at the screens. More cases of beer were wheeled in. Next to the bar, the Trump cake still looked wor­ried.

Maybe the hu­man Trump should worry, too. He stirred up racial and re­li­gious ha­tred and stoked gen­der and class re­sent­ments, val­i­dated con­spir­acy the­o­rists and the racist alt-right, em­ployed un­truths and promised fol­low­ers an un­achiev­able agenda. How does he gov­ern now?

When the race was fi­nally called, Trump promised to be the “pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans” and ap­pealed for “com­mon ground, not hos­til­ity; part­ner­ship, not con­flict.”

Let’s hope for the sake of the coun­try that he means it.

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