It was the most remarkable night in the history of democratic politics. It may also prove to be the most momentous. Hillary has one consolation. She was the godmother of victory, for she elected a President. Only she, with her unique range of negatives, could have delivered victory to Donald Trump. The American electorate had a choice. In one corner, the least-well qualified of all serious candidates for the Presidency in the whole of American history. Opposite him, much the least likeable. Both are weighed down with moral flaws. But it is possible to believe that in Mr Trump’s case, these stem in part from indiscipline. In Mrs Clinton’s case, they arise from cold and calculated malevolence.
Not that her calculations were reliable. In the British General Election of 1992, apparently certain to win the Premiership, Neil Kinnock held a rally in Sheffield. It was meant to display him as a victor. He actually came across as a good TV compere, for a programme intended to appeal to mentally-retarded teenagers. That helped him to lose. At the end of her campaign, Hillary held a similar rally. She was accompanied by Michelle Obama, who does not appeal to the white working class, and various Hollywood glitterati who do not like their country. In a troubled and insecure world, all she had to offer was stardust. This helped her to lose. In lots of unglamorous households throughout the American rust-belt, they would have responded by telling her to forget the star – and keep the dust.
So what happens next? What sort of President will Mr Trump be? It is hard to answer that question, for a simple reason. He himself appears to have no idea. It is clear what he ought to do. He ought to proclaim a message of unity within America itself and amity between America and all other nations of good will. In pursuit of this, he should use the allure of his office to summon wisdom to Washington so that he has a superb team of advisors. They should include General David Petraeus. He committed an indiscretion with a secretary: so what? If Donald Trump can hold high office, so can he. Unlike the average candidate, who would have come up through the party and built up debts along the way, Mr Trump owes hardly anything to hardly anyone. So he should pick outstanding conservative Republicans, plus the odd Democrat. If he could persuade Condoleezza Rice to have a second innings as Secretary of State, there would be an immediate upsurge of confidence.
Even if Mt Trump did all that, there would be a credibility gap, especially in Europe. The European liberal left habitually derides the American political process and its outcomes. Otherwise moderately intelligent people insist that the great Ronald Reagan was a cretinous warmonger. So what will they say about Donald Trump? It would help if he found some good ambassadors. William Weld, a sometime Republican Governor of Massachusetts, more recently Vice-Presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket, would make an ideal Ambassador to the Court of St James. In general, British diplomacy could play a crucial role. First, difficult but vital, we should try to persuade the new President to restrain his protectionist instincts. Second, we should realise that the Americans are not always wrong. If Mr Trump does insist that the rest of Nato should make a higher contribution to defence, it would be hard to argue against him. Perhaps we should start by committing ourselves to spend two and a half percent of GDP on our defence.
In a dangerous world, the long gap between election and inauguration can be destabilising. But it does give Mr Trump the chance to think everything through. He would be well advised to disappear to a remote ranch with wise councillors and make no public statements. They can wait.
This American election has not been the greatest advertisement for the American political system. Vox populi has hardly equalled vox dei. Two cheers for democracy, anyone? But there is one consolation. Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States. That is worth half a cheer.