All evening Tuesday, the words appeared in battleground race after battleground race, including North Carolina:
Too close to call.
All night, the reason for the unpredictability was the same:
We are too far apart.
Our cities are diverse and largely Democratic. Our rural areas are white and largely Republican. This is hardly news, but this election, up to its final moments, has reminded us of just how separate we are.
As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, Donald Trump held an Electoral College advantage in the race for president, despite Hillary Clinton being poised to win the popular vote. Trump seemed poised to ride a wave of white voters into the White House. It was not the wave most expected.
Democrats had hoped – and pundits had predicted – that when it counted, voters would decide that they wanted to live in a better America than the Republican nominee represented. They believed voters wouldn’t elect a crude, insecure man who boasted of sexual assault and demonized others. They also believed Trump’s divisiveness would catch up to him, that all the groups he alienated in his campaign – Latinos and Muslims and women and blacks – would stand up to him.
But in North Carolina and across the country, millions of other Americans thought it was a good idea for Trump to occupy the White House. In North Carolina, Clinton performed as expected in urban centers, but Trump and other Republicans picked up voters many didn’t anticipate in suburbs and exurbs across the state.
For starters, those voters didn’t trust Clinton, who gave them plenty of reason for their misgivings. But also, they are angry, and this might be the message both parties need to take from Tuesday: Too many Americans feel disconnected from their government and shut out of the prosperity that others enjoy.
In part, that’s because U.S. trade policy hasn’t lifted all boats, as expected, but instead has left wide swaths of manufacturing workers believing that they’ve been forgotten in the global economy. Those voters and that resentment carried Trump to early victories in battleground states, and helped sweep a new wave of Republicans into office in North Carolina Council of State races.
That anger has also fueled the racism and ugliness that we saw so much of in Donald Trump’s rallies. No, not all Trump supporters are hateful, but Republicans have invited the worst of their party into the mainstream and made hate acceptable to some. It might be a path that gives them the presidency, but leaders now must decide if that ugliness will define the GOP’s future.
As for Democrats, there will be a lot of finger-pointing, regardless of the final election result. FBI director James Comey is sure to get much of the blame, as will the media for giving Trump an early abundance of airtime that launched him to success in the Republican primaries.
But Democrats also nominated a flawed candidate, and progressives have been too disdainful of the conservatives with whom they disagree and too uninterested in the economic struggles of rural America.
Now, regardless of the presidential result, we hope Republican-controlled legislatures in North Carolina and Washington don’t pursue policies that emphasize our differences. We hope leaders of both parties realize that diversity continues to be what makes this country stronger.
The election may have been too close to call for most of Tuesday. But our country’s struggle is clearer than ever.