So, President Trump, then. He held up a mirror of brash, crude vulgarity to the American people and they saw their reflection in it. That speaks well neither of him nor them.
He did, however, have something to say, and on many subjects, not least of which was his promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington, which evidently struck a chord with voters. Much of what he said was also offensive, insensitive, wrong, manipulative, bullying and uninformed, and that also struck a chord with voters.
In fact, being offensive, insensitive, wrong, manipulative, bullying and uninformed now has the imprimatur of the next occupant of the White House, which makes it just fine and dandy for everyone else. (What initiatives are they going to dream up for the next campaign in 2020? Extra-judicial kneecappings by private militias?)
The biggest impact of Trump’s big mouth is that it left Hillary sounding as if she had nothing of her own to say, and in particular no critique of the status quo with which she had been associated. Her message ended up merely urging more of the same on the electorate. More of the same may be what an otherwise unstable world needs, and what America needs in order to progress its moral reforms. But no one ever got excited by the promise of quiet continuity – and after voting Democrat for decades, black voters can legitimately ask why they are still stuck in urban and rural dysfunctionality.
In response, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post has been talking this morning quite seriously about Trump’s election being the end of Western civilisation – a topic my late colleague the art critic Tom Lubbock once brilliantly satirised on our weekly programme on BBC Radio 3. (“What will you most miss about Western civilisation?” “Oh, I think I’ll miss great literature, the symphonies of Mozart, abstract art, a rather good restaurant on Islington High Street that I personally always enjoyed …”)
Watching the results coming in last night did feel like watching the Roman empire starting to collapse – with Trump as Crassus, the richest man in the world who went on to launch a military campaign from Syria that ended in disaster and his own death. With Trump’s election, the profession of politics no longer looks like the kind of place any decent college graduate would want to enter. If this is not the exact moment when American democracy came to an end, the US does seem to have found a new tolerance for tyranny. (Hail Caesar.)
On the other hand, it is also the moment when the theorists and insiders got upstaged by a pragmatist and amateur. Since I always resisted the entryism of art historians (professional and theoretical) into the creative evolution of 20th-century architecture, and since I once won a Guardian newspaper competition by proposing that the UK be run like a PLC, with voters operating as shareholders, a bit of me now looks with interest at what is about to unfold. Interest. But not glee.