There was probably no way the insurgent campaign that propelled Donald Trump to his upset victory was simply going to stop the day after the election. It had too big a head of steam. But instead of morphing into a cable channel after a loss, as many observers expected, it has careened into the postelection space where, by tradition and necessity, healing usually occurs. The passions Trump stoked as a candidate have only increased since his election, impelling chants of “Not my President!” in cities across the country, a surge in reported hate crimes, profound fear among the people the candidate vowed to expel from the country and, not least, the mainstreaming of white nationalists.
Every bombshell releases shock waves, even the political kind. But here’s a question worth considering: When was the last time a presidential vote sent an eighth-grader off to school with a fluttery stomach? “Will we be deported?” Teofila Silverio’s son Alessandro asked her after the election. The answer, for them, was no. Born in Mexico, Silverio has papers. But that’s not true of everyone in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood or across a diverse nation where the reaction to the Trump victory was not noisy protests but stunned, funereal silence. “It was such a heavy air,” says waitress Jazmin Colon, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents. “They’re traumatized.”
Statisticians do something called regression analysis–which sounds like a way to measure whether the quest to Make America Great Again is, in fact, moving us backward. The method actually addresses a crucial question: In a complicated situation, which factor matters most? In the 2016 election, the answer turned out to be economic dissatisfaction, coupled with anger directed at a political establishment that ignored the pain of the people left behind. In key Rust Belt states, Trump prevailed even with many voters who told exit pollers they were bothered by his temperament and treatment of women.
Anger is still coursing through the Republic after the election–only now it flows from two sides. Backlash protests formed daily outside Trump Tower and turned violent in Portland, Ore. The frustration was aggravated by the fact of Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote lead, which has reached more than a million votes, even though Trump dominated the Electoral College. And the chant “Love trumps hate” gained resonance with each new reported attack on minorities–especially the Muslim Americans candidate Trump called a security risk. The incidents stacked up so quickly that, on 60 Minutes, the President-elect addressed his followers directly: “Stop it.”
A sampling: In Georgia, an anonymous letter urged a Muslim teacher to hang herself by her headscarf. Graffiti in Durham, N.C., read, “Black Lives Don’t Matter and Neither Does Your Vote.” Some Trump supporters claim the incidents are exaggerated or staged. The 437 tallied by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the five days after the election were, in fact, partly self-reported on a web page that offered no immediate vetting. But the trend was clear even before the FBI released its annual tally of hate crimes, on Nov. 14, showing attacks against Muslims up 67% last year.
By then Trump had named campaign CEO Stephen Bannon as White House “chief strategist,” putting the head of the far-right Breitbart News site on equal footing with the chief of staff. The appointment was hailed by David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party and excoriated by many on the left and right. “What we do in this moment,” says Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, “what this Administration does and says and how our communities act will be the great test of this era.”
Lately, new Presidents have fashioned what’s known as “the permanent campaign,” even in office. But Trump’s campaign does not much lend itself to the unity he now calls his top priority yet clearly struggles with. “Very unfair!” he tweeted on Nov. 10, blaming the media and “professional” protesters for the demonstrations. Nine hours later, he sent a tweet celebrating the protesters’ passion for the country. Trump was likewise munificent at the White House that day, where President Obama modeled responsible adult behavior without a trace of condescension to the man he had called unfit for office. Three days later, the victor elevated Bannon, whose site, two weeks after the murder of nine African Americans in Charleston, S.C., featured this headline: “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”
“I’m just praying that all of this was an act to get in there and he’s not really like that,” says Darceil Liverman, 31, in a New York City supermarket. “He’s a businessman, but he’s also an actor.” A black woman, Liverman appreciates the transformational potential of a U.S. election. Obama’s two terms empowered the movements that declared Black Lives Matter just as Clinton’s ascension to Democratic nominee made the Access Hollywood tape a line in the sand. Finally recognized as equals, marginalized groups looked around and announced, We’ve got a few things to share.
What follows the election of an angry white man? For some, it’s a call to action, to defend precious gains. “If Hillary had won, we’d all be celebrating and continuing our lives,” says Anjali Emsellem, 17, a student activist in Berkeley, Calif. “I feel like we’re awake now. We see what’s on the table.”
But Liverman has a bad feeling. Growing up in Chesapeake, Va., “I never felt the color of my skin mattered,” she says. “I could go into a predominately white place, and I never felt they would look at me differently.” She pauses. “That isn’t true now.”
Not long after Trump’s win, she started a new job as a server. On her first day, one manager would not look her in the eye and another, also white, “didn’t seem to want me to be here.” She hesitates to make too much of it. It’s not a brick through a window, she says. “It’s a vibe.”
–With reporting by MAYA RHODAN/WASHINGTON and KATY STEINMETZ/BERKELEY, CALIF.
This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.
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