Divided Americans struggle to come to terms with each other | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 10.11.2016
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Divided Americans struggle to come to terms with each other

The election of Donald Trump has shown the deep fault lines that split the United States. Peter Geoghegan reports from the center of the divide in New York City.

Among the afternoon drinkers in the Irish American pub, a dive bar a few blocks from Wall Street in the heart of Manhattan, there is only one topic of conversation: Donald Trump.  Just as in the rest of the United States, patrons are divided about their country's unexpected new president.

"I have a 14-year-old child. I'm very worried about what has happened," said ShaCarol Holland. The 36-year-old African-American added that she is scared by the prospect of a president who regularly made racist comments during his controversial campaign.

But Randy Smith has no such fears. Smith, 56, is one of the relatively small number of African-Americans who backed the Republican candidate in Tuesday's vote.  Hillary Clinton was the "politically correct candidate," Smith said, adding that he was attracted by Trump's outsider status and his anti-establishment credentials.

"Now we have someone who was not involved in politics before who has been elected president. That's what America needed," said Smith as rolling news coverage of the election played out on muted television screens around the bar.

New York Wahlnacht Xavier Quattlebaum (DW/P. Geoghegan)

Supporters and opponents converge on Trump Tower in New York City

America's rural, urban divide

Trump's unexpected success has focused attention once more on the divisions in American society. As is the norm in American politics, the Democrats polled well in the cities and along both coasts but lost in the south and, particularly, in the once solidly blue collar and predominantly white Rustbelt.

During his victory speech Wednesday, Trump said it was "time for America to bind the wounds of division." Both Clinton and current President Barack Obama also called on Americans to unite behind their new commander in chief.

But given Trump's controversial comments during the campaign - including proposals to build a wall along the Mexican border and ban Muslim immigration - many question his capacity to unite a deeply fractured country. In the wake of his triumph, anti-Trump protests took place in New York and other cities across the United States.

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Anti-Trump protests are ongoing

Theses fault lines were all too apparent on the streets of New York as Trump's victory became apparent. Beneath Manhattan's shimmering skyscrapers on 6th Avenue, over 100 supporters waved Trump flags and chanted "USA, USA."

Ebullient victors

Throughout his campaign, Trump attracted mainly whites but also others disaffected by the American political system. Earlier in the day, over a dozen Trump supporters congregated outside Trump Tower in Manhattan. Some carried copies of the Constitution and confederate-linked flags and yelled "drain the swamp," a reference to Washington and the capital's political culture.

In the febrile atmosphere, uniformed police often stood between Trump supporters and opponents. The overarching mood was one of fevered triumphalism, and anyone heard speaking ill of the new president was met with jostles and jeers. 

Trump's support was disparate on the street outside Trump Tower. Hassidic Jews waved Israeli flags and young white men chanted the Republican candidate's name. 

US-Präsidentschaftswahl 2016 - Sieg Donald Trump (Reuters/M. Segar)

Trump says he will be president for all Americans

The victors were ebullient. "We have taken back control," said Joey, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, who sported a badge that read "Trump and Brexit - Power to the People."

Yoel Katz was one of dozens of Orthodox Jewish voters who came down to watch the final hours of the US election. The 22-year-old from Brooklyn said he had no worries about casting a ballot for Trump or for the future of the United States.

"This is America. There are cops around. I'm protected. And I has a daughter that's Jewish," Katz added, referring to Ivanka Trump.

While Trump has singled out prominent Jews, such as George Soros, as part of a global economic order, many Orthodox Jews said they see the president-elect as a strong leader who will stand up against Iran.

"Donald Trump is not a racist, he just doesn't like bad people," Katz said. "He's not against Arabs, he's just against bad Arabs."

Among the crowd were a number of younger liberal voters. Isabel, 18, from New York, said she was scared by the scene that unfolded in the minutes before Trump's valedictory speech. "I'm Jewish, my friends are from all different ethnicities. I'm worried about what could happen now," she said.

USA Washington Anti-Trump Protest Wahlnacht (picture-alliances/dpa/M. Reynolds)

Anti-Trump protesters also take to the streets of the United States

Finance student Stephanie Freema, 21, voted for Clinton and said she was worried about Trump's economic policies. The property developer has suggested he could roll back on free trade deals.

"I'm worried he'll ruin our economy," she said. "Will there be a job for me when I graduate?'

Her friend Isabel Dayo was angry that more young people did not turn out to vote.

"So many people were complaining about Trump, but they didn't bother to vote," the 21-year-old ballet dancer said. "People don't seem to see how this will affect them directly."

At around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, art dealer Donald Ellis watched the president-elect's victory speech in a bar just a stone's throw from Trump's headquarters. He said he did not like what he saw.

"I think I am witnessing the birth of fascism that I would never have imagined I would witness in my lifetime," said Ellis, originally from Canada, but now living in New York. 

"This is fascism," he said. "I can't believe I am witnessing this before my very eyes."

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