So he won, knocking everyone—everyone—for a loop. But don’t make the mistake of thinking we’ve put our looniest-ever presidential contest behind us, because countries don’t adjust to their new normal overnight after a clusterfuck this yuuuge. The movie line that sums up the 2016 election most bigly is Rosemary’s famous gasp before Satan gets busy impregnating her in Rosemary’s Baby: “This is no dream—this is really happening.”
I can’t be the only one who kept muttering those words in a daze once Donald Trump defenestrated—count ‘em—16 primary opponents to end up as the Republican nominee, meanwhile pissing every remaining fig leaf of American political decorum into tatters. Or, if you’re on the other side of our festering national divide, once the she-devil Hillary slithered out of getting nailed for Benghazi, neutered Bernie Sanders with help from the DNC’s flying monkeys, dodged being indicted for her email shenanigans and even got Bill to keep his damn pie-hole shut for weeks on end. The way Trump fans see it, Clinton got stopped just short of making good on her hell-spawned girlhood dream of turning (white, male) America’s greatness into a distant memory.
Even leaving out cameos from Lucifer—and good luck with that, future historians—2016 was our Rosemary’s Baby election because, unlike most, it wasn’t only about what kind of world we’ll be leaving our children. Way more unnervingly, it was about what kind of misbegotten child we’ll soon be springing on a breathless world. No wonder the planet at large went from amused to disbelieving to scared witless. Quick quiz: which candidate said “I’m the last thing standing between you and the Apocalypse” in October? Answer: Clinton, but Trump’s whole campaign was premised on the same claim.
The quote only jumped out because conventional politicians (which Hillary definitely is) don’t talk that way unless the Apocalypse is polling well. Instead of hope versus fear, this election was based on fear versus fear, since both sides—each a basket of deplorables in the other camp’s opinion, from neo-Nazis to uppity lesbians and terrified Muslims—were equally convinced their way of life would go right in the crapper if the wrong candidate won. To varying degrees, they weren’t being unreasonable.
For once, it wasn’t hyperbolic to call an election a smackdown battle over America’s identity. Choices don’t get more basic or drastic than deciding whether to give the compromised system we’ve got another unsatisfying whirl or to chuck the whole business and start over with a loose cannon who’s never hidden his contempt for it. Because that was the issue—and everybody understood that was the issue—the usual wonky complaints about voters getting cheated out of fascinating nuts-and-bolts policy discussions were even sillier than usual. The whole point of Trump is that he doesn’t have policies; he has a list of events that will magically happen when we elected him.
Now we have, and all bets are off. Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” a Trump presidency isn’t likely to resemble any past United States, not even one his supporters will recognize. Nobody remotely like him has ever occupied the White House and we’re in uncharted waters for the first time since 1789—or 1861, if you prefer. Hillary Clinton was no Mia Farrow, but at crunch time, it turned out that Rosemary’s worse half really was the ultimate expert at the art of the deal.