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Deep uncertainty surrounds Trump’s transition to power

Donald Trump supporters celebrated the win outside Trump Tower in New York on election night.
Donald Trump supporters celebrated the win outside Trump Tower in New York on election night.DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the trading floors on Wall Street, in the hallways of Congress, and throughout European capitals, the message delivered by American voters early Wednesday rang clear: This is not a reality show.

This is reality.

The nation absorbed the news that the world’s most powerful office will be occupied in 70 days by someone who prides himself on unpredictability, behaves erratically, and was portrayed by his opponent throughout the campaign as dangerous.

Despite widespread uncertainty about how Trump’s confrontational campaign style will translate to global leadership, President Obama delivered optimistic remarks from the Rose Garden in which he sought to calm nerves. Some of his staffers wept, looked skyward in despair, or hugged one another as Obama spoke, as if at a wake.


“We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country,” Obama said of the Republican president-elect. “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.”

“Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team,” he added. “This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first.”

But underlying the rosy talk was a sense of discord. Trump until recently questioned whether Obama was born in the United States, and Obama spent the past several months vigorously making the case that Trump was unfit to hold the Oval Office.

Trump himself did not make any public statements Wednesday, after he offered a conciliatory victory speech in the wee hours Wednesday morning. Trump spent the day in Trump Tower in New York meeting with advisers and began setting about the task of filling thousands of federal jobs, doling out ambassadorships, and figuring out the cabinet positions he will appoint.


His Twitter feed was silent.

Hillary Clinton also seemed interested in calming the waters after the nastiest campaign in modern history, calling for unity in a gracious speech in which she acknowledged the pain in losing what she hoped would be a history-making victory.

“I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it, too,” she said. “This is painful. And it will be for a long time.” She urged her supporters to both continue fighting for their principles and support her opponent as president.

“We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But . . . we must accept this result and then look to the future,’’ she said. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.’’

The lower volume seemed to settle financial markets. Although global investments took a dive in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, the Dow Industrial average closed up more than 250 points Wednesday.

Yet Trump’s campaign left deep concerns about how he will govern.

Trump rode to power on a wave of anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, anti-Washington anger that was more potent than the political world expected. His victory was a seismic rejection of the way the country has operated in Washington for generations. Trump also will be the first president in history who has no government or military experience, leaving many questions highly unknown.


Some are worried that Trump built his movement by appealing to the base instincts of an angry following, by preaching the exclusion of others and fomenting class hatreds and ethnic and racial divisions.

“This was a rebellion against true elites, true. It was a complete reinvention of politics and polls, it’s true,” Democratic activist and CNN commentator Van Jones said on air early Wednesday morning. “But it was also something else. . . .This was a white-lash. This was a white-lash against a changing country. It was a white-lash against a black president, in part. And that’s the part where the pain comes.”

Middle school teachers on Wednesday were given talking points about how to speak with students about the election, and some schools had counselors on hand in case they were needed. The Canadian website for citizenship and immigration crashed because of a surge in traffic.

Global reaction was swift but mixed, with world leaders puzzling about what sort of president Trump would become. Will the climate change skeptic choose not to enforce the Paris climate accord? Will he attempt to start a trade war with China by formally branding it a currency manipulator, as he has threatened to do on the stump? Will he follow through with his promise of a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that he hoped Trump’s victory meant a warming in the frosty relationship that the United States has had with Moscow. The Kremlin also said that Putin sent a telegram congratulating Trump.


“He spoke about resuming and restoring relations with Russia. We understand the way to that will be difficult, taking into account the current state of degradation of relations between the US and Russia,” Putin told Russian state television.

President Francois Hollande of France, who had openly pulled for Clinton, said Trump’s victory “opens a period of uncertainty. It must be faced with lucidity and clarity.’’

‘‘Certain positions taken by Donald Trump during the American campaign must be confronted,” Hollande said. “What is at stake is peace, the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East. It is economic relations and the preservation of the planet.’’

The 28 foreign ministers of the European Union — who have been worried about Trump’s rhetoric against traditional allies and his skepticism of the 67-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military alliance — are slated to meet Sunday in Brussels to discuss the US election results.

Trump has criticized the Obama administration’s deal banning Iran nuclear weapons, saying it would be his “number one priority” to dismantle the landmark accord struck last year by Secretary of State John Kerry. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday there was “no possibility” of its being overturned, since the deal was struck with a number of world powers, not just the United States.

“The United States no longer has the capacity to create Iranophobia and to create a consensus against Iran,” he said. He said the Iranian economy is on a road “where there is no possibility of going backwards.”


One of the alliances that will be most tested will be the relationship between the United States and Mexico. Trump, who met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during a dramatic campaign visit, has said that he would force the country to pay for a wall along the border. He also denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement. The peso plunged upon news of Trump’s victory.

In a series of tweets, Pena Nieto said he hoped to work with Trump “in favor of the bilateral relationship” and reiterated that the United States and Mexico “are friends, partners and allies and must continue to work for the competitiveness and development of North America.’’

Trump received public congratulations from some of his harshest critics, including 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney (“Best wishes for our duly elected president”), Ohio Governor John Kasich (“The American people have spoken and it’s time to come together”), and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona (“Congrats to Pres. Elect Trump on a big win and a gracious and healing speech. I look forward to working with him. Now, back to eating crow.”)

The scene outside of a heavily guarded Trump Tower on 5th Avenue grew chaotic and revealed some of the lingering tensions. In one barricaded pen, a handful of men holding “Blacks for Trump” signs gave media interviews denouncing Clinton, who they said had failed the black community.

On the outskirts of the scrum, a woman named Kristy Blaine stood shivering in the rain, holding a small sign: “Some of my family voted for Trump! I am sorry America!” Blaine, a 36-year-old New Yorker, said she regretted not pushing her relatives harder in the days before the election.

“I didn’t want to rock the boat,” she said. “Maybe I should have.”

Nestor Ramos of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com.