America woke up Wednesday as two nations.
One jubilant, hopeful, validated. The other filled with fear, pessimism, abject horror. And both staring at an uncertain future in light of the vast chasm now revealed by this election.
For many, the unexpected elevation of an insurgent Donald J. Trump has shaken their very concept of these united states and forced them to consider whether they are living in an America that is not what they thought it was.
In Middletown, Ohio, a 26-year-old wife of a Pentecostal pastor woke up beaming at the possibilities of Trump staging an economic turnaround and opposing abortions.
In Dallas, a 51-year-old immigration lawyer fielded panicked calls from clients fearing deportation, believing that their refugee applications are now imperiled and losing hope over the possibility of reuniting with spouses and children.
And in her home in rural Rutherfordton, N.C., a 55-year-old undecided voter who chose at the last minute to cast her ballot for Trump spent her morning quietly agonizing over her decision.
“I’m very nervous. We’re so divided, and there’s so much hate,” said Cindy Adair, an interior designer. All morning as she revisited her decision to reject the establishment, she worried about what that said about her. “I mean, I’m for inclusion. I don’t agree that you can just say this one group of people, like Muslims, you’re not allowed here.”
That question loomed large in interviews with voters from across the country: What exactly does the victory of Trump say about us as a nation?
“I’m terrified,” said Zeinab Al-Hasani, 30, in Hamtramck, Mich., a Detroit suburb with the country’s only majority-Muslim city council. As she waited for breakfast at a restaurant, she looked down at her 15-month-old daughter in a stroller.
“My country wants to throw us out,” Al-Hasini said, adjusting her gold hijab. “They hate Muslims. That’s what they said yesterday. They hate us more than they love America.”
“And how do I,” she asked, fighting back tears, “explain to her,” nodding toward her daughter, “that a man who says such vile things about everybody is now supposed to be a role model? Why didn’t that matter to decent people?”
A few miles north, James McDaniels, 27, was feeding his 4-month-old son at a Starbucks.
“So excited!” he said, slipping a jacket over a T-shirt that read “Hillary for Prison.”
“I didn’t care about all the p---y-grabbing stuff,” McDaniels said. “It was all the media, trying to make him look bad.”
“We don’t hate Muslims, but they can’t be allowed to have Sharia law,” he said as he sipped on a latte in Mount Clemens, Mich., — a white working-class area in bellwether Macomb County. “If they love this country, they’re going to have to help us get rid of the Islamic terrorists at their mosques.”
McDaniels, who was laid off in 2015 when his auto parts store closed, said, “It’s been touch-and-go for years around here, and nobody cared.” He finally found work recently as a waiter.
“The people took back their country yesterday,” he said.
The president-elect said early Wednesday that the nation owed Hillary Clinton “a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” adding, “I mean that very sincerely.”
McDaniels wasn’t having it. He was counting on Trump to actually “lock her up,” he said. “He promised to,” he said. “She’s a crook and a liar.”
President Obama stepped into the Rose Garden about noon, talked up “the peaceful transfer of power,” acknowledged his differences with Trump and added that “we are all rooting for his success.”
In Los Angeles, Patti Giggans, 72, was working to get there.
“I’m still a little numb, to be truthful,” said Giggans, who has worked for three decades at a nonprofit group that assists women who have been sexually assaulted. “The vitriol that we’ve heard this past year: women being called liars. Diminished for what they look like. The rhetoric has felt violent in attitude, in its dismissiveness.”
As she watched election returns Tuesday night, she said, she had to mentally stop herself from viewing the votes for Trump as though they were a referendum on sexual violence. “If I had let myself think that, it would have killed me.”
Instead, she said, she started seeing the election as a clanging alert that many had overlooked or unfairly dismissed their disaffected fellow Americans, those who had turned out in droves to Trump rallies.
“In my line of work, we listen. We have a hotline. We have counseling. We use our hearts and minds to try to understand,” she said. “That’s what we have to do now if we want to move forward.”
But how do you listen without forgetting what Trump has already said? argued Victor Ibarra. From the first day of Trump’s candidacy — when he labeled Mexicans rapists, drug dealers and criminals — Ibarra, 47, has been a hard-core detractor.
An undocumented immigrant, he left Reynosa, Mexico, 20 years ago to escape violence at home and find peace. He thought he found it in Houston, cleaning rugs for a living and raising his son, born in the United States.
Now working as a Latino rights activist, Ibarra said his phone has been ringing since Tuesday night. “They are crying. They are suffering. They are scared,” he said. “Some boys — 14, 15 years old, children of undocumented parents — they’re crying, saying that they’re afraid of Trump, saying, ‘What are we going to do now?’ ”
Mitzi Miller said she was also struggling with how to mend fences with those who, with their vote, ratified Trump’s ridicule of so many. Her son Kacey has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder, mental challenges and kidney disease. When she and her son, now 19, saw the YouTube video of Trump mocking a reporter with a disability, she said she felt sickened and cried.
“What came back in my son’s mind was all the bullying that was done to him his entire life,” Miller said. “Listen, we’re devastated. Just devastated. Nobody understands what’s going to happen to our country, to our children.”
Early Wednesday, wandering the streets of Washington — the epicenter for all the rancor and hardened partisanship divisions that have torn this country apart — Naja Nelson, 18, described seeing her very idealism slip away.
After the initial excitement of voting for the first time in her life, the George Washington University freshman now wondered aloud whether her ballot mattered. She wondered whether all the protests and fights in recent years for women’s and minorities’ rights mattered.
“I’m starting to question everything,” Nelson said. She said she blamed Trump for normalizing hate, misogyny, Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Trump supporters are having trouble letting go, as well.
As C.J. Lewis, 74, waited in her Florida living room to hear Clinton’s concession speech, she talked about how others in town had made her feel as if being a Trump supporter was somehow shameful.
“I was afraid to put a Trump sign in my yard or on my bumper. I didn’t want anything happening to my house or car,” said Lewis, a Democrat who voted for Trump. “And the thing is, I would never talk about them the way she talked about us. The way she called us deplorable.”
Lewis said her biggest hope, now that the campaign is over, is that “people can finally stop hating each other.” And yet, as she watched TV waiting for Clinton to admit defeat, Lewis could not help listing Clinton’s many failures of judgment and character.
In his victory remarks, Trump reached beyond his supporters.
“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people,” he said to laughter from the crowd in New York, “I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Many Trump voters expressed unbridled optimism about his desire and ability to do just that. What Trump lacks in experience, he makes up for with his nose for business success, said Diamond Mike Allen, 55, a pro wrestler turned stand-up comedian and a Trump supporter from Day One.
“A successful businessman will surround himself with the right people,” said Allen, from Doylestown, Pa., in a county that went for Clinton. “When he goes to build one of his buildings, he doesn’t pour the concrete himself.”
“I don’t think he can eliminate racism, because I don’t think he can change the human condition,” said Michael Barnett, an African American Trump supporter and head of the Palm Beach County, Fla., Republican Party. “But I think Donald Trump, from my experiences, knows how to work with people of all races.”
But given the painful, yawning divide that now engulfs this country, even some Trump voters expressed their doubts.
“He’s a loose cannon, and I don’t know what he’ll do,” said Julie Smith, who voted for Trump from her Chicago suburb.
Smith, an IT analyst, has found solace in the thought that one person and one election — no matter how shocking and ground-shifting — doesn’t determine the trajectory of the country.
“It’s going to take people loving each other, our community, our neighbors whether they are from this country or not, and being able to sacrifice to be the kind of country that has integrity again. A bright light in a dark place.”
Stephanie McCrummen in Chicago; Arelis R. Hernández, Jenna Johnson, Julia Carpenter and Ricardo Sanchez in Washington; Leif Reigstad in Houston; Joe Tone in Dallas; Kellie Gormly in Pittsburgh; Kevin Williams in Cincinnati; and Lori Rozsa in Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.