Political observers have been asking for months if or when the Republican nominee for the White House might soften his boastful tone into a more centrist message with wider appeal. Now that his campaign has ended with his surprise win, US President-elect Donald Trump may finally be making that long-awaited pivot.
In a victory speech delivered early Wednesday after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton conceded, Mr. Trump struck a particularly gracious note and called for Americans to "bind the wounds of division" in a new era of unity and global cooperation, perhaps signaling an end to the divisive and incendiary rhetoric that came to characterize his outsider candidacy.
"Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country," Trump said. "I mean it very sincerely."
The billionaire businessman who sent fractures through his own party said he looks forward to working alongside those who were hesitant to support him, some of whom called for him to end his bid for the presidency.
"For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people," Trump said as his audience laughed, "I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country."
Trump said he has been at the helm of a movement comprised of people "from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs" and that his movement will put American interests first, while dealing fairly with the global community. "We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict," he said.
To some extent, this warmhearted optimism has come to be expected at the close of each American general election, as Peter Grier wrote for The Christian Science Monitor last month:
Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama based their initial presidential campaigns on promises to bridge the nation’s divides. Both, for various reasons, failed. If anything the 45th president of the United States will face an even more difficult, split nation.
But the next president-elect, in the name of national comity, if not unity, virtually has to make some gesture of rapprochement to the losing side.
Robert Bruner, a business professor at the University of Virginia and a faculty associate at the Miller Center for Public Affairs, said this optimism is a prerequisite for any administration's success.
"If a president wants to overcome national problems, she or he must mobilize others to deal with it," he wrote for the Miller Center.
Given that a number of Trump's proposed policies have been alarming to racial and religious minorities, however, optimistic rhetoric alone will be insufficient to heal America's wounds, as Van Jones, a CNN commentator who served on President Obama's White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an impassioned statement broadcast live early Wednesday as the electoral votes were tallied.
"I have Muslim friends who are texting me tonight saying, ‘Should I leave the country?’ I have families of immigrants that are terrified tonight," Mr. Jones said.
"This was a rebellion against the elites, true. It was a complete reinvention of politics and polls, it’s true. But it was also something else," Jones added. "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."
Jones said he believes race was not the only factor fueling Trump's win but that it was a factor that must be considered as pollsters dissect why so many of their predictions were so wrong. Trump, meanwhile, has a duty to reassure the public that he will represent all Americans, including those whom he has insulted, offended, and brushed aside, Jones said.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota Law School professor who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said he voted for Clinton but takes comfort in knowing that Trump can avoid being a bad president for two reasons: He is intelligent, and many of the things he has promised to do are simply not feasible.
"Many of us who voted against Mr. Trump because of what he said during the campaign – and his appeal to voters who have a very different vision for our country than we do – will have to wait and see," Prof. Painter wrote. "Our hope is that he will run the country in the practical, if far from perfect, manner that he has run his businesses."