The saddest song Bruce Springsteen wrote about 9/11 was “Empty Sky.”

It’s about the loss of the planes that day. It’s about the loss of so many lives. It’s about the loss of a loved one.

And most of all, it’s about the loss of faith.

To borrow the best line from Bruce’s song, I woke up this morning to an empty sky.

I’m not yet certain what I’ve lost faith in. My fellow Americans who picked Trump for president? Our democracy? Our future? America itself?

How did this happen? Pundits and political scientists will spend years analyzing Trump’s shocking win. I’ll do some speculating myself. And sooner or later I’ll seek ways of rebuilding from the ruins of this election.

But right now, on this faithless morning, I’m thinking: WTF.

I’m writing from China.  My wife and I flew here the night of Election Day. Even before boarding the plane, we realized what the score was. Despite our deeply sagging spirits, the news makes this an ideal time to take a vacation.

Though this is not a work trip, in a couple of days I’m going to give a couple of talks at a law school in Shanghai. One will be on international development.

The other will be on the U.S. presidential election. I’m obviously tearing up the draft I’d prepared to deliver, in which I would have said that the world dodged a bullet when Hillary won.

So what do I say about what this election means? How do I explain the state of our democracy to an audience in such a different society? How do I explain it to myself? Here’s an initial, emotional, quick cut:

Why this was not a normal election.

Why Trump won. I’ll likely offer the bitter brew of racism, sexism and xenophobia, mixed with immigration and trade, topped off with the swirl of messy email issues and Hillary’s unpopularity. I may boil much of it down to a desire for change in DC and a fear of change in the country.

Why no one knows for sure what Trump will do, because he changes positions so much and because Trump himself may not know. But I’ll offer my best guesses.

Why his stance on some issues – Social Security, Medicare and infrastructure investment, for instance – might not be so bad, but that we’ll have to wait and see.

Why so much will hinge on his appointees. And that with Chris Christie heading his transition team, Rudy Giuliani his likely Attorney General and so many qualified foreign policy professionals eschewing any role in a Trump administration, there is cause for concern.

Why our Supreme Court is so important, and how Trump’s appointee(s) will shape our laws, politics and policies for decades to come.

Why trade may well loom as the largest immediate matter China will face with Trump.

Why, for such potentially explosive issues as the South China Sea territorial dispute and North Korea’s nuclear weaponry, China will be dealing with a U.S. president with the temper and attention span of a two-year-old.

Why I accordingly hope China’s leaders will be wise in a way my own country’s leader may not be.

Why 2020 could usher in the election of a progressive president, or just more meanness, mendacity and manipulation of our democracy.

Why, for the first time in my life, I wonder whether something I write or say – including this talk itself – may be used by the U.S. Government to come back and haunt me.

Why the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was a week ago.

Why I woke up this morning to an empty sky.

















Based in Oakland, California, Stephen Golub writes, consults and teaches about international development, with a particular focus on justice, democracy, human rights and governance issues. Currently teaching part-time at Central European University in Budapest and previously at the University of California at Berkeley, he has worked in over 40 countries and with such organizations as Amnesty International, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Ford and Open Society Foundations, the U.K. Department for International Development, the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank

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