The Last Industrial Era President

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to members of the news media as he tours a Carrier factory in Indianapolis, Indiana,
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to members of the news media as he tours a Carrier factory in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

On Election Day, the United States voted to reclaim the past rather than continuing down the road to an inchoate future. The outcome is not surprising.

America is experiencing a tidal wave of profound, unrelenting and accelerating change -- economic, demographic, technological and global -- as the country moves from a national, analog industrial economy to a global, digital information economy. The change has caused deep divisions in the country and extraordinary pain to many because it's produced big winners and big losers. Old industries and jobs, proven pathways to achieving the American Dream that required lower levels of education, have vanished along with the hopes and promise they historically embodied. New, information economy employers have emerged, with work, demanding more education than ever before in history. Incomes have followed the shift, becoming more skewed than any time since the Gilded Age. The cost of getting the essential education to succeed in this new world has soared, leaving young people strapped with large debt.

At the same time, the social institutions that Americans relied upon to address these problems -- government, education, media, finance, religion, and health care -- have failed to do so, or even exacerbated them. Today these institutions work less well than they once did and seem to be broken. They are badly outdated, having been created for a different time, and they need to be refashioned for a new era.

This election asked Americans to choose whether they wanted to repair the existing institutions or to replace them. It asked them to choose whether they wanted to restore what had been lost or to build on the changes.

An Electoral College majority, tipped by the industrial states where the pain was perhaps most acute, chose the past and the replacement candidate. Those who voted for this were disproportionately older, white voters who remembered better times, times when our social institutions worked. They wanted them back.

Millennials -- global, digital information economy natives -- stayed home in larger numbers than in the past. For them, our social institutions have never worked, and they want a different and better future. The candidate who captured their imagination about what that future might be, Bernie Sanders, lost in the primaries. Both millennials and older voters demanded replacement, believing repair had not worked.

Donald Trump, the only president in U.S. history who has never held political or military office, has promised restoration. He has said he will bring back the lost jobs and stop the change -- in effect, turn back globalization by raising trade barriers and abrogating international treaties, stanch the demographic shift by restricting immigration, and reverse the decline of the heartland by rebuilding the Rust Belt and deregulating its industries.

The difficulty is that past cannot be restored. America's transition to the future is inevitable and well under way, whether we want it to be or not. It can be resisted, which will prolong the pain, but it can't be stopped. The Trump administration promises to prove this.

Donald Trump is likely to be the last Industrial Era president, presiding over, championing, and seeking to restore a passing time. His administration may succeed best at showing Americans what is not possible, what is unalterably lost despite our yearnings. This may in turn enable the country to begin the hard conversations that were not possible in 2016 on hot-button issues like energy, immigration, and the future.

This year's election is likely to give birth to a new and younger breed of presidential candidate in future elections, committed to investing in the people and jobs that will propel the global, digital, information economy. They will call for building the social safety nets needed to support the victims -- both people and communities -- of the change. Conservatives and liberals will offer different paths, but they will share a common commitment and a focus on the future rather than the past. Regardless of ideology, they will call for investment in education, accelerating the growth of information age businesses and the jobs they will create, rebuilding infrastructure, reducing industrial-era losses, and remaking our social institutions. This political and social shift is coming, once and for all.