ON holiday in South Carolina a few days before the United States presidential election last November, my sister met anxious middle-class Americans who feared what lay ahead. Many were probably Republicans but they were shamefaced that a man like Donald Trump was a candidate for the most powerful job in the world, let alone the front-runner. Unlike many cocooned in their metropolitan liberal bubbles, they correctly gauged the nation’s mood. One confessed she was seeing a therapist, to cope with the stress.

When Mr Trump was declared winner, many more followed her. If nothing else, the president-elect has ushered in a golden age for psychotherapists, whose couches will soon be as hot as tanning beds. Immediately after the election, one New Yorker booked a flight to Edinburgh for this week. On Thursday, while the newly sworn-in President is sipping champagne in his penthouse, she will be at an anti-inauguration party, where guests will be fined for any mention of the T-word. At this event, the man whose face, when fed into Google, brings the response: “Best guess for this image: an orange” will be not so much the elephant in the room as Tyrannosaurus rex, his shadow looming over proceedings.

To civilised eyes, Mr Trump is a dinosaur in his attitudes to women, Muslims, Mexicans and climate change. By voting him into the White House, however, the US has got the president it deserves. His appointment is not the fluke or aberration it first might have seemed. In hindsight, Barack Obama’s presidency might come to look like King Canute’s attempt to hold back the tide, knowing all the while that it would prove useless. The country has been building up to Mr Trump for a long, long time.

Some pundits see the result as a protest against Washington’s elite but the mogul was swept into power on more than anti-establishment revolt. His personality, CV, even the tawdry scandals are entirely in tune with the attitude of a swathe of America. For years, a vapid, amoral celebrity culture has been undermining the US’s morale and intellectual clout. In Mr Trump, the attention-deficit disorder that epitomises so much discourse on social media and on screen has found its finest exemplar. As he flits from one knee-jerk idea to the next, he makes a gnat look leaden-footed. His great wealth, conspicuous consumption, and unguarded tongue are for some ample qualification for a president.

That he is also a “red-blooded” male who does not let his marriage vows interfere with his desires is for others an added attraction. Even his most devoted followers could not deny that he is forged from over-weening self-interest. To a nation that makes heroes of self-made men, that is part of his appeal. “He is a deal maker the way lions are carnivores,” wrote the Chicago Tribune of his book, The Art of the Deal. In the chapter Trump Cards, the billionaire declares: “I like thinking big. I always have. For me it’s very simple: If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”

Well, he had the most humungous thought of them all but he couldn’t have made it happen without an army of supporters. To achieve this he has made the biggest, possibly most Faustian deal imaginable. In order to bag the hottest desk in the Oval Office, he has promised to improve the lives of millions of ordinary Americans.

The mantle of supreme authority has thus been handed to him by the credulous, or those who share his repellent views or consider them trivial, or who are even more bigoted. And then there are those who do not necessarily admire him but wanted even less to vote for Hillary Clinton. As one woman said in the New York Times: “I’m looking for a brighter future for me and my children, and honestly I felt like our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.” Another reflected: “Trump’s not a perfect man by any means. He kind of reminds me of my ex-husband. I think he’s a really good man, deep down.”

While America was ready for a black president a decade ago, it will not yet countenance a woman in charge. Rebecca Solnit put it bluntly when she wrote about the FBI reopening the investigation into the Clinton email scandal on the eve of the election. This intervention, she writes, shows that “it is more damaging to be a woman who has an aide who has an estranged husband who is a creep than actually to be a predator who has been charged by more than a dozen women with groping and sexual assault”.

Equally alarming is that over half the white women who voted – 53 per cent – chose Trump, compared with 98 per cent of black women and 68 per cent Hispanic or Latino women who cast their ballot for Mrs Clinton. Post-election, the race divide has deepened and none but a Pollyanna would be naive enough not expect trouble ahead. Meanwhile, only the most complacent would not feel concern that, as with so many trends and attitudes that come out of the US, it is only a matter of time before these currents lap our own shores and begin to change the way we think and behave.

Observing the crushing of Mrs Clinton and elevation of Mr Trump was not to see mature democracy in action but something much more disturbing: primitive loathing of powerful women and instinctual awe of Alpha males; engrained fear and dislike of African-Americans; and utter disdain for the environment. Yet the society that Mr Trump’s election has revealed has been there all along. We have just chosen to dismiss it as marginal. It has been visible in the gun-lobby who refuse to give up their entitlement to bear arms, despite the thousands of innocent people who die as a result. It can be seen in six-lane highways clogged with gas-guzzling SUVs, the despoiling of Alaska for oil and disregard for all those beyond America’s borders. It can be found in bitter class, gender and race divides, growing ghetto-isation and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

And you see it in the crumbling of one of America’s founding creeds, of being part of a community and helping others. Selfishness, instead, is now seen as the key to survival.

With the coming together of all these factors you could say that Mr Trump has been voted in on a perfect storm of prejudice. Anyone tempted to consider this scare-mongering should read David Fahrenholt of the Washington Post. He spent a year on the presidential candidate’s tail, and what he discovered does not indicate a character of integrity, wisdom or depth. When he received a death threat for his revelations, a security officer advised the Post to install a panic room, with supplies to last out a siege. The death threat is not Mr Trump’s fault yet it is indicative of the extreme, almost fantastical and aggressive culture in which he has flourished and risen, scum-like, to the top, and that others now accept as the norm. Having him as president, however, will not be normal. But then, what is these days?