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A Night of High Anxiety in American Politics

Those angry working-class whites in Middle America were a lot madder than anyone knew. The most contentious presidential election in modern U.S. history confounded all of the professional poll readers, the savvy TV pundits, and those Wall Street traders who were betting big on a Hillary Clinton victory. Instead, Donald Trump and his bombast

Those angry working-class whites in Middle America were a lot madder than anyone knew.

The most contentious presidential election in modern U.S. history confounded all of the professional poll readers, the savvy TV pundits, and those Wall Street traders who were betting big on a Hillary Clinton victory. Instead, Donald Trump and his bombastic, often xenophobic, crusade to "make America great again" racked up huge numbers in the nation's rural counties and in former factory towns ravaged by the Great Recession.

Trump's shocking surge made for the longest and most anxious election night in America since the belly-flops and reversals of the George W. Bush-Al Gore deadlock of 2000. The Dow Jones futures plunged a shocking 600 points and the Mexican peso took a massive dive shortly after 9 p.m., as the iconoclastic GOP nominee - who vowed to topple the nation's current free-trade agreements - moved to the brink of victory in the critical state of Florida and overperformed in key battlegrounds such as North Carolina and New Hampshire.

"It's very possible that there is a wave out there that all the pollsters and the predictors and the professionals did not see," said CNN's Jake Tapper late Tuesday as Trump looked competitive in rust belt states such as Michigan and Wisconsin long considered part of the Democrats' electoral firewall.

Trump's powerful showing - which eerily resembled this summer's "Brexit" vote for the United Kingdom to abandon the European Union, which also rattled the elites - meant that regardless of the final outcome, America somehow will need to reckon with the rage of millions of citizens who went for a candidate who promised a nation with high border walls and a ban on Muslim migration and vowed to sic prosecutors on Clinton if he wins.

No one felt the anxiety of Tuesday's nail-biter more closely than female voters who'd been overcome with a surge of emotion and pride in the waning hours of an otherwise ugly and divisive campaign at what for a time felt like growing confidence that America would elect the first female president in its 240-year history.

In Rochester, N.Y., a line to pay homage to pioneering suffragette Susan B. Anthony - famously arrested for trying to vote in the 1872 election - and to place "I Voted" stickers on her tombstone stretched to the hundreds. Here in Philadelphia, partisans started swapping instructions on social media for finding the faded West Philadelphia tombstone of Mary Grew, the city's best-known 19th century fighter for female voting, which led to a steady stream of visitors.

"My mother was 88 years old and before she died she told me she wanted a women president, so I'm doing it for them," said Colleen Gasiorowski, a 64-year-old Penn administrator who left work early to visit Grew's grave site at the Woodlands Cemetery. "For my mother, for Mary [Grew], for Susan B. Anthony for all the women over the years I had to be here and write something" on a white board. "I can't talk about it without crying."

But as the results seesawed back and forth on a nail-biting Election Night, it was clear that Gasiorowski and her mother's memory would have to wait a little longer, at least until Wednesday and quite possibly much, much longer. That feeling had to be multiplied for Clinton, who optimistically had staged what she had hoped would be a "victory party" at Manhattan's Jacob Javits Convention Center - which features a glass ceiling.

The gut-wrenching all-nighter was a fitting conclusion to an election that already had caused an unprecedented case of communal national agita. The race was marked by nastier, harder-edged rhetoric than any U.S. election in nearly a half-century, along with occasional fistfights at Trump's raucous campaign rallies and charges of sexual misconduct against the Republican nominee while Clinton suffered through an FBI investigation of her handling of classified documents. Many Americans prayed for the race to be over - but as midnight approached on Tuesday it was clear that they were not getting their wish, not right away.

No matter who wins, there will certainly be a national conversation about how a TV reality show star and real estate developer with a decidedly checkered business record, who spent the autumn fending off allegations of sexual assault and shielding his income taxes from voters, moved to the brink of his finger on the nuclear button.

And no matter who wins, there certainly needs to be a serious debate about the pain felt by the American middle class after decades of stagnant wages and disappearing job opportunities - pain that caused millions of them to embrace Trump's loud and vulgar crusade laced with xenophobia and dashes of racism and misogyny.

"I truly thought I knew my country better than it turns out I did," Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote on Twitter as the results came in. "I have warned that we could become a failed state, but didn't realize that it wasn't just the radicalism of the GOP, but deep hatred in a large segment of the population. How do we move forward?"

The close election had to also agonize America's growing Latino population, which had hoped to flex its muscles at the ballot box. Democrats had hoped that Wednesday's headline would be the rapidly growing clout of Hispanic voters, who registered to vote in record numbers after Trump launched his campaign by accusing Mexico of sending its rapists up north and promised to spend billions on a border wall.

But reports of a surge in early voting by Latinos melted away in key states like Florida and North Carolina, both of which were called for Trump.

Left unresolved during the long night's journey into Wednesday morning was whether the drive for female empowerment would get the victory it craved. Ironically, Clinton only occasionally made her gender and the historic nature of her quest a centerpiece of her campaign, although she did pay homage to the suffragettes like Anthony and Grew at her Philadelphia DNC acceptance speech by wearing an all-white pantsuit and crew neck.

Instead, it was Trump who put the treatment of women on the front burner with the early October release of his 2005 Access Hollywood tape when he boasted about groping and other crude advances on women - a revelation that brought out a flood of women who accused the Republican nominee of behaving the same way he talked.

Clinton's most powerful election surrogate proved to be the current first lady, Michelle Obama, who on several high-profile occasions expressed her dismay at Trump's misogyny; she told more than 30,000 Philadelphians on Monday that Clinton would protect America's daughters and that "our sons understand that truly strong men are compassionate and kind."

That rally on Independence Mall - serenaded by Bruce Springsteen singing that "we're pulling out of here to win" and a remarkable confluence of a past, the present and a hopeful future president - may be remembered as the high point of a Clinton drive that seemed on the brink of victory, only to fade once the votes were counted. Her bet on expanding the "Obama coalition" of the young, the college-educated and nonwhites may not have been enough. Ironically, experts said Clinton would likely win the national popular vote regardless of who wins in the Electoral College.

Late Tuesday night, Clinton tweeted out a picture of herself hugging a little girl at a campaign rally, under the surprisingly pensive words: "This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything."

As the sun rose over an anxious and uneasy America on Wednesday, it feels like "whatever" has already happened.

Will Bunch is a Daily News columnist.