The voters' campaign

The campaign is no longer about the candidates and their messages but the enthusiasm and turnout of

Manassas, Virginia is in the "real" America and yet, it was there that Obama held his final rally, turning out a crowd estimated at 90,000.

In some ways it was a sombre affair. Earlier that day, Madelyn Dunham, Obama's grandmother, had passed away. Obama eulogised her in North Carolina.

"She was someone who was a very humble person and a very quiet person, she was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America," Obama said at Charlotte rally, tears rolling down his face.

"In this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that, mothers and fathers and grandparents who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives and the satisfaction that they get is seeing that their children or maybe their grandchildren or great grandchildren live a better life than they did. That's what America is about. That's what we're fighting for."

Obama hardly mentioned his loss in Virginia. The pain was his, not ours. But it settled heavily on the evening. Obama was subdued. Tired. He said what needed to be said. He launched his attacks and unleashed his applause lines and ran through the central message of the speech, which was and always has been: change.

"The change we seek will not just come from government alone, it's going to have to come from each of us," Obama told the crowd of over 90,000. "Each of us has a role to play."

"I asked you to believe not just in my ability to bring about change, but in yours," he said. "In this campaign I have had the privilege to witness what is best in America."

However the hot coil of emotion that might have elevated his final speech was absent. It was just a speech but that was all that was required. The time for speeches is over. For two years, this election has been about the candidates. What they said and what they thought. What they did and how they looked. But the process has now barrelled beyond them.

It is now about the voters. What they have heard and what they have concluded. Whether they have formed a preference and whether they care enough to vote. This rally was not about the spent figure who stood on the stage, but the 90,000 who had left the quiet warmth of their homes to hear him speak. Obama might have been subdued, but the supporters' very presence was evidence of their excitement. And at this point, it is their excitement, not his, that matters.

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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.