Hillary Clinton has a massive task ahead of her as presidentGage Skidmore

I spent the last two years living abroad in China, observing my home country, the USA, from afar. I would wake up in the morning to news of mass shootings, a gridlocked Congress, and an increasingly vitriolic electoral process as the presidential campaign began to ramp up. Then I would cycle off to class to teach a course on American culture and institutions.

I was working in the Foreign Studies College at a large university outside Beijing, and one of my first tasks was to teach students how the US government was organised. We discussed the three branches of government and the checks available to make sure individuals didn’t gain too much power.
I paused there, looking for some kind of reaction in the eyes of my students, before continuing. I showed my class the graphic of a tree seen in many secondary school textbooks – the US Constitution providing the trunk, with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches flowing out of the top. The tree looked healthy and vibrant. My front row students dutifully took notes.

What we didn’t touch on was the need for a general consensus towards progress – a baseline level of respect and willingness to compromise among our leaders in order to move matters forward. In this increasingly polarised political climate, that is all but absent. The exorbitant amount of money in politics, the torrent of news leading people to retreat to simplistic narratives, and the myriad ways legislation can be defeated has led to political stagnation.

This stagnation feels like regression, and voters are seeking an outlet: Donald Trump. Next week, however, Trump will lose the US presidential election. The base of the Republican party is shrinking with changing demographics. Urbanisation, immigration, and education tend to pull voters leftwards. If the Republican Party fails to evolve, it is possible that the Democrats will become the dominant political party for the next decade.

Hillary and her party leadership might be tempted, therefore, to sit back, contented, and watch the Republicans stew. This might feel good, but it is dangerous in the long run. Even if we make many of the necessary institutional and legal changes to get the gears of government grinding again, we will only be part way there. What we also need is a period of national reconciliation – right and left need to interact with each other again.

Hillary must engage with the American electorate as no president has done before. She travelled extensively as Secretary of State, and now she needs to do the same – with a decidedly domestic focus. She needs to speak at town halls in each and every state and seek to create a real dialogue with the American people.

She should start with the states in which she had the least support. The swing states have been given their due during the campaign, and now it’s time to talk with Nebraska, Wyoming, and West Virginia. These states hold the frustrations of rural America, and they feel left behind. She needs to field questions and talk about her vision for the country. She needs to answer questions until there are no more questions left to ask.

So what should her vision be? That government can be a force for good. That government is for us. That government, done right, can be transformative. This sounds a bit flimsy, so let me add this: while the Republicans are down, she needs to unapologetically hammer away at their political dogma that any government is bad government.

This is the dragon that needs slaying. American is a country of rugged individualists – far more so than our friends in Europe – but we need to be able to meld that philosophy with one of institutional cooperation. This will not be easy. But perhaps our leaders can begin to make compromises again, and our national psyche can begin to recover.

In addition to addressing the anger of the American heartland, we also need to address our ugly history of racism. It is worth considering the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission to confront the legacy of slavery, institutional racism, and police treatment of people of colour.

Like Germany after the Second World War, we need to bravely confront our past in order to move forwards. This movement would likely work best via a decentralised, grassroots-based approach, supported by federal funds.

It will be hard to manage two parallel national conversations. To achieve this, Hillary will have to turn over some of her international responsibilities. Her pre-inaugural transition team needs to raise the profile of Tim Kaine and pick a high-profile Secretary of State who can independently work with the international community, without Hillary feeling the need to micromanage.

Thinking back to my time in China, it was hard to describe the US in glowing terms. At the same time, however, I was surprised to find myself becoming more patriotic. Living abroad is a crash course in cross-cultural comparison, and there is much the US has to be proud of. We strive to create a better world and have been the inspiration for democratic governments across the globe. The delicate balance of our system is beautiful, despite its many flaws.

And if Hillary Clinton’s presidency can set us on a course to come together again, those flaws can fade into the background and let our strengths shine through