The race is over. The American people have spoken. Or, more precisely, they have mumbled an endorsement of the candidate deemed less unworthy. The polls are still open as I write, and while it is possible that the outcome will be messy, a winner will soon be inaugurated as the leader of the most influential power on earth. An election for the chairman of a local pigeon fanciers' club might have generated more enthusiasm.
America's new President will face unparalleled threats and challenges. Iran shuffles towards a nuclear bomb, Syria drowns in blood, and China - on the verge of choosing its own new leader - grows in economic might. The US edges towards a fiscal cliff, and the wreckage left by Superstorm Sandy bears witness to the spectre of climate change. In domestic and foreign policy, the leader inherits a scorched earth and few weapons (a dribble of water in Barack Obama's prospectus and a blowtorch in Mitt Romney's) to fix it.
By an alchemy that could prove lethal to democracy, extreme danger has combined with extreme inertia. Obama should have won this election by a landslide. Once, he was the evangelist for a new world that blotted out boundaries between rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, black and white. This time round, even as an incumbent who staved off a depression, saved the motor industry, delivered affordable health care and killed Osama bin Laden, he could make little or no headway against a substandard opponent with the most elastic manifesto in electoral history.
The new President will lead a polarised US in which citizens have voted according to the colour of their skin and the thickness of their wallets. Close to two thirds of blue-collar white voters planned to cast their ballot for Romney, while three-quarters of Hispanics and nine out of every 10 black electors backed Obama. Although the richest 20 per cent of citizens were more than twice as likely as the poorest fifth to vote Republican, America's divisions go deeper than wealth or demography.
Voters were repelled not simply by a campaign in which billions of dollars were ploughed into disseminating negativity, but by the lack of humanity they discerned in a contest that pitted Romney, who did not much like poor people, against the glacial Obama, who did not much like people of any sort. Yesterday, the beginning of a new era, may also have marked the end of top-down politics.
The estrangement and hostility endemic in this election echo around the world. In London, an unpopular David Cameron, now barely in control of his own party, will sit at a table in Downing Street today (Wednesday) with a German chancellor from whom he has drifted perilously apart and other European leaders who see Britain as a drag anchor on their future.
Although Ed Miliband has secured party loyalty and increased respect by voters, he should be more troubled than Cameron by the dismal campaign run by Obama. Labour's renewal, and its chances of victory in 2015, have been borrowed from the Barack Bible. Obama-style community organising so impressed Miliband that he enlisted Arnie Graf, a pioneer who once briefly coached Obama, to make grassroots activism a central strand of Labour's policy review. The party's general secretary, Iain McNicol, went to America to borrow ideas from the Democrats' current campaign, with the result that fewer expensive Vote Labour mailshots will clutter British doormats in 2015, and party activists will no longer cold-call voters who do not want to hear their self-serving pitch.
Instead, local communitarians won over by Labour's enthusiasm to keep their bins emptied and their playgrounds open will persuade others to flock to the polls for Miliband. Or such is the hope of a Labour leader intent on rebuilding politics from the bottom up. On Monday, he was given something approaching a hero's welcome at Islington Town Hall, where he promoted the living wage paid by some local authorities and by their private contractors prepared to offer the higher rate in order to secure lucrative deals to run leisure centres, parks and school dinners.
The new buzzword in Labour circles is "relational". Though hardly prettier-sounding than New Labour technospeak, it embraces the attractive (if not altogether novel) idea that the quality of public services such as teaching, childminding and social care depends on the relationship between provider and user. On Monday, the Fabians launched a pamphlet by the historian, Jon Wilson. His message, that Labour must become "a party rooted in people's experience", was delivered to a room packed with Miliband's top advisers.
Next week, the Institute for Public Policy Research will publish a ground-breaking report in which Geoff Mulgan, a key strategist in the Blair and Brown administrations, and Miliband's friend and adviser Marc Stears debate "The Possibilities and the Politics of this Relational State". While some might dismiss this argument as pure think-tankery, the focus - how to place human relationships at the centre of the role of government - is intrinsic to a more inclusive form of politics.
Or so Barack Obama once thought, in the far-off days when his charisma beguiled an American electorate persuaded, in a sugar rush of democratic fervour, that power was his to give and theirs to take. Instead he became just another exponent of command-and-control politics whose top-down autocracy will ensure that, whatever tears are shed or joy unleashed in America today, he is unlikely ever to be forgiven.
Miliband now faces two questions. To the first, whether the dog-eared Obama playbook still contains the best tunes, he has already ticked the box marked Yes. The fact that he is never going to be an electoral messiah in the mould of the old Obama does not shield him from the second issue. Even assuming that he can win in 2015, can he avoid a similar fall from grace?
The Britain that Miliband would inherit would make today's recessionary country seem like Utopia. Social care will be collapsing, welfare shredded and house-building stalled. The NHS, which normally gets an annual spending boost of 4 per cent, will have seen no real-terms increase since 2010. As the IPPR head, Nick Pearce, says, such challenges are "unprecedented".
If Miliband can explain, in unsparing detail, what must be cut in order to boost "relational" services that in turn bolster employment, such as child care and home help for the elderly, then he may avoid the Obama curse. But if he chooses simply to tack right on immigration and crime while playing opportunistic politics on Europe, voters will never buy a story, however heartfelt, of a politics run by the people and for the people.
In an inter-dependent world, the result announced in the US today will affect, directly or indirectly, the prosperity and the security of every citizen on the planet. But the aftershock is more profound than that. An America that once believed in the audacity of hope has seen its faith abused, and the bitterness of the betrayed offers a warning to all those who promise more than they can deliver. As Barack Obama's disciple, Ed Miliband should take note.