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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Our long national IQ test is over. We failed.

Donald Trump, chosen by fewer than half of those who voted, will enter the Oval Office in January as one of the most shockingly unqualified, unprepared presidents in American history.

There is reason to be afraid. There’s also reason to wait and see what happens, before you start shopping for a house in Quebec.

Yes, the Trump we saw on the campaign trail — the one who sickened so many Republicans I know, as well as Democrats — was really him. Or at least the “him” of the moment.

He was petty, profane, proudly vindictive and perpetually unarmed with real facts. He was comfortable standing as a florid caricature of a blowhard billionaire.

When rattled, he went off like a Muppet in a microwave.

But he’ll be our next president because he’s very good at giving a performance, whether he believes what he’s saying or not. The white working-class people that he sought to galvanize bought his act, big-time.

Trump figured out the pandering formula early. He also understood that the currents of discontent dividing this country run so deeply that he could get away with saying and doing things that would have doomed any other candidate.

Remember Gary Hart, once a luminous star of the Democratic Party? He might have been elected president in 1988 if he hadn’t been photographed with a young woman who wasn’t his wife on a yacht called Monkey Business.

Hart behaved like a Trappist monk compared to the lecherous Donald, but in 2016 it didn’t matter.

None of Trump’s heavy baggage weighed him down, and in the end the same sort of folks he’s been stiffing and stepping on for his whole business career were the ones who sent him to the White House.

Also racing to the polls in startling numbers were closet racists and online paranoids excited by Trump’s cynically coded promise to “take America back.” They, too, have been suckered.

For those fearful of a Trump presidency, here’s why it’s too soon to panic. People who’ve known him a long time will tell you that, first and foremost, he’s an actor.

He has no real ideology beyond advancing his brand and fluffing his own feathers. Ironically, this might actually work to the country’s advantage.

Not so long ago, Trump the businessman was a Democrat, who in the abortion debate presented himself as pro-choice.

He also spoke out for a ban on assault rifles and in favor of longer waiting periods for firearm purchases.

He has spun 180 degrees on those conservative issues, but on others he’s hard to pin down. There were moments during the campaign when he expressed very un-Republican views about raising the federal minimum wage, for example.

Trump’s GOP opponents in the primaries mocked him for flip-flopping, saying he was basically a liberal at heart, but those accusations didn’t bother Trump’s supporters one bit.

Every established conservative ideologue that ran against him — from Jeb Bush to Mike Huckabee to Ted Cruz — got crushed.

This fact shouldn’t be overlooked by Republican Party leaders who are now gloating. They had nothing to do with Trump’s astounding victory last week. It was all him.

If you can get past the vicious, venomous rhetoric he saved for his campaign rallies — and that’s difficult to do — you detect a different tone in some of his one-on-one media interviews.

He talked about being flexible, open to compromise and negotiation. Did he mean it? Does he mean anything he says?

Trump the showman now takes the biggest stage in the world. His true personality can’t be changed, but his persona must.

Paradoxically, his monumental ego and vanity could actually move the country toward healing. Trump wants to be widely popular, and he knows he isn’t.

You can be sure he’s been watching the mass street protests on TV.

If not for the archaic Electoral College system (which Trump once scorned as a “disaster” for democracy), he would have lost the election because he got 234,000 fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

Trump might be incapable of humility, but he’s not immune to the fear of going down in history as a divisive, ineffective president.

Like all performers, Trump loves being cheered. The question is if he’ll revamp his performance to appeal to a much broader, more diverse audience. Will he strive to appear more humane, tolerant and thoughtful?

It would be a much better act than the one we’ve been seeing.

And if it doesn’t change soon, something else will:

The price of real estate in Canada.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs after a rally with supporters in San Diego, California, U.S. May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst