As the dust settles on Donald Trump's stunning victory, the political currents he rode to the White House are becoming clear.

The billionaire property mogul owes his success to the voters he called the forgotten men and women of America. They were overwhelmingly white, from rural counties and the industrial midwest. They lacked the university education of Hillary Clinton's supporters, felt betrayed by Democratic and Republican elites, and recognised a candidate who spoke their language about foreign trade deals and illegal immigration.

They cared not a whit about Trump's character, his sneering dismissal of Muslims and Latinos and his wilful appeal to the darkest corners of the human spirit, which his opponents - and even for a time his own party - thought would sink his chances.

They responded in their droves to an outsider who with deadly aim talked directly about their resentments and promised to repair their broken lives and their cracked system of government, even if he didn't offer many clues about how he would achieve it.

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No other candidate came within cooee of recognising their raw frustrations. They went largely unrecognised by the pollsters, though Trump sniffed them out and played to their fears.

States that President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012 tilted to Trump because he spoke about relative hardship in the rustbelt. When push came to shove, their vote made all the difference.

One observer suggested Trump's voting base takes the former reality star seriously but not literally. When Trump talked about building a wall on the Mexican border, his supporters heard a message about immigrants taking American jobs. When he warned Apple to stop making iPhones in China, they felt he meant business about putting a spoke in free trade.

Trump's slogan - "Make America Great Again" - resonated with the forgotten people because their jobs were threatened by globalisation.

There is clearly a parallel with the Brexit vote in Britain and with opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which now seems finished. In the US, as in the UK and Europe, there is a deep mood of unease capable of confounding expectations and turning the world upside down. Politicians everywhere ignore it at their peril.

How the result translates into policy is uncharted territory, though the people who put Trump in office will expect payback.

His unexpected success stirred protests in US cities yesterday, but notes of graciousness too. Obama pledged a smooth transition for the 45th US president. A disappointed Clinton told her backers they owed Trump an "open mind".

New Zealand, a trading nation, will be affected if Trump runs true to his protectionist form.

With control of the Senate and Congress, the President-elect commands significant power. How he wields it will only be clear when he enters the Oval Office.

As with much of his presidential campaign, Trump again appears to be asking the American people to trust him and wait and see.