On January 13, just barely a week before the Trump inauguration as President of the United States, civil rights icon John Lewis made a “bombshell” statement that Trump is not a legitimate President-elect! As shocking as this statement might seem, so many others have been saying exactly the same thing ever since the election of Trump on November 8, 2016 as America’s next President. Some critics like PBS Travis Smiley have even asserted that America “profaned” itself by electing Trump as President.
Obviously, Trump and his team are very upset about any questioning of Trump’s legitimacy. They have generally taken a narrow frame of insisting that since Russia did not alter election data electronically that we should not worry about anything else. How can we in good conscience ignore so many other relevant variables pertinent to the issues of contention?
Indeed we cannot ignore the fact that without any constitutional or factual basis, Trump himself actively questioned President Obama’s legitimacy for five years in the end conceding that he indeed is a legitimate President. On that and on this instance, he does not come to the discourse with CLEAN HANDS. He does not stand on firm grounds. Nor can we ignore the fact that much of the campaign Trump himself was shouting from the roof top that the “system is rigged folks.” This is very ironic and poetic given his present concerns about others questioning his election.
POLITICAL LEGITIMACY in Trump’s case can perhaps best be evaluated on PROCEDURAL and NORMATIVE grounds. We need to pursue the facts of the case very strictly especially as America’s foundational institutional values must be seen as critical for the survival of America itself.
Other nations in the past have looked up to America and its institutions as GUIDING LIGHT for development and democracy.. Partly for that reason, we have gone about telling the world how they must conduct their political business AND PROCESSES.
Therefore, at home, we must see SELF-EVALUATION AND CRITICISM as a virtue. We cannot afford to just sweep sensitive but important and troubling matters simply under the carpet. It is for our own good that we don’t. The world is watching us!
In that context, how we must wish that in our elections—a very critical political act of democracy–politicians campaigned with TRUTH as their absolute sword instead of trying to fool the people and pull a wool over their eyes. We wish Russia and Putin did not intervene in our elections the way they boldly did including trying to favor one side and spreading falsehood through the social media and False News. We wish that FBI Director Comey had followed tradition instead of attempting to be a boy scout and indeed attempting to upend the elections to the clear disadvantage of one side. We wish that the electoral system respected the popular votes more than it presently does. In controversial elections, the true WILL OF THE PEOPLE must be determined in a more sophisticated fashion. than simply relying on an antiquated electoral college system. This is a more complex society.
On all of these grounds, we have VALID GROUNDS TO QUESTION Trump’s political legitimacy and viability in the relevant future!
Getting back to our KEY INSTRUMENT OF ANALYSIS, the first concerns that stand out are about PROCESS and PROCEDURE, including rules and conventions governing elections. Here there is immediately a caveat. Comey broke an important tenet of that tradition by re-opening the Clinton e-mail investigations just a few weeks—about two weeks –to the elections and announcing it. That is not only a very bad executive judgment but a profound political malpractice. In doing so, he disobeyed his Attorney-General, his boss at the Justice Department. He also wantonly (even recklessly) disregarded the Justice Department guidelines. That he made a correct decision six months earlier does not mean we must ignore his very bad decision six months later!
How can anyone ignore this—especially as Comey’s action stopped THE CLINTON MOMENTUM and gave hope to a side that was by all accounts and in all the polls was losing it at the time? All that Trump campaign manager Conway could say at the time about Comey’s unwise intervention is that “the damage has been done.” At least she acknowledged the DAMAGE against their opponent! We see the same attitude by Trump and his other campaign helpers. Instead of condemning wrong action, they simply appropriated and encouraged it. They saw it as a clear advantage necessary for winning. Trump called on Russia to do more hacking, more dissemination of stolen data and more Fake News and conspiracies.
Comey’s action is both unfair and unjust! From the moment Comey stepped in, Trump rallied his support mostly on the basis of WHITE NATIONALISM and racist ideology—all very divisive tactics. He played to our worse fears!
While one can say that generally the procedure was followed, there is thus still a big question mark. Yes no one probably stuffed the ballot boxes. Yes, Russians probably did not tamper with voting machines electronically (we don’t absolutely know for sure given the level of sophistication involved in Putin’s efforts to interfere in our elections). But other weighty concerns linger. What weight do you assign to Comey’s intervention, for example? The Wall Street Journal on Friday, January 13, called for Comey’s resignation or firing.
On the NORMATIVE AND MORAL basis of the elections, there ARE plenty of concerns. Trump is known to LIE about almost everything, by some estimate about 87 per cent of the time. Did he win this election by deploying falsehood, big lies and deceptions? If he did, is he legitimate?
What about the MORAL AUTHORITY of an American President? Does a President who lies so glibly have that kind of authority? Could he be a role model for our kids. There are as well related issues of PERSONAL CONDUCT and character? Many of these issues came up in real time during the campaign as well as reached into Trump’s past in dealing with people, including women, contractors, etc, etc. Can a President Trump be the model for the future of American politics—a president who thries on lies, conspiracy theories and antagonism against his own system instead of relying on objective truth for critical decision-making?
And what about the role of Russia with respect to False News and propaganda? Is it something we must accept and tolerate as a “new normal”—that a foreign power can boldly interfere with our electoral process and try to win over our people on their own terms, in effect telling us who must lead us? Can we, for instance, say simply that Trump has a novel way of doing things and that should be the paradigm for our political system going forward? I believe we the people—especially the elite Washington media—have an obligation to challenge this cancer in our society before it takes deep roots! It must be the people’s thesis not that of one man or external actor!
Rep. John Lewis particularly focused on THE ROLE OF RUSSIA and the meddling of Putin and Russia’s intelligence operatives in Trump’s election. Other nations spy on us and we have done the same. But these nations have not usually tried to disseminate the stolen data publicly in an attempt to discredit our systems and chose who should rule us.
Beyond Putin’s direct action, many TROUBLING ISSUES remain unresolved. Trump has continued to be soft on Putin and Russia and harsh on other world leaders and countries such as China and North Korea and Germany. Trump has tried to discredit NATO and our intelligent services. He has done the same with our leaders and our institutions in preference for Russia’s. He has demeaned and marginalised minority groups including our eminent civil rights leaders. He has railed against and constantly insulted our esteemed journalists and media organizations in preference for False news and gossip mills like the National Enquirer run by a friend of his. Trump now uses the National Enquirer to mock, discredit and lie about his presumed political “enemies. In stumping, he has cruelly mocked American citizens including women and the disabled.
Overall Trump operates in the mode of a King, as one who cannot be questioned and MUST be obeyed (his recent press conference is a real mirror into the authoritarian tendencies of this man). He has a habit of threatening people or suggesting dire consequences for his real or imagined “enemies.” He has a clear preference for dictators and their style of governing which he sees as strength.
On all of these grounds one can make a good case against Trump on the issue of political legitimacy. John Lewis, a man with UNDISPUTED MORAL AUTHORITY, is right on the money. As a revered civil rights icon, his words must matter. That does not mean that Trump is not going to be President. That by itself should not be the MEASURE for political legitimacy! An ancillary question is this: If Trump continues in his present path, rather than the path of humility, serenity and balance, how long would he last?