Opinion

The Dubious Legitimacy of Trump’s Presidency

It only gets worse as inauguration nears. Can American democracy recover?

By Crawford Kilian 6 Jan 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

As we get closer to his Jan. 20 inauguration, Donald Trump’s political legitimacy is beginning to shred. So is that of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which have Republican majorities and should be onside with a Republican president but are already clashing over ethics and the CIA. Even if you’re not a Trumpista, this is an alarming development. De-legitimizing the U.S. government could make it very hard for American democracy to recover by 2020 — if ever.

This is important, because the United States has the longest consecutive peaceful transfer of power of any nation in the world. Since George Washington was elected president, 43 successors have campaigned, been elected, and taken office without the intervention of the military, foreign powers, or insurrection, and Trump will be number 44.

This is not to say that every election has been a pristine example of democracy in action. American history is full of electoral fixes, and denial of the vote to black Americans in many states clouds the choice of every president since Abraham Lincoln.

Still, even when the U.S. Supreme Court made George W. Bush president in 2000, his adversary Al Gore didn’t contest the decision. When Bush then dragged his country into nightmare wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, he did it legitimately, with the power that his citizens, rightly or wrongly, had democratically granted him.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was equally legitimate, a vindication of the American system. But before and after it, his legitimacy came under constant question. “Birthers” argued that he had actually been born in Kenya, not in the U.S. Donald Trump was only one of millions of Americans who claimed to believe this nonsense. If he was not a “natural born” American, Obama had no constitutional claim on the presidency.

The “natural born” requirement was established to keep European opportunists from re-colonizing the new republic.

The Founding Fathers did not anticipate, however, the Russian Empire’s interest in American politics, and their readiness to use a native-born American to gain control. And so Trump, the birther who denied Obama legitimacy, is now an apologist for the help of Julian Assange of Wikileaks in achieving Vladimir Putin’s preferred outcome in the U.S. election.

The Trump freak-out

Both mass media and social media of the American centre-left have engaged in a long freak-out about Trump’s involvement with Russia since the twilight of the Soviet Union. The Washington Post recently reported Russian hackers at work even in Vermont’s power system; it turned out to be a scrap of malware on someone’s laptop.

What the last week or so has taught me is that the Americans can be as insane about Trump and the Russians as they’ve been about Obama and the Muslims. Like Trump and the birthers, they’re ready to de-legitimize the new president on almost any pretext.

But who is prepared for the final stage of this game, when supporters of both major parties of the U.S. have so thoroughly de-legitimized the other that neither has the credibility to govern?

That is probably Vladimir Putin’s real goal. He didn’t need to support Trump. All he had to do was make Americans (and Canadians, and the rest of the world) uncertain about the legitimacy of the whole democratic process. Achieve that, and America’s world authority crumbles.

Step one was when Trump conducted a hostile takeover of the Republican Party in his campaign. The Republican idiots who got elected on his coattails see they owe allegiance to Trump, whatever his ideology, policy, or debts to Putin. Trump owns the party he hijacked, and he owes it nothing. So Trump as executive has very few checks or balances.

Those remaining checks and balances, however, are the same ones that Trump and others used against Obama: questions about his legitimacy.

So the de-legitimizers chip away with their accusations. Did some Trump-friendly states suppress the black vote? Did FBI director James Comey report a new inquiry into Hilary Clinton’s emails out of sheer professionalism, or was he induced to do so? And did Putin’s hackers get into the files of the Democratic National Committee with a lot more style than Richard Nixon’s clumsy Watergate burglars?

Since Nov. 8, the online world has erupted with anti-Trump reports and tweets dragging in every conceivable scrap of evidence against Trump’s legitimacy — far more than was ever brought in against Obama.

The problem is that very process can too easily de-legitimize the de-legitimizers. As journalist Glenn Greenwald (no friend of Trump) pointed out, the Washington Post’s worries about Russian hackers were very poorly documented.

When you base your politics on evidence, and the evidence is flimsy, so is your politics. If Trump’s reality-based adversaries can’t trust the mainstream media, they can’t trust much.

And so we arrive here: The birthers crippled Obama; the liberals have now crippled Trump, though he may not realize it yet.

We can look forward to years of Trumpist stupidity, aided by Republican flunkies, while the Democrats fuss and fume and tweet about how awful it all is — just as they blogged about George W. Bush as he prepared to invade Iraq. Neither side will win, or lose. And whoever emerges to oppose Trump in 2020 will have to fight through a thicket of “post-truth” lies far worse than 2016.

With Republicans and Democrats now so discredited, we could see the emergence of whole new parties by 2020. The Republicans shut out by Trump could form a new centre-right party; the Democrats who want to get back to their working-class roots could step left to become Social Democrats.

Such parties would have to fight to be seen as legitimate, but they would have one advantage: Both old parties will have thoroughly de-legitimized themselves.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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