Why no one can say Trump lost the election

On Election Day — you know, the day when millions of Americans showed up to stand in line and cast their votes — Hillary Clinton won a commanding plurality of the vote. The fact that Trump was installed as president despite losing the popular vote by 3 million votes is a profound injustice that delegitimates everything he has done and will do. The fact that the loser has been installed as president twice in as many decades, after a century where the Electoral College had been a purely empty formality, is a crisis and an outrage. We also know for a fact that the Republicans have rigged the vote for the House of Representatives so that Democrats would need to win a double-digit landslide to get even a narrow majority in that chamber. It so happens that the Republicans narrowly won the popular vote this time around, but they could have lost 10 more percentage points and still clung to power. And we can all surely recall when the Republicans stole a Supreme Court justice from Obama and installed one of their own choosing, after their illegitimate loser president was installed. All of this appears against the background of systematic voter suppression by Republicans, explicitly targetting racial minorities who tend to vote Democrat.

This means that all three branches of the US government, and the underlying electoral system, are operating in open defiance of the popular will. And all we hear about is how the Democrats need to change their strategy or message to start winning again. I share the view that the Democrats need to change their strategy and their message, but such commentary fails to grapple with the reality that they are facing. The system is rigged against them and is poised to grow even moreso if the Republicans manage to control a second round of redistricting and continue purging voter rolls.

But the Democrats can’t say that, because the Democrats can’t or won’t risk undermining the legitimacy of the system as such. In a very real sense, Democrats are no longer a political party. They are the party that is in favor of continuing to have constitutional structures and norms and something like the rule of law. They are the party of de-politicization, in an era when the Republicans are intent on politicizing literally every institutional lever of power until there is no remaining ground that is even nominally neutral. And this leads to obvious pathologies, where they avoid taking action that would look too “partisan” — for instance, prosecuting Bush-era torturers and war criminals, or alerting the public to Russian interference in the election as it was happening. So great is their commitment to institutional neutrality that they will not even use their institional power to counter obvious abuses by the other party.

Hence even if they are swept back into power, the Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. Any effort to restore the electoral system to neutrality will appear as a partisan power grab, given that the Democrats have failed to educate the public about the reality of gerrymandering and voter suppression. More generally, every time Democrats dutifully accept a new built-in advantage for Republicans, they set up a scenario where taking it away appears as an attempt to give an unfair advantage to Democrats. And so we are subject to an endless racheting up of Republican advantages and extremism, with Democrats occasionally sweeping in to clean up the worst messes caused by the other side — and being demonized for it.

Admittedly, there is a lot to be said for that option — even the thinnest veneer of legality holds open the prospect of taking back power peacefully, whereas delegitimating the system risks triggering a civil war that Democrats would surely lose. But you have to wonder how long a party organization can persist when its only apparent goal is to cover for the de facto tyranny of their opponents.

7 thoughts on “Why no one can say Trump lost the election

  1. No. If those 3 million Democrats had lived around the Great Lakes instead of California and NY, Clinton would have won in a electoral landslide. 50 years ago, there weren’t 2 million more Democrats in California than Republicans:something happened.

    What happened was “The Big Sort” and urbanization: the best and the brightest moved the hellouta Dodge City Kansas and went to the big city to seek jobs waiting tables, leaving nothing but old yahoos behind with the poorest and least mobile. Having been deserted, they no longer cared.

    Now, there are tons of policies that Democrats have promoted for decades that tend to favor coastal, intellectual labor, real estate speculation globalization etc so as to promote urbanization and youthful emigration, and this is what the Democratic Party, possibly including you, do not want to deal with.

  2. I have read your blog for a long time, 10 years?, and I don’t understand your affinity for the Democrats. They are not, and have never been, on the side of real justice. How could they be? They need money. They are not the next best alternative; they are the enemy disguised as sheep so they can get your money to survive. Who gives a fuck about them?

  3. Great article. The point you make about Democrats being unable or unwilling to delegitimize the current system is well stated, but it extends to more than just the party establishment. I see this syndrome in loyal Democratic voters. They always find a way to justify existing arrangements as long as disenfranchised groups are granted the “opportunity” to be included.

    One other point needs to be made here. You call it an injustice and a crisis that Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote, lost the presidency. Yet, I have never before witnessed an election in which both the Democratic and Republican candidates were so very unpopular. The case against Donald Trump has always been ridiculously easy to make. The case against Clinton (and the Democratic establishment), although more challenging, was infinitely doable–and it had little to do with emails! It’s not difficult to conclude that some significant percentage of those voters who gave Clinton the popular vote did so because they could not stomach the idea of a Trump presidency. The real injustice is that people felt they had no alternative but to choose one of two bad candidates.

  4. “The bottom line is that the constitutional design of the Senate, population geography and the use of strategic gerrymandering in the creation of House districts, and procedural rules for both chambers all combine to exaggerate contemporary Republican influence on Capitol Hill. Leaving aside all the usual factors influencing elections—state of the economy, issues, public opinion, candidate quality, and campaign finance—the GOP begins every congressional election cycle with a built-in head start, and every session of Congress at representational levels that exaggerate the party’s underlying popular support.” Thomas Schaller, “55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country”, American Prospect, October 28, 2015.

  5. The Democrats are the ones who opted for the neo-liberal agenda. Who implemented welfare reform and condemned another generation to poverty and debt? But it’s better to die of a thousand cuts as long as there is no blood in the streets.

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