Hate Trumped Love. Now Liberals Must Fight for Democratic Reason
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States has left many progressives in America baffled. Indeed, it has baffled liberals across the world. The confusion comes in part from the fact that Hillary Clinton was expected to win the election.
Clinton’s paths to victory in the electoral college were not as strong as supposed. She lost delegate-rich Florida, and then the industrial states that were meant to provide her electoral ballast. As election night grew old, a Clinton victory became unlikely then impossible. At 230am EST, Associated Press declared Donald Trump president.
The emotion of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory is raw. The highest and hardest glass ceiling remains unbroken.
Looked at one way Clinton’s defeat is unsurprising. Tainted by two decades in public life, she was an unpopular candidate. She lacked charisma. Despite her determination and experience, the case against President Hillary Clinton was strong. But democracy is both a vote against one candidate and in favour of another candidate. It is more difficult to build a positive case for the eventual victor than it is easy to construct a negative one for his opponent. To say so is not to sneer at his supporters or belittle their intelligence, but it is to question the basis of their decisions.
It is too easy for a losing side to deny the winners their due. Generally, to do so is unfair. One side might disagree with the premises upon which their opponents made decisions or the decisions themselves, but democratic decisions that have rationalism can be defended. That many have demonstrated in America’s big cities and on college campuses to protest Trump’s election is evidence that they feel democracy has not been well served. The question then becomes, can we defend Trump’s election?
Democracy is not a free for all. There are certain inferred rules. That decisions might be made with a degree of emotion is given but that they should be made without apparent reason is extraordinary.
there is a grey area between democracy and authoritarianism
Liberal democracies accept propositions such as equality before the law and the indivisible nature of rights. We might argue on the minutiae of those rights but we accept that there should be rights. A respect for minority opinions has to be at the heart of a democracy. Indeed, a respect for minorities has to be at its heart as well. When the framers of the US constitution wrote of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” they conferred such rights upon the free-born, white male population. Their innate superiority was a given. The deconstruction of this belief made equal rights for women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community a logical follow through. That it took so long speaks of our anti-democratic strain.
John Stuart Mill famously wrote of a “tyranny of the majority”. His liberalism did not believe a majority should impose its will upon a minority. A consciousness around this belief is at the centre of liberal democracy. However great the majority, a decision which seeks to take away or obstruct the rights of any particular group cannot therefore be democratic. Plenty of countries vote. That does not make them all democracies.
This is not to question his legitimacy. Trump won by the rules. He is president. Nor is it to say that his election was not a democratic one. It is to say that there is a grey area between democracy and authoritarianism. When people defend elections such as Trump’s, and use purely democratic arguments, they kowtow to bigotry and emotionalism. We make irrational hatred democratically acceptable. Indeed, these defenders are the real anti-democrats. Those who take a narrow democratic decision as the will of the people are the real tyrants.
It is possible to overreact to Trump’s election. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Trump received fewer votes than either Barack Obama and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The founding fathers accepted the complexities of democracy by constructing a framework of checks and balances. Donald Trump will have to operate within that construct. Unused to supervision, he will find it difficult.
even his angriest critic must accept the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency
That there are pushes and pulls in different directions must be acknowledged - by both sides. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression are cornerstones in a democratic society. Yet not all views have equal validity. An opinion based without foundation in evidence is just a spasm. To defend not the right to hold the opinion but the opinion is just entitlement.
Votes are not just expressions, they are actions. So the left must begin a wider debate that defends rationalism and empiricism as democratic virtues. Racism, misogyny, homophobia - and the actions spawned by such bigotry - must be branded for what they are: anti-democratic. Fear is a form of tyranny. Cheap populism that imposes absolutes is just that, cheap.
It is to Hillary Clinton’s credit that she gracefully - maybe even presidentially - conceded defeat and wished her opponent well. Whether Trump would have done the same will become the stuff of political counterfactuals. Now, even his angriest critic must accept the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. World leaders will have to find a way to work with him. Perhaps some could take inspiration from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, standing once again above the gnomes who lead many European countries, insisted Germany will cooperate with the US "on the basis" that Trump respects the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views.
The rest of us - whether a Democrat in the Senate or a Hispanic protest group or non-heterosexual citizen - must make sure that we make our voices heard. Not just at election time but every day. To accept that he is president by law does not mean anyone accepts one iota of his rancid agenda.
About the author
Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.
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