President-Elect Snowflake, Fake News and Challenging Trump’s Mandate

When the Vice President-elect of the United States went to the theatre he probably did not expect it to become an international news story. On entering he was booed, then at the end of the show one of the cast members delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of minority groups left frightened by Trump’s election.

That in itself would have made a big news story. The sequel ensured that it lasted. The President-elect called it harassment. Clearly having no idea that in Ancient Athens political figures sat in the front row as satirists brutally lampooned them, he said that theatre must always be a “safe space”. The entitlement was palpable as if public figures have a right to be cocooned from any views except those of supporters.

He found himself roundly mocked. Yet he probably had supporters amongst those who found the reaction inappropriate rather than the original offence.

Trump has set the tone for his presidency through social media. On the day after his election he called those demonstrating - unfairly, of course -  against his win “professional protesters”. The rank hypocrisy makes opponents seethe. What is more worrying is that he was propagating a lie started by a supporter on Twitter who had fewer than 40 followers. And when the lie was discovered he made no amendment.

By denying reality he has created his own. Meanwhile a more important story about his ethics problem was lost. All along that Trump’s confused policies favour the rich has been lost.

Trump’s opponents face a dilemma to which there is no perfect answer

Trump is a thin-skinned, grotesque narcissist. His assumption of the presidency - with so little credibility - is an offence to a progressive and democratic sense of good government. But he won. It claws at the guts to say so but he did. He won by the rules. However, that does not mean - as Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, indicated - that he has a mandate for his policies. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a greater margin than any other electoral college loser. He won a smaller percentage of the vote than Mitt Romney in 2012. He was elected but that does not mean he won a mandate. Election does not mean a mandate.

Trump’s opponents face a dilemma to which there is no perfect answer. The immediate response has been to denounce the man as a fascist. It is easy to feel sympathy with this: only the blind would deny that his agenda is reminiscent of the brutality of the 1930s.

Fascism succeeded in the 1930s because of mainstream complacency: whether it be Neville Chamberlain at Munich or the German Weimar establishment, many were the guilty appeasers of Hitler’s regime. Those are lessons which cannot be forgotten.

Trump is offensive to every believer in liberal democracy. But it is his agenda that is more disturbing. Attempts to delegitimise his presidency will backfire. When Barack Obama was elected the congressional GOP obstructed him at every turn; as they had done with Bill Clinton before, they attacked his legitimacy because he was unAmerican (ie black). Trump himself, who propagated the birther conspiracy movement, was chief amongst them. However, all this did was to feed the anti-political frenzy that lead to their humiliation and Trump’s success. The danger for his opponents is that unfocused attacks will only feed the frustration that led to his election in the first place.

To deny his mandate is not the same as to deny his legitimacy

Italians faced a similar problem with Silvio Berlusconi. Liberals simply could not see his appeal; to them he was just a crude embarrassment, a chancer who bent the law to further his own ambitions.  He was premier for nine years, making him the third longest serving prime minister. Only one person defeated him at a general election. But who remembers Romano Prodi now? The lasting effect of Berlusconi’s premiership has been to loosen the rule of law. The damage has been not entirely but predominantly cultural.

Trump and Bernie Sanders both tapped into a need for change but Trump will face opposition from his own party. This gives Democrats an opportunity to expose his empty populism. Chuck Schumer's election indicates that the Democrats are changing tack after their defeat. An attitude that denies Trump legitimacy is one that also denies the frustration. 

To deny his mandate is not the same as to deny his legitimacy. To call out his divisive bigotry is not the same as constantly decrying his unpleasant personality. The feeling that his misogyny and offensiveness should be called out is understandable - and, in my view, correct. Not to do so normalises bigotry. There is a difference between doing something deplorable and being so. It is not enough though.

Democrats need to create a wider paradigm about social justice and democracy. By accepting that there exists a demand for change but denying that Trump owns any mandate they have the beginning of a strategy to ensure that Trump is not allowed run rampage over first America and then the world.

Appeasement failed in the 1930s. Outrage failed in 2016. Whatever the strategy for the next four years, it cannot fail again.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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