I’ve been giving some thought to the chants of “Not my president” at various anti-Trump rallies, and which is a hashtag I’ve seen trending on Facebook. Plenty of people are crawling out of the woodwork to say that this is destructive of a democratic norm; that we all have one president and should unite behind him. (Him, of course. Still, always “him”.)
I think this is interesting, taken in conjunction with the fact that Hillary is going to win the popular vote, possibly by a large margin once California finishes counting. (By way of comparison, her losing share could be larger than the winning shares of Kennedy and Nixon.) That’s in addition to the Senate, which is inherently undemocratic in how it apportions power to the less-populated states, and the House, which sends an outsized Republican contingent than its voter share thanks to gerrymandering. And of course, once the White House and Congress are undemocratic, the unelected judiciary has to be as well.
This is especially ironic given that the original point of the electoral college was to prevent the democratic mob from sending someone to the presidency who was manifestly unfit for office. Well, now the democratic mob has spoken, they’ve spoken for Hillary Clinton, and thanks to the rules we’ve elected the other guy, who is manifestly unfit for office.
That no one is saying shit about this is striking. In 2000, I was utterly outraged that Gore won the popular vote and it meant nothing. I honestly believed that people would be protesting in the streets for four years straight. In 2016, my reaction is, “Fuck, again? That sucks.” This is what I meant by “we can normalize anything” in a prior essay. Two unelected Democrats with the popular vote margin in 16 years? What was unthinkable is now routine.
That brings me back to the question of democracy. The razor-thin plurality of the voters voted for the loser, and lost the Senate and House as well. In nearly no time at all, this will lead to the permanent (measured in my remaining lifetime) loss of the judiciary—made possible by the antidemocratic measures taken by the Republican Senate under Obama.
At what point do we say, “no, the hell with the norms, the hell with civic polity, this undivided, unified, undemocratic government is the step too far.” More importantly, how do we say it? There are no remaining levers of power with which to express ourselves. The Internet gives everyone a voice, which ensures the impossibility of a single united one. The public sector is nowhere near strong enough to stand in the face of the awesome power of government united against it. And the next elections are two years away.
So what does this mean? Not my government? Not my America? “I want my country back?” Yes, we mocked the Republicans who said that under Obama, and they are still deserving of mockery for using that language under a president who was elected democratically in every sense of the word, with a Congress not rigged in his favor, who governed according to historical norms. But of course, it also ensures that no one else can say it, however justified they might be.
But that’s what’s driving the fear, the anguish, the mourning for the death of a loved one, among the plurality of voters in this election. We had a belief that America was special, and that she could not elect a… a what? A Berlusconi? A Mussolini? A Hitler? That everyone took seriously the idea of country first, party second. That despite the partisan divide, the manifest flaws in this man which other Republicans had pointed out would be enough to prevent this catastrophe.
So no, not my president, I guess. Because it’s not the America I believed in long before I ever became a partisan. This is an undemocratic country where the people who hold power received fewer votes. Where vote margins in many places are far smaller than the numbers of people who are blocked from voting. Where half of the eligible electorate doesn’t vote, and where those people are most likely to be the most marginalized. And where the driving force among the people who do vote, and the media that covers it, is politics as tribalism and entertainment, not governance.
How can I possibly cheer on the success of a president when I despise the man personally, and bitterly oppose most of what he proposes? When his office works for a policy that will ensure the literal death and suffering of millions? (Have you seen the Ryan budget yet? Don’t sugarcoat it. People will die.) When there is a clearly defined, large, and profitable media geared up to support him no matter how bad he is? When he is a fascist? How do you possibly define “success” in those terms?
I’ll close with a memory, I can’t remember if it was from 9/11 or 9/12. Most people remember that time as when the country united and came together. What I remember about it was W’s first speech on television that I saw, a few unplanned words. I can’t remember what he said. I can find the bullhorn speech, the Oval Office speech, the National Cathedral speech, but not this one. But I remember watching it and thinking, in the moment, “This man is terrified out of his gourd. He’s not up to this job.”
Most people, of course, looked to the Oval Office and saw there what it comforted them to see. Some of them surely changed their minds later. I suspect most people who went through that conversion don’t think about it much.
The point is, it took me from January 20th until September 11th to understand that the office was held not merely by someone who I opposed politically, but by someone who I was certain would fail. I never felt that way about Bush’s father. (And I can’t speak to my feelings about Reagan, because back then, I was a low-information Republican.) This time, I’m certain not just on Day One, but long beforehand. And I was right the last time.