Yesterday saw the Donald Trump inauguration, making him the 45th President of the United States. In itself, this is one of the most extraordinary political outcomes in the republic’s history. Having insulted his way through one of the bitterest campaigns in living memory, he emerged victorious.
This extraordinary result has provoked a variety of responses. Some responded institutionally, trying to overturn the result via recounts and the electoral college. Others have taken to the streets, with violent protesters in evidence across the capital yesterday. Almost all responses to his win have been to try to scupper or to de-legitimise it.
Were these appropriate responses?
This is counter-productive, however. Donald Trump is the rightful occupant of the oval office. Many may question his fitness to hold that office, but that decision, ultimately, lies with the American people.
Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote. The electoral college may be an anachronism. Yet, both candidates were aware of its consequences; Trump did not benefit from having superior knowledge of its workings. Indeed, as Bill Clinton was able to win the electoral college with only 43% of the vote, Hillary Clinton should have known its perverse implications and adapted accordingly. Campaigns to reform the electoral college deserve our support, but campaigns to retrospectively redraw the rules of the game do not. Clinton elected not to campaign in Michigan whilst knowing Trump was campaigning there. That is her and her team’s responsibility and does not de-legitimise Trump’s victory.
Secondly, some have decided to protest. It must be stated that the majority of these have been peaceful. Moreover, the right to protest is a crucial right we should all cherish. However, what we should not encourage is placards proclaiming ‘not my president’. It is a cornerstone of democracy that we respect the will of the people freely expressed. Trump is probably the biggest test of that for many, but so would a President Hillary Clinton or even a President Sanders. If America is to reunite, this must be widely understood. The same electorate who elected Barack Obama also elected Donald Trump. Within that electorate, there are some who voted for both. Some voted for neither. Protests should attack the policies and the wild statements, not his right to hold the office.
What should be done?
Yet, this is not to give Donald Trump a free ride. His policies and ideas are open to a great deal of criticism. We all have a duty to partake in the democratic process in between elections, and that applies to Americans too. Moreover, as the American system has a strong status quo bias, much to the recent chagrin of progressives, opponents are not powerless. His falsehoods should be called out. His ignorance should be condemned. His policies duly weighed. Being a Republican, indeed being Donald Trump, neither makes his acts automatically righteous nor evil.
Furthermore, those who oppose him must understand the reasons why 46% Americans voted for him. There is a temptation for people to project our own politics on to those people. The EU referendum result provoked many on the left to explain it away as a reaction to austerity, rather than engage with those who voted Leave. Trump voters are not a homogeneous blob. Nor are they a ‘basket of deplorables’. They are ordinary men and women who saw him as the better alternative to Secretary Clinton.
Some may be true believers. Others may be open to a patriotic re-imagining of globalisation. The democratic revolutions of 2016 made clear that ‘progress’ was not all encompassing. Reasserting the old policy paradigm with a new face or with smug knowledge that Trump divides and upsets is not enough. Change has got to come. Moreover, the left and right needs to discover how its principles can be reshaped for the electorate they have, not the righteous electorate they wish they had. Trump saw how the electorate actually was and played to it. On this, all us democrats should not criticise him.