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Posted on November 21, 2016 at 9:08 PM
On the morning after the election, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that his party and its successful presidential candidate had been given a “mandate” to govern. His remarks included reassurances that any doubts (such as the ones he had expressed about Mr. Trump as a person of sufficient moral character to be our nation’s leader) and any concerns (such as the ones that that the newly elected President had expressed about the Speaker’s abilities) would become irrelevant now.
After all, they have a “mandate” to run the country, he repeated.
There is no dispute that the outcome of the election surprised many, many people. But the incompetence of most pollsters to read the mood of the electorate coupled with the banality of most news outlets in their coverage of the campaign were responsible for the sense of surprise. Now the post-election analyses will attempt to recover from those failures by discussing what the voters were saying in the election. Who knows if these interpretations will be any wiser?
In any case, none of what the voters were saying amounts to a “mandate” for the President-elect or the Speaker to do anything.
By the constitutional method that American use to choose their presidents, it is clear that Mr. Trump will receive the majority of the Electoral College votes when they are counted in December. But it will be a relatively narrow majority, certainly smaller than the one that Barack Obama received in 2008.
Moreover, it was Mrs. Clinton, not Mr. Trump, who actually received a majority of the votes that the American people cast in the election. By rather tiny margins, she lost all of the electoral votes in two states–Florida and Pennsylvania–that could have easily cost him the presidency and handed it to her, if a few voters in each the states’ precincts had managed to cast ballots with marks beside her name.
So Mr. Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office will hardly come as a mandate for him to impose new policies on the country. It will actually come with strong evidence that he is going to be the President of a deeply divided United States of America. His campaign pandered to a specific subgroup of the American electorate. He gets credit for identifying and exploiting that subgroup, which very few political professionals recognized or knew how to reach. But his victory relied on his willingness to ignore overwhelming numbers of black and brown voters, his indifference to honor the constitutional rights of Muslims, and his refusal to respect the dignity or humanity of women–among other adolescent amoralities.
He did not win a “mandate.” He just received enough votes to get a hall pass to use the Oval Office.
We have experience with one who claims a “mandate” after a narrow win in the presidential election.
Less than eight months after their inaugurations, George Bush and Dick Cheney erected a “mandate” for war on the ashes of the people and property that airplane hijackers destroyed on September 11, 2001. Under the cover of a “mandate,” they used the false pretenses of “weapons of mass destruction” (which did not exist) to launch firepower against an enemy (which was not the adversary that attacked us on September 11) and to provoke a wider geo-political-ethnic-religious conflict (which has endured through all eight years of the ensuing administration).
Mr. Trump did not receive a “mandate” on November 8. What he received was a hall pass to enter the Oval Office. It was granted to him by slightly less than one-half of the Americans who voted in the presidential election. He received it as a response to the vacuous promises he made to negotiate better trade deals, repeal and replace Obamacare, put Americans back to work in manufacturing, rid our nation of eleven million residents who may be here illegally, and build barriers–physically or by fascist force–so he can take America back from the Muslims or the Mexicans or the Planned Parenthood supporters who are preventing him from making America great again.
Some of his promises, as Jeb Bush said of the “wall,” will never happen. Some of his promises can only happen if he runs roughshod over the Constitution, including the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
No President has a mandate to prohibit the free exercise of religion or assembly. Vigilant citizens must be ready to stop him if he tries.
William B. Lawrence
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