We’ve seen it splashed across our computer screens, Instagram feeds and bumper stickers since November: #notmypresident. The slogan corresponds to the sentiment that Donald Trump is not the legitimate president of the United States. As the threat of fascism grows ever more real every day, it is worth discussing why calling Trump an “illegitimate” president hinders our movement against him.
I understand the frustration, but this is the reality — Trump is the legitimate president of the United States. By saying this, I am not supporting his ideology, policies or rhetoric; I am simply stating a matter of fact. Legitimate, in this case, only means “legal.”
Why are so many people denying Trump’s legitimacy? Trump did not win the popular vote. This is true. Neither did George W. Bush. But both won the electoral college. As outdated as that system is, it is how we have elected our presidents since the framing of the Constitution. Ironically, Americans seem to love the Electoral College when their candidate wins, and conveniently turn their pitchforks against it when they don’t. Trump didn’t take the White House in a military coup, or buy it in a lucrative real estate deal. He was elected through the historical, agreed-upon process by which America has always elected its leaders. In a word, he won fair and square.
Though we know Russian hackers influenced the election, we don’t know the extent to which the Trump campaign colluded with them to swing it in their favor. Until such allegations are corroborated, the simple fact remains that nearly 63 million Americans voted for the guy. The margin of victory which delivered Trump the presidency was less than 107,000 across three states. One hundred and seven-thousand Russian hackers didn’t go into polling stations in Michigan and Pennsylvania to mark off Donald Trump on the ballot. Americans did.
By calling Trump illegitimate, we are, in effect, calling the system through which we elect our legislators illegitimate. We are diminishing the only tool we have to elect a better administration in 2020. And that is damaging to our democracy. Trump’s administration is actively working to foment distrust in our government, whether it be by delegitimizing oversight institutions like the Congressional Budget Office, questioning the validity of elections at large or accusing the previous administration of illegally undermining a political candidate. If we the public lose faith in our electoral institutions, we are aiding this administration in their nihilistic pursuits. Working within the established system to oust Trump in four years is the only way to ensure that our democracy endures into the future. Updating our electoral system is progress; turning against it is dangerous.
However, there are legitimate reasons to refuse to accept Trump as the legitimate president. To do so is to accept him as our country’s leader, and a leader does far more than sign executive orders. As Barack Obama demonstrated, presidents are as much cultural figures as they are politicians. They fulfill perhaps the most important role in the global arena, in both politics and economics. They have immense influence over peace, war and human rights, and have been called leaders of the free world for a reason.
To myself, and at least nearly three million other Americans, Trump is illegitimate because he does not represent our views or our values. On everything from immigration to climate change, the popular vote count demonstrates that Trump’s is the minority opinion. More importantly it proves that Trump does not speak for the majority of Americans.
Donald Trump may be the president, but we are still the electorate. We have the ability, and the right, to get rid of him. However flawed, our electoral system is more than sufficient to dispose of an illegitimate leader in 2020. Certainly it is our only weapon against him.
A tweet I read from actress and singer Audra McDonald the night before the inauguration sums it up: “Remember, tomorrow we are not crowning a king, or bowing down to a dictator. Tomorrow our new employee starts his temp job. We’re the boss.”