A Philosopher's Blog

Is Trump’s Presidency Legitimate?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 20, 2017

Representative John Lewis, a man who was nearly killed fighting for civil rights, has claimed that Trump is not a legitimate president. While some dismiss this as mere sour grapes, it is certainly an interesting claim and one worth given some consideration.

The easy and obvious legal answer is that Trump’s presidency is legitimate: despite taking a trouncing in the popular vote, Trump won the electoral college. As such, he is the legitimate president by the rules of the system. It does not matter that Trump him denounced the electoral college as “a disaster for democracy”, what matters is the rules of the game. Since the voters have given tacit acceptance of the system by participating and not changing it, the system is legitimate and thus Trump is the legitimate president from this legal standpoint. From a purely practical standpoint, this can be regarded as the only standpoint that matters. However, there are other notions of legitimacy that are distinct from the legal acquisition of power.

In a democratic system of government, one standard of legitimacy is that the majority of the citizens vote for the leader. This can, of course, be amended to a majority vote by the citizens who bother to vote—assuming that voters are not unjustly disenfranchised and that there is not significant voter fraud or election tampering. On this ground, Hillary Clinton is the legitimate president since she received the majority of the votes. This can be countered by arguing that the majority of the citizens, as noted above, accepted the existing electoral system and hence are committed to the results. This does create an interesting debate about whether having the consent of the majority justifies the acceptance of an electoral system that can elect a president who does not win a majority of the votes. As would be suspected, people tend to think this system is just fine when their candidate wins and complain when their candidate loses. But, this is not a principled view of the matter.

Another standard of legitimacy is that the election process is free of fraud and tampering. To the degree the integrity of the electoral system is in question, the legitimacy of the elected president is in doubt. Since the 1990s the Republican party has consistently claimed that voter fraud occurs and is such a threat that it must be countered by such measures as imposing voter ID requirements. With each election, the narrative grows.  What is most striking is that although Trump won the electoral college, he and his team have argued that the integrity of the election was significantly compromised. Famously, Trump tweeted that millions had voted illegally. While the mainstream media could find no evidence of this, Trump’s team has claimed that they have evidence to support Trump’s accusation.

While it seems sensible to dismiss Trump’s claims as the deranged rantings of a delicate man whose fragile ego was wounded by Hillary crushing him in the popular vote, the fact that he is now president would seem to require that his claims be taken seriously. Otherwise, it must be inferred that he is a pathological liar with no credibility who has slandered those running the election and American voters and is thus unworthy of the respect of the American people. Alternatively, his claim must be taken seriously: millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election. This entails that the election’s integrity was grossly violated and hence illegitimate. Thus, by Trump’s own claims about the election, he is not the legitimate president and the election would need to be redone with proper safeguards to keep those millions from voting illegally. So, Trump would seem to be in a dilemma: either he is lying about the election and thus unfit or he is telling the truth and is not a legitimately elected president. Either way undermines him.

It could be countered that while the Republicans allege voter fraud and that Trump claimed millions voted illegally, the election was legitimate because the fraud and illegal voting was all for Hillary and she lost. That is, the electoral system’s integrity has been violated but it did not matter because Trump won. On the one hand, this does have some appeal. To use an analogy, think of a Tour de France in which the officials allow bikers to get away with doping, but the winner is drug free. In that case, the race would be a mess, but the winner would still be legitimate—all the cheating was done by others and they won despite the cheating. On the other hand, there is the obvious concern that if such widespread fraud and illegal voting occurred, then it might well have resulted in Trump’s electoral college victory. Going back to the Tour de France analogy, if the winner claimed that the competition was doping but they were clean and still won, despite the testing system being broken, then there would be some serious doubts about their claim. After all, if the system is broken and they were competing against cheaters, then it is worth considering that their victory was the result of cheating. But, perhaps Trump has proof that all (or most) of the fraud and illegal voting was for Hillary. In this case, he should certainly have evidence showing how all this occurred and evidence sufficient to convict individual voters. As such, arrests and significant alterations to the election system should occur soon. Unless, of course, Trump and the Republicans are simply lying about voter fraud and millions of illegals voting. In which case, they need to stop using the specter of voter fraud to justify their attempts to restrict access to voting. They cannot have it both ways: either voter fraud is real and Trump is illegitimate because the system lacks integrity or the claim of significant voting fraud is a lie.


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9 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on January 20, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Lewis is undermining democracy. And so is everyone else who refuses to accept the results of the election.

  2. TJB said, on January 20, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    The problem was that the voters learned the truth about the Democrats, We can’t have that, now can we.

  3. nailheadtom said, on January 21, 2017 at 12:35 am

    I was required to show government identification to buy a bottle of chardonnay last night. But I wouldn’t have been asked to do so to cast a vote for the most important office in the land. Pretty crazy.

  4. WTP said, on January 21, 2017 at 9:21 am

    The better question, one I have been posing here for many years, is is Mike’s status as a philosopher legitimate? Trump’s status as the duly elected president has been critiqued, fairly and not so fairly, by a broad range of society. His election has stood up to the criticism and the overwhelming response of society and the law, in spite of attempts from the left and the media and our academic clown quarter to delegitimization it, is “yes”. Could Mike’s screeds weather such an examination? Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

  5. DH said, on January 21, 2017 at 11:41 am

    I have to say that it was a little bit embarrassing to read this piece of yours, Mike. If this had been a paper submitted to my class, I would have to ask you, “Did you even read the article you cite in your topic sentence?”

    I’m not going to touch the implication you make that somehow being nearly killed fighting for civil rights makes Lewis a legitimate critic in all matters (oops – I just did!). However, Lewis’ entire critique of Trump’s legitimacy is based on accusations by the intelligence community that the Russian government somehow influenced the election, which very well may be worth some consideration – but your post goes off on a completely different tangent and does not even touch this claim.

    Your paper would be returned with the suggestion that you either change your lead topic or stick to it.

    As a professional philosopher (you, not me), I’m also surprised at the syllogism you put forth –

    “Trump tweeted that millions voted illegally”
    “The mainstream media could find no evidence of this”
    “Therefore, it seems sensible to dismiss Trump’s claims as the deranged rantings of a delicate man whose fragile ego was wounded by Hillary crushing him in the popular vote”

    Cogito ergo sum.

    To your credit, you offer an alternate conclusion, based on the fact that Trump is now president:

    ” it must be inferred that he is a pathological liar with no credibility who has slandered those running the election and American voters and is thus unworthy of the respect of the American people.”.

    Really? It MUST be inferred? How about this inference – “The mainstream media is incorrect”. Or, “The mainstream media has a bias such that it does not want to discover or disclose illegal voting in the US”?

    I would probably look for some more solid research on this topic than the mainstream media, as they have shown their political bias many times. I linked to such research in an earlier post, but it went unnoticed (or at least uncommented-on), so I’ll post it again:


    This is a peer-reviewed, published academic study done by professors at Old Dominion University, which concludes that

    “…in spite of de-jure barriers to participation, a small portion of non-citizen immigrants do participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation is at times substantial enough to change important election outcomes including Electoral College votes and Senate races.”

    Taken by the numbers, the article extrapolates that as many as 15% of non-citizens voted in the 2008 election. Estimates of non-citizen population range from 11 million to 20 million or more – and at the 15% rate in 2008, that would account for between 1.6 million and 3 million votes.

    This, of course, points to the dangers of your third conclusion –

    “This entails that the election’s integrity was grossly violated and hence illegitimate. Thus, by Trump’s own claims about the election, he is not the legitimate president and the election would need to be redone with proper safeguards to keep those millions from voting illegally. ”

    It would also cast a lot of doubt on Obama’s election – and create a good deal more havoc to our process – to say nothing about the national debate on immigration reform and voter ID laws.

    The paper does indicate that substantially fewer, but a still statistically significant number of non-citizens voted in 2012.

    In my humble opinion, partisan politics aside, I would think that this alone would bear additional studies – to either identify important trends or to disprove the research altogether, but there is a dearth of this kind of study.

    The cynic in me would at least entertain the possibility that as this kind of research is grant-funded, academic research – and with grants going to left-leaning academic institutions by government entities wishing to prove their own political assertions, applications with this kind of abstract may not make it to the final consideration. For aspiring faculty seeking the holy grail of Tenure, this kind of research with the wrong conclusions can easily aggravate the wrong people and undermine the whole process. Better to leave it alone, and not ask the hard questions.

    Addressing the point that you probably should have addressed (or not brought up), I think that Lewis may have a point – that Russian interference in the election IS a point worth considering – just as much as the “Birther Garbage” (as Joan Walsh so delicately puts it), and the rate of non-citizen voting.

    But none of this really does get legitimate consideration, it is only used as ammunition for political mudslinging from one side to another. In my opinion, it gets no consideration because they are afraid of what they might find – or they KNOW what they will find and are just as happy keeping it swept under the rug.

    There is motive to keep this information under the rug, for Democrats and the left-leaning MSM as well. Several key conclusions in this peer-reviewed study expose this motive –

    “Non-citizen votes likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.”

    ” In the 2008 and 2010 U.S. elections, non-citizen voters favored Democratic candidates. Non-citizens who reported voting were asked their candidate preferences, and these preferences skewed toward Democrats. In 2008 66.7 percent reported voting for the Democratic House candidate, while only 20.8 percent reported voting for the Republican candidate. 81.8 percent reported voting for Barack Obama compared to 17.5 percent for John McCain. ”

    “We find that there is reason to believe non-citizen voting changed one state’s Electoral College votes in 2008, delivering North Carolina to Obama, and that non-citizen votes have also led to Democratic victories in congressional races including a critical 2008 Senate race that delivered for Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.”

    The non-partisan researcher in me would love to see additional studies, but I haven’t been able to find any. It begs the question, “Why?” “Where are they?”. One would think that, given their claims, the Democrats would be eager to fund research that debunks this study, but it does not seem to exist. I have already drawn one rather sinister conclusion, and you have drawn yours.

    • WTP said, on January 21, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      I sense a disturbance in The Force.

  6. TJB said, on January 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    One big thing that has happened is that the MSM has lost its legitimacy. Few people anymore care what they say, and even fewer trust them to provide fair coverage.



    • DH said, on January 21, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      The sad thing is that educated people know very well that it is impossible to prove a negative – that just because the MSM or anyone for that matter cannot find evidence of something proves nothing; yet they are willing to toss logic aside to make a political statement. This blog has dealt with that exhaustively on defining “lying” and “fake news”, but I guess that must only apply on one side of the aisle.

      With regard to Russian involvement in our electoral system, it would seem appropriate to consider that and investigate it deeply – but it is doubtful any investigation will go beyond the mere protests and cries of illegitimacy we see today. Considering things like Obama’s statement, “I’ll have more flexibility after the election”, Hillary Clinton’s email security issues and the Clinton foundation’s dealings with Russia, there is just too much dangerous stuff to uncover. People like Lewis can cry “Foul” all they want, but a true investigation would show him and his ilk way more than they ever wanted to know – and throw this country into a terrible turmoil.

      The same is true for non-citizen voting. Larger studies could potentially threaten the legitimacy of elections from local mayoral contests all the way up to the presidency, and (as the Old Dominion study has shown), most of them are Democratic victories. Far better to cry, “We have found no evidence, therefore it does not exist” and hope people buy it than have to regroup and change a huge part of their platform. And God forbid they should ever be discovered to have known it and suppressed it all along!

      Of course, that’s not logic, it’s conjecture – but “worth considering”.

  7. TJB said, on January 22, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Dems are playing with fire. Maybe even “tickling the dragon’s tail.”

    But wait, you’re probably thinking… didn’t the GOP do the same thing? Didn’t Mitch McConnell vow to make Obama “a one term president” as soon as he got in the door? Wow. I’ve been hearing that one on cable news since yesterday morning and too many times it’s allowed to hang out there unchallenged. Just in case someone brings it up to you, let’s set the record straight. When exactly did Mitch McConnell deliver that famous quote? The idea that he said it at the beginning of Obama’s presidency has been been repeated so often (including by Obama himself, Dick Durbin and prominent liberal editorialists) that it’s passed into legend, but even the WaPo’s own fact checker had to debunk it in 2012.

    Mitch McConnell said that during an interview that he did with the National Journal on Oct. 23, 2010, almost exactly two years after Obama won his first election. The date should also be conspicuous because it was only a couple of weeks before the mid-term elections. McConnell was one of the top ranking members of the party out of power and he was trying to rally the conservative troops to get out and vote. (An effort he was tremendously successful at, as you may recall.) Also, in the very next answer he gave in that interview he said that if Obama pulled some sort of Clintonian shift to the middle and came up with some policy items where the two sides could meet half way, “it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.” And in the next answer answer after that he specifically said that he didn’t want Obama’s presidency to fail… he wanted him to change.

    So no… there is no equivalency here. But as far as I can tell, the gloves are now fully off and there are no longer any rules on the political battlefield. Democrats and liberals in vast numbers are trying to destroy the Trump presidency before it’s even begun and the silence of the Fourth Estate has placed the media seal of approval on the effort. They are hoping to shut down the executive branch and are clearly willing to engage in a scorched earth policy to achieve that goal. So the next time a Democrat winds up winning the White House, you can expect the same in return. I don’t care if they elect a white man, a black woman or a transgender Latino pirate. I don’t want to hear any kvetching from MSNBC about racism, sexism or any other isms. Everyone is free to simply swamp the public square and reject the election results if they don’t like them, no matter what the next president has done or, more likely, not even had time to do.

    Progressives started this phase of the war. Sadly, since there’s no way to win, nobody is going to be able to finish it.


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