When Joe Biden is in the know, he will immediately face an unprecedented challenge – and I don’t mean the pandemic. Instead, I mean that he will be the first modern US president to attempt to rule in the face of an opposition that refuses to accept his legitimacy. And no, Democrats never said Donald Trump was out of wedlock, only that he was incompetent and dangerous. – Paul Krugman, New York Times, December 1, 2020.
In 1987, at a time when Paul Krugman was asking questions about world trade that eventually won him a Nobel Prize in Economics, the Drug Free America Partnership launched a powerful advertising campaign entitled “This Is Your Drugs Brain.”
The much derided 30-second commercial today – retro even then – showed a man holding an egg (your brain) over a hot pan (drugs). The man cracks the egg in the pan where it is being fried. Obviously, excessive partisanship has a similar effect on the human mind. Although the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has not asked for their restitution, a cynic might wonder if Krugman’s economic writing had the same level of intellectual rigor as his political commentary.
However, this is not a pillar of opinion: I will stick to the facts. What you are reading now is what we called “Set-Rec” in my newspaper days at the San Jose Mercury News. (It sets the record clear.) In truth, over the past four years, millions of Democrats – from simple protesters and organizers to the party’s most prominent elected officials in the country – have questioned Trump’s legitimacy, as have numerous anti-Trump experts and officials US intelligence officials from the Obama era. Let’s go to the tape:
January 13, 2017. “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” said Rep. John Lewis on Meet the Press, explaining why he would not attend Trump’s inauguration. “I think the Russians helped get this man chosen. And they helped destroy Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. “
January 16, 2017. “Yes, I will respect the constitutional prerogatives of the presidency, ”added Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat. “But I will not be part of the normalization or legitimation of a man whose choice may depend on the malicious interference of Russian leaders abroad.”
18th January 2017. Two days later, when the number of House Democrats boycotting the inauguration ballooned, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky added her name to the list “in protest against a president who used bigotry, fear and lies to win an election marked by foreign interference and electoral repression and who seeks to betray the interests of the ordinary working people who put him in office. “
20th January 2017. A headline in the Washington Post informed readers that “the campaign to indict President Trump has begun”. In fact, Trump was not yet a president when Ron Fein, an activist lawyer who led the effort, told the newspaper, “If we waited for all the negative effects that could result, there would be too much damage to our democracy.”
19th February 2017. The first Presidents Day weekend of Trump’s term at the White House was celebrated by tens of thousands of progressives in cities across the country taking part in “Not My President Day” rallies. In Georgia, Trump’s impeachment was one of the organizers’ demands. In New York, among others, Chelsea Clinton and Mayor Bill de Blasio took part in the protests. In San Francisco, the event was organized by the Young Democrats Club. Although most organizers went out of their way to point out that they did not question the legitimacy of the electoral college or the results of the 2016 election, thousands of protesters carried signs and gave interviews in which they did just that.
17th April 2018. Marquette University professor Julia Azari wrote in Vox, telling her readers that “the challenge to Trump’s presidency is legitimacy, not power.”
17th July 2018. David Frum wrote about Trump’s “legitimacy crisis” for The Atlantic.
28th July 2018. “We have to talk about a forbidden topic: the legitimacy of the current president.” So began the column by culture critic Virginia Heffernan in the Los Angeles Times. “There was a code of silence for President Donald Trump’s seedy victory in 2016,” she continued.
19th February 2019. Fired FBI official Andrew McCabe told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he thought it was “possible” that Trump was a “Russian asset”. “I totally agree with the way Andy characterized it, you know it’s a possibility,” former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said on CNN the following night. Former CIA director John Brennan, one of Trump’s most personal critics, said seven months earlier that Trump’s words at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin were “nothing less than treason”.
May 14, 2019. At a Biden campaign rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, a long-winded woman who referred to herself as “Trump Disorder Syndrome” described Trump as an “illegitimate president” because he won the 2016 election with nearly 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan won. – supported, she said, from the Kremlin.
“I think all that talk about impeachment and what the Democrats should do is fine, it’s theoretical at this point,” the woman told the former vice president. “Get her examined, have her summoned, let her go to the Supreme Court, he’s out of wedlock.” In response, Biden quipped, “Would you be my vice presidential candidate?” Turning to the rest of the crowd, Biden added, “Guys, look, I totally agree.”
June 28, 2019. Six weeks later it was Jimmy Carter’s turn. “There is no doubt that the Russians meddled in the elections, and I think the meddling, while not yet quantified, upon full investigation would show that Trump didn’t actually win the 2016 election,” Carter said during one Panel discussion at a conference in Leesburg, VA. “He lost the election and was put into office because the Russians intervened on his behalf.”
When asked by moderator Jon Meacham whether he considers Trump an “illegitimate president”, Carter replied, “Based on what I just said, what I cannot withdraw.”
29th September 2019. Hillary Clinton said in a “CBS Sunday Morning” interview:: “He knows he is an illegitimate president. I think he understands that the many different tactics they used, from suppressing voters and purgeing voters to hacking and telling false stories – he knows that – there were just a number of different reasons why they did Wahl went as it was. “
So let’s just state that Paul Krugman’s claim that the Democrats “never” questioned Trump’s legitimacy is risky. Krugman knows this – he did it himself. In May 2017, following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, he tweeted, “We don’t think we have a legitimate president or administration at this point.” Krugman added, “He deserves no presumption of innocence and no respect for allegations he has the right to rule. “
Targeting every Republican defending the president, Krugman added, “Again, let’s be clear: anyone helping with this overt cover-up is deliberately complicit in possible foreign subversion.”
In October, he tweeted that anyone who disagreed that “a hostile foreign power helped put Trump into office” was a Trump sycophant. This came in connection with his never-realized fear that Trump would somehow bring Robert Mueller’s investigation to a standstill. “It seems to me that people are not getting that close to a legitimacy crisis,” he tweeted. “In that case, how can anyone consider this presidency legitimate?”
That particular crisis has been averted, but searching the digital record for such material almost trivializes the way Trump’s critics refused to accept his presidency.
Just as Donald Trump changed the existing norms about what it meant to act and sound “presidential”, so too did the loyal opposition abandon normal standards of criticism. The first anti-Trump women’s march on January 21, 2017 was essentially a rival inauguration. On the National Mall, Ashley compared Judd Trump to Hitler while Madonna told the crowd that she had “dreamed a lot about blowing up the White House.” From the goofy Steele dossier, the politicization of the intelligence community, and Trump’s impeachment, to a phone call with the Ukrainian president, to the mainstream media overturning their traditional rules of engagement, efforts to negate Trump’s presidency have been relentless.
This is the stark reality of our country’s recent political history. It is understandable, therefore, that Trump and his supporters were initially skeptical of election results, which looked so promising when the polls closed on November 3rd only to turn to dust when the mail-in votes were counted.
But here’s another historical fact: Hillary Rodham Clinton, regardless of her suspicions or excuses, did exactly what Donald John Trump disapproves of. She gave the choice. She did it with grace too, and then attended his inauguration.
“We have seen that our nation is more divided than we thought,” said HRC in her concession speech. “But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, we have to accept that result and then look to the future. Donald Trump will be our president. We owe him openness and the opportunity to lead. “
Trump and his supporters would counter that Clinton’s allies neither met him openly nor gave him the chance to lead. Yeah, okay, although there’s a chicken and egg fight going on here. But all of this is irrelevant now.
Joe Biden won the referendum in 2020, as did Ms. Clinton in 2016, and by a larger margin. Biden did so while wearing the same swing states that gave Trump his electoral college win four years ago – and by a larger margin. The bottom line is that Paul Krugman’s bigger point about the barriers Trump is putting up on Joe Biden’s path is correct. It was revealed this week that Trump plans to hold a rally on inauguration day to kick off his 2024 campaign. Not only is this unprecedented; it’s classless. This is a president’s brain for non-partisanship.
No matter how badly Donald J. Trump has been treated by the Democrats and the media, the outgoing president simply has no right to get the country through what it is now going through in the waning days of a hell of a year. Not a legitimate or other excuse.
Carl M. Cannon is the head of the Washington office for RealClearPolitics. You can reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.