Politics & Policy

Mandatory Nonsense

Donald and Melania Trump cast their votes on election day in New York City, November 8, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
There are no election ‘mandates,’ only winners and losers

The Washington Post is beside itself: “Nearly a third of Republicans don’t know that Trump lost the popular vote.”

How about that?

There are all sorts of irrelevant things that Republicans — and voters in general — do not know. About 80 percent of voters do not know how many senators there are, which also means that they do not quite know what the Senate does. I’ll wager that large majorities of them do not know what political party Narendra Modi belongs to or which country’s capital is Bishkek. Most people don’t know how to field dress a javelina or identify poison oak, what the corpus callosum does, or how Infinite Jest ends.

They do not know these things because — pay attention here — they do not matter.

Not to the people who don’t know about them, anyway. In economics and political theory, this is called “rational ignorance.” Most people don’t know anything about most subjects, which is exactly how it should be: The world is far too complicated for most of us to have anything more than a superficial familiarity with most subjects. And many people, such as Joe Biden, never develop expertise in any of them. Biden always gives me the feeling that his real aim in life is acquiring the world’s coolest model-railroad set — he is famous for his love of trains.

Who lost (“lost”) the popular vote (“popular vote”) is irrelevant for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, it doesn’t have anything to do with the outcome of the election. For another, it doesn’t, strictly speaking, exist. We don’t have a popular presidential vote, or a campaign for that vote. There are all sorts of good reasons for that, most of them anticipated by men such as Alexander Hamilton and other people wiser and more prudent than Joe Biden and Jill Stein and you.

Donald Trump, who won the election, is annoying the heck out of Democrats by having the audacity to act like he won the election. Which he did. “Oh, sure, he won the phony-baloney Electoral College election,” the Democrats say, “but our girl Hillary Placeholder Clinton won  . . . this other imaginary election . . . which is now super-important!”

To call this rhetoric “transparent” would be a disservice to Shrinky Dinks and Cold War–era Buhl Industries overhead projectors and other things associated with transparency.

Allow me to translate this language from the original Democratic: “Please, please, don’t go acting like you won the election you won and wielding that power the way we would and will and did last time around. Pretty please. If we believed in God, we’d be praying to God right now that you don’t act like us.”

The question, our Democratic friends insist, is one of “mandate,” one of the most popular and stupid words in the American political lexicon.

The question, our Democratic friends insist, is one of ‘mandate,’ one of the most popular and stupid words in the American political lexicon.

According to this line of thinking, the fact that Trump won but did not win lots and lots of votes in highly populous Democratic states such as California where he did not campaign very much means that he should give Democrats what they want instead of trying to get what he wants. This is, of course, a one-way street: American voters have entrusted Republicans with the management of 68 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers, 34 of its 50 governorships, a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and the mayoralty of Miami, but Democrats still believe that their elected officials, hated and despised and spurned as they may be in that vast sea of electoral-map red dividing Oakland from Trenton, should keep trying to get what they want, secondary considerations be damned. There is something to be said for the argument that if you won your election you should fight like hell to do what you told the voters you were going to do; Democrats just can’t quite see extending this thinking to Trump, who won the biggest and most hotly contested and most-talked-about election.

This is all part of what I call the non-negotiability of progressive victories. You see this all the time: When it comes to Supreme Court precedents, the Democrats demand 100 percent deference to standing decisions in, e.g., Roe v. Wade, and are 100 percent powerless to act against the tide of capital-H History when it comes to overturning decisions they don’t like or discovering new constitutional rights that enshrine progressive political preferences. There’s no principle in question: They just want the Court to give them what they want.

The non-negotiability of progressive victories is going to be a large factor in Senator Chuck Schumer’s resistance to various Trump cabinet picks. The sophistry already has begun, with Democrats arguing that no one can lead the Department of Education or the EPA or Department of Labor unless he signs off on the progressive version of what that agency should do. So if you think that the present federal role in education is excessive and ought to be reduced, or that the EPA’s boot is a little too heavy on the neck of American industry, or that a federal court was right to put the brakes on the Obama administration’s daffy overtime rules, then you cannot lead the Department of Education, the EPA, or the Department of Labor. Which is to say, these departments exist, in the progressive view, only to pursue progressive policies.

The Democrats, especially Barack Obama with his pen-and-phone shtick, always forget that they will not hold power forever.

#related#Funny thing, though: In 1984, Ronald Reagan won 49 states in the Electoral College (recount Minnesota!) and damn near 60 percent of the (imaginary) popular vote. Congressional Democrats did not roll over in the face of that mandate. They doubled down on the crazy and went absolutely nuts on Robert Bork in 1987, establishing another political precedent they’d eventually come to regret. If Reagan’s “mandate” in 1984 meant that he got to have his way with appointments, somebody forgot to tell Teddy Kennedy. There was a pretty good “mandate” for repealing the so-called Affordable Care Act after the 2010 elections, but Democrats weren’t interested in that.

This “mandate” business is shoddy, dishonest, boring, juvenile politics of the sort that would embarrass an abject minion like Paul Begala, if he had the capacity for being embarrassed. The only interesting bit is that in a political milieu that includes Donald J. Trump, the most ridiculous and shallow bulls**t in circulation isn’t coming from Donald J. Trump, who would be entirely justified in quoting Barack Obama — “I won” — and proceeding accordingly.

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