In the mid-1980s, shortly after Ronald Reagan won a forty-nine-state landslide victory in his campaign for a second term, David Bowie had a top-forty hit with a haunting song from the soundtrack to the spy drama The Falcon and the Snowman. The song resonated with people who felt disconnected from their nation. It was titled "This Is Not America."
Sometimes, of course, an election result is America: a Franklin Roosevelt or a Dwight Eisenhower or a Lyndon Johnson wins so decisively that the President can claim a genuine mandate. As frustrating as it may have been for a lot of us, Ronald Reagan won big in 1984--the year George Orwell had warned about.
But what about those times when the "winner" is not the winner at all? What about those years when the finish of a long campaign is in conflict with itself?
There is always a tendency on the part of major media outlets and political insiders to suggest that the United States is defined by the prominent men and women who take office after elections. Too frequently, even those of us who dissent from the conventional wisdom of American politics fall into the trap of imagining that the headlines declaring who has won define our times. But when that is not the case, there is a duty to speak the truth: "This is not America."
Such is our circumstance today.
The Washington Post's post-election headline declared, "Trump Triumphs." The New York Post trumpeted, "President Trump: They Said It Couldn't Happen."
But it didn't actually happen in the way that so much of the media imagines. Trump's America is not America. In order to imagine that Trump's presidency has a triumphant mandate, or even the barest measure of democratic legitimacy, Americans must surrender to the hoax that media branding is reality.
The reality, as Michael Moore noted in caps, is that "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" "If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don't," the filmmaker explained on the day after the election, stating what the headlines did not: "Your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump."
Democracies and democratic republics that take seriously the notion that governing extends from the will of the people begin with the premise that the popular vote defines who wins and who loses. In other countries that elect presidents, Hillary Clinton's popular-vote victory would have her preparing for an inauguration. In America, it had her walking her dogs on the day after her concession speech.
On election night, Clinton's win was a narrow one. But the United States has archaic systems for casting and counting ballots, which means that the tabulation process stretches out for weeks, even months, after the polls close. One week after the election, Clinton's lead had grown to more than one million votes. The Democratic advantage will just keep expanding, as the longest counts tend to be in...