The World Trade Center looks different now. A beautiful new building that is nevertheless inseparable from the ill that its predecessor’s destruction leaked into the republic surrounding it. From 9/11 to Iraq to ISIS to Trump is not some automatic, Hegelian sequence, but nor is the connection obscure. Both Trump and Bush Jr. are heirs in the classic sense of being pretenders, rivals for an Oedipal throne that looms large in their limited self-understanding. Osama Bin Laden was like this, and his destruction of the towers was the direct action that locked us into this duel of princes, interrupted briefly by a historic bit of competence. Barack Obama may turn out to have been the last gasp of the meritocracy, but his success should not blind us to the reality that surrounds it. Exactly none of the elections won by Republicans since 2000 can be considered legitimate, and Trump’s is perhaps the least of these.
I want to proceed carefully. Today, one must blame some other leftist in order to be taken seriously. To suggest that the election was illegitimate, however clear and obvious this fact may be, is to offend the professional sensibilities of the progressive class, which require that someone somewhere have done something wrong. Here are the facts: since the last election, the Republican Party has done everything in its power to limit voting in the states that Hillary lost, chiefly by way of Justice John Roberts gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Roberts has been repaid for his fealty with the total bankruptcy of his institution, as Republicans have unconstitutionally blockaded Obama’s nominee. Consider: on what grounds should anyone accept the legitimacy of Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court?
Even if Hillary Clinton had not won the popular vote, there would be the matter of the FBI, whose intervention in the race in the final week was as unprecedented as it was partisan. The point is not that the Electoral College is always wrong, or a bad idea—the point is that the result is illegitimate under these specific circumstances. It was a system that was, for lack of a better word, hacked, to deliver the Republican candidate the presidency. And what a candidate.
Don’t misunderstand, I recognize the energy spent on accusations. It is easier to imagine a fair contest fairly lost by a bad candidate than it is to acknowledge an illegitimate process. It keeps the comforting fiction alive. The reality is that the House of Representatives has not been a democratic institution for the better part of the decade. Whatever the Supreme Court is about to become is significantly more compromised than whatever it was before. And Donald Trump just lost the popular vote but won the presidency by barely squeaking by in states subjected to Jim Crow-style voting restrictions. We may decide that it makes more strategic sense to accept these results as genuine, in order to keep the fiction alive to fight another day, but we are under no obligation to, and, in all seriousness, the facts point in the other direction. I humbly submit that now is not the time for blame, but to state what happened, as clearly as possible. One hundred years later, the engine of freedom remains the concrete analysis of a concrete situation.