Steve Hilton was on Fox News last Sunday. I watched for a bit. I find that watching anyone on Fox tends to tell me what others on that network are saying (independent minds seem to be rare there) and what other conservatives, in and out of government, are also saying. A little Fox-watching does double and triple duty. But I found it hard to gauge the worth of Hilton’s ideas because he couched them in rhetoric that was ignorant and disturbing.
Hilton contended that those who were opposing actions by the president were “anti-democratic.” He went on to contend that Trump’s trade proposals, border security including a wall, and Trump’s foreign policies had been “explicitly” chosen by America and Americans in the last presidential election. He went on to suggest that those who opposed such policies were trying to subvert the rule of law.
It is safe to say that Americans did vote for these positions. But it is also safe to say Americans voted against them. Our presidential elections are not unanimous. However, it is not right to say that America voted for them. Trump was duly elected and is our president, but he was not democratically elected unless we are changing the meaning of “democratic.” In a democracy, the most votes win. Trump did not get a majority of the electorate. He did not even get the most votes. He was duly elected because we do not have democratic presidential elections, and since a democratic process did not choose him, it can’t be anti-democratic to oppose his policies. If Hilton is really serious about democracy, perhaps he should have concluded that it is democratic to side with the majority of the voters who did not vote for the president.
Even the minority of Americans who voted for Trump probably did not vote “explicitly” for all his policies. For example, some probably voted for him because of a promise to cut corporate tax rates but did not support his trade policies. Many may have voted for him because of a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something better but did not care about a Mexican-financed border wall. And so on.
It is also hard to say that an American explicitly voted for his policies when Trump’s promises shift. Hilton did not mention that if “America” voted for a wall, it also can be said that it voted for a wall paid for by Mexico. Did America vote for a “beautiful concrete” barrier, or also something less substantial and much like what had previously been erected and met with derision from Trump?
But even if Trump had gotten the support of a majority, it is demagogic to suggest that those opposing him are somehow against the rule of law. We do not live in a country where citizens are required to march in line behind the president. Our rule of law gives Americans the right to speak out and, [gasp,] oppose the president. Americans have done that from the time of George Washington until today. Even though Obama got voting majorities, many on Fox and other conservatives opposed and blocked his policies. Part of the reason this can be considered a free country is that we are not required to support a duly-elected president’s policies. As long as we use lawful methods, we have the right to try to defeat or prevent a president’s policies.
Hilton’s comments also ignore that while the president is not democratically elected, Representatives and Senators are. Unlike the president, a Representative and a Senator must get the most votes to be elected, and in our system, no one in Congress owes their first fealty to the president. They aren’t selected by the president, but by their constituents, and those constituents may have “explicitly” voted for a Senator or a Representative because there were promises to oppose presidential policies. These congresspeople, we could say, would be acting anti-democratically if they did not follow through on their pledges. (As I have written before, while each Senator is democratically elected, the Senate as a whole is not a democratic body. The people are not truly represented in the Senate; states are, and a distinct minority of the American people choose the majority in the Senate. (See https://ameliasdad.blog/?s=%22We%2C+the+People%22.) While Hilton seemed to be suggesting that opposition to presidential policies, or at least the policies of this president, was anti-American, that suggestion itself is anti-American.
And, of course, it seems more than a bit ludicrous to label as anti-democratic opposition to presidential policies when those policies often flip-flop. As Hilton adamantly maintained that Americans in the 2016 election supported the immediate removal of troops from Syria as Trump had announced but a few days earlier, Trump appointee (and the person who before Trump came along vied for the position as the scariest person in government) John Bolton was announcing that Trump’s unconditional position was not really the administration’s position. Then to make the president’s position even fuzzier, Trump asserted that he had never said that he was going to order an immediate removal of American troops from Syria. (As Warner Wolf, the sports reporter, used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape.”)
This all made me wonder about Hilton’s position. If I opposed Trump’s earlier position for the immediate removal of troops, was I being anti-democratic because Trump’s had pledged that withdrawal during his successful campaign? If America had explicitly chosen the immediate troops-out position, was Trump being anti-democratic by then announcing a different policy? If I were supporting the rule of law by supporting Trump’s first position, was I now un-American by opposing his new position? And what should I conclude about Trump changing his positions?
I am not suggesting that Trump’s policies should be opposed because he was not democratically elected. Our president is never democratically elected. I am suggesting, however, that his policies should not be supported simply because he was elected under our strange electoral system and that opposing his policies is not anti-democratic or against the rule of law. To voice one’s opinion in support or in opposition and to act lawfully on that opinion is American.