Americans Have Seen the Last Four Presidents As Illegitimate. Here’s Why.

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Photo: Michael Vadon / Flickr
Media Outlet: The Washington Post

Andrés Martinez wrote for the Washington Post about a new kind of political attack:

It’s tempting to see the entirety of Donald Trump’s story as unprecedented, but when he is sworn in today as the nation’s 45th president, he will be our fourth consecutive leader to assume the office with a segment of the electorate questioning his legitimacy. On that score, Trump doesn’t represent a new crisis for American democracy but rather an escalation of one that’s been building — one that we’ve all played a role in creating and that he has deftly exploited to his advantage.

We used to argue over whether new presidents had a “mandate,” which was a more polite way of raising the legitimacy question. After the 1992 election, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said President-elect Bill Clinton did not have a mandate to press ahead with any sweeping changes because he’d obtained only 43 percent of the popular vote in a three-way race. Republicans convinced themselves that third-party candidate Ross Perot had cost them the election, taking more votes away from George H.W. Bush than from Clinton. They were quick to accuse Clinton in his first year of liberal overreach for pressing to allow gays in the military, raise energy taxes, and take on an ambitious overhaul of the healthcare system. Anger among conservatives that Clinton would illegitimately (in their view) push such an agenda led to the so-called Gingrich Revolution in 1994 and fed any number of conspiracy theories and led Republicans to gleefully pursue Clinton’s impeachment during his second term.

Author:

Andrés Martinez is New America's editorial director for Future Tense. He is also the editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, and professor of practice at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.