Analysis

The Democrats' Inability to Lose With Dignity Didn't Begin With Donald Trump

Many in the party spent eight years suggesting that George W. Bush was an idiot whose presidency was illegitimate. Now they’re blaming Putin. | Analysis

Democrats reacting at the Arizona Democratic Party's election night event, Phoenix, November 8, 2016.
Michael Chow / The Arizona Republic via AP

American democracy is at its lowest point in decades, if not more. According to one recent study, only 19 percent of Americans born in the '80s think it’s unacceptable for the army to intervene if the government is fouling up.

One of course could blame Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues for this loss of faith in the democratic system, but it’s also worth examining the role the political establishment has played in undermining Americans’ trust. I don’t just mean the eight years of the Obama administration that have failed to reduce the country’s social gaps, but also actions that have increased distrust of the electoral system’s very legitimacy.

It’s especially important to discuss this now when the American left, which is still in power, seems to be recruiting the intelligence agencies to sow doubts about the system.

The Democrats’ inability to lose with dignity didn’t begin with Donald Trump. First there was Al Gore’s appeal of Florida’s election results in 2000, when he lost to George W. Bush. His demand for a manual recount in key counties was eventually rejected after a series of hearings in the courts.

This, combined with the fact that Gore was the first candidate in more than a century to lose the race despite winning the popular vote, painted Bush’s first term with a thin coat of illegitimacy in the eyes of many Americans.

The next step was when the same leftists who questioned the Bush administration’s legitimacy also portrayed the 43rd president as an idiot. This childish accusation wouldn’t have made any difference had it not been for the corollary, implicit or explicit, that White House decisions weren’t really made by Bush but by Vice President Dick Cheney and others.

This also laid the groundwork for the claim, which is accepted unquestioningly by many on the left, that the invasion of Iraq wasn’t due to a rational decision by the commander in chief but to pressure from interested parties, mainly oil companies.

Then in 2008 America elected its first black president. And wonder of wonders, opponents of the new president found their own way to undermine his legitimacy: the conspiracy theory, of which President-elect Trump was an early supporter, that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States but in Kenya and therefore wasn’t eligible to be president.

This conspiracy theory would presumably have sprung up among Republicans in response to the election of the first black president even if parts of the Democratic Party hadn’t spent the previous eight years doubting the legitimacy of the sitting president. But that precedent gave a tailwind to the new doubters.

Now another Republican has been elected. One again he won in a very close race. Once again his Democratic opponent won more votes nationwide. And immediately the response in much of the Democratic camp was to challenge the results.

First there were demonstrations throughout the United States protesting Trump’s victory. Then commentators began highlighting the fact that Hillary Clinton had won over 2 million more votes than Trump, as if the rules of the game that gave Trump the victory hadn’t been in place for more than 200 years. Finally there were demands for a recount in three key states, along with the ensuing legal wrangling.

For now, the recount seems to have hit a few snags, so the focus has shifted to other channels. In blatant contradiction of their claim that given Hillary’s greater vote total, a Trump victory defies the voters’ will, some groups on the left now hope to convince electors to defy their voters by not voting for Trump in the Electoral College. But this is another vain hope, and its impact is negligible.

Far more destructive to faith in democracy are the reports that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russian President Vladimir Putin helped Trump get elected. President Obama even requested a report from these agencies detailing foreign intervention in the election, which will be published before his replacement is sworn in on January 20.

Actually, the intelligence agencies already published a statement to that effect back in October. The American voter heard it and wasn’t impressed. So why revisit the issue now if not to remind voters that their elected president is completely illegitimate?

Moreover, nobody claims that the Russians falsified the U.S. election results; the claim is merely that hackers working for the Kremlin broke into email accounts belonging to members of the Democratic Party and leaked information in a way that damaged Clinton’s campaign. In other words, that documents written on computers by experienced politicians in 2016 undermined their presidential candidate.

In that case, the main culprits are all the people who, despite all the documents leaked by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, didn’t grasp that anything they don’t want falling into the wrong hands shouldn’t be written on a computer. But instead they’re blaming Putin. And then they wonder why voters no longer trust them.