Why Trump Cares about Legitimacy

Donald J. Trump is clearly worked up over the question of the legitimacy of his claim to the presidency. Yes, he’s in office. He can move into the East Wing, issue executive orders, nominate cabinet members, and all that. But can he create his own legitimacy?

No.

Years ago the president of the Kettering Foundation, David Mathews, said to me: Governments can create public highways and public schools, but they cannot create their own legitimacy. Only publics can deem a government legitimate.

Stupid as he is, Trump gets that. This is why he is fretting and lying about how many people were at his inauguration and about why he didn’t get the popular vote. He knows he needs more than the okay of the system; he needs the okay of the people.

And he doesn’t have that. Saturday’s Women’s Marches around the world just dug that truth in deeper.

In 1989, new civic movements (with deep and long roots) in Central Europe called the bluff of their governments, which had been claiming to be the “people’s” parties. No you’re not, said these new civic organizations. Suddenly, everyone could acknowledge that the emperor had no clothes.And within days these governments collapsed. When people in the U.S. now say, “Not my president,” they are calling the bluff of Trump’s claim to legitimacy.  Of course they know that he won the electoral college vote; but they are saying very clearly that his presidency lacks the authorization of the majority of the people and that rule by the minority is illegitimate through and through.

And they are also nodding to the the fact of Russia’s meddling in our election and the very real likelihood that Trump’s folks collaborated with the Russians in this, which by the way would be treason.

Whether by treason or merely by creating the illusion of public support, Trump’s attempts to conjure up his own legitimacy are sickeningly desperate and, let’s hope, short lived. Maybe this regime will collapse the way that those of Eastern Europe did in 1989. The more we organize, the better the chance.