My son isn’t well, so I ended up writing this instead of We Lead.
There is a story – I don’t know if it is actually true – that goes a something like this.
Ten years after the Vietnam War ended, an American general met his North Vietnamese counterpart in Geneva. Not having any particular dislike for one another, the two generals went out to the bar and ordered drinks. Midway through the second round, the American turned to the Vietnamese and said “you know, you guys never beat us on the battlefield.”
The Vietnamese thought about it for a moment. “That may be true,” he said, finally. “But it is also irrelevant.”
He was right. If one judged by tactical success and body counts, the US won the war by a very long way. But if one judges by the real issue – one side managing to impose its will on the other – the North Vietnamese won handily. South Vietnam fell to the North, the US ended up looking weak and communism looked unstoppable. The US achieved precisely none of its war aims, such as they were, in Vietnam. And that is why the US lost.
The comparison should be obvious. Hilary Clinton may have won the popular vote. (This has been hotly disputed, for various reasons.) But it doesn’t matter. Victory conditions in US presidential elections don’t take the popular vote into account. The winning candidate is the one who commands a majority of the states …
… And by that standard, Donald Trump won outright.
The Founding Fathers were not interested in creating a federal government where big states could dominate smaller states. That would have been a recipe for civil war. Indeed, without California, Donald Trump would have carried the popular vote too. Why should California be allowed to dictate the winner to the other states? And wouldn’t Trump (and Hilary) have followed different pre-election strategies if the popular vote actually mattered?
This isn’t (and wasn’t) exactly a secret. These rules have been laid down for years. You can’t demand the rules change merely because you lost, can you? If Hilary had wanted to win, perhaps she should have concentrated her attention on appealing to more states – and not insulting roughly half the American population. In the end, Hilary made so many mistakes that she lost an election she should have easily won.
She lost. Get over it.
I believed that the vast majority of electors would remain faithful, as indeed they did. (Only a tiny number of electors switched sides, more Democrats than Republicans.) And yet I was nervous, despite it all. The consequences of not confirming Trump’s – perfectly legal – victory could have been dire.
There is a stereotype about conservatives (small-c) and liberals that, like most stereotypes, has a gram of truth. Conservatives are ruled by their heads, coldly logical, intent on the rules; liberals are ruled by their hearts, focused on their feelings. To a conservative, the rules are near-untouchable, applicable to all and only to be changed after long and careful consideration; to a liberal, different groups follow different rules and, when seen as unjust, rules can be changed at a moment’s notice. A conservative believes that facts should be put ahead of emotions; a liberal believes that emotions should trump facts.
In real life, of course, there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ conservative or a ‘pure’ liberal. I’ve known conservatives who were guided by their emotions first, then reasoned out their more logical justifications. And I have known liberals who questioned the emotion-driven arguments they were given, then dismissed them after examination. But conservatives tend, in my experience, to be more questioning than liberals. And, oddly, they are often more tolerant.
The average conservative, for example, may not care for abortion. (To pick a hot-button issue.) But would he support a full abortion ban? On one hand, no more unborn babies would die; on the other, it would create a whole stream of moral headaches and put a vast amount of power into the government’s hands. How long will it be until the power is abused? If antiterrorist laws can be used for trivial purposes, how long will it be before these laws are used to harass expectant mothers who have miscarriages? Given some of the other absurd – and yet somehow legal – abuses of power committed by barmy bureaucrats, my answer would probably be not long.
Conservatives believe that government power should be minimised as much as reasonably possible. And, perhaps more importantly, that private lives should remain private. Very few conservatives would support a government witch-hunt for homosexuals, whatever they may think of homosexuals, because the power used to hunt homosexuals could easily be turned against conservatives next. Or any other group you care to mention. What happens between consenting adults in private should remain private – and legal.
But conservatives also believe that the same laws should apply to everyone. People should not be judged by different standards, based on different factors. Murder is murder, regardless of who carried out the attack; rape is rape, regardless of the situation. And yet, there must be proof of these charges. Conservatives seek to withhold judgement until the evidence is presented, in a court of law, and assessed. Liberals, by contrast, seek to have the accused tried in the court of public opinion long before the court of law can be put together. And when – if – the accused is proved innocent, their lives are still ruined.
Conservatives did not recoil in horror from Barrack Obama because he was black. They recoiled because Obama showed a striking lack of concern for the fundamental structure of American politics. Obama’s famous “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone” statement suggested that Obama thought of himself as an absolute ruler – a king, if you will – rather than a president bound by limits on his power. It was intolerable.
And one of the many reasons conservatives hate Hillary Clinton was that she got away, constantly, with crimes that had seen lesser personages jailed. Her constant evasion of criminal charges was a slap in the face to everyone who believed that the law should apply to everyone.
Conservatives knew, even though they disliked it, that Obama had won a perfectly legal victory in 2008 and again in 2012. The rules were clear. Whoever took most of the states took the presidency. Conservatives did not riot in the streets – unlike liberals, after Cameron’s victory, BREXIT and Trump’s victory – because conservatives are fundamentally wedded to the system. Obama won fairly, so the conservatives gritted their teeth and accepted it. (And concentrated on legal ways to counter his increasing incompetence.) It was their faith in the system that kept them from turning against it.
If there had been enough faithless electors to overturn Trump’s victory – almost certainly by voting for Hilary, as there was no other reasonable option – it would have shattered conservative faith in the system. Trump won, by the rules. If those rules could be changed, if the will of the majority of the states could be overridden, what then?
Trump was elected, at least in part, because the Democrats routinely smeared every halfway-decent Republican with charges of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, stupidity, etc. They played dirty. Identity politics were turned into a weapon. Protest groups screamed, moaned and whined at electors, demanding that they change their votes. Trump, as I have noted before, is not the cause of the problems, but an antibody. His election came about because he refused to bow and scrape to nonsensical charges that had been used so often that they became meaningless. Many conservatives had their doubts about him (and still do) but they saw him as preferable to Hilary.
But what would happen if the system fell apart?
I don’t think it would be pleasant. If one cannot win by the rules, if one’s opponents regularly break them without consequence, why keep the rules yourself? Why not pay the other side back in their own coin?
This, thankfully, is a question that won’t be answered – this time. Conservatives see the system itself as more important than any president, regardless of his political affliction. The system did not fall apart, for better or worse. Trump won fairly and he will take office in January. And then …?
Conservatives will not, I think, let him go too far. Liberals, perhaps, should take note.