All praises go to John Lewis for becoming the first nationally recognized political figure to question the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency. He will hopefully not be the last. Lewis dared to say out loud what millions of Americans have been thinking.
Lewis—who studied at the American Baptist Theological Seminary; led the first Freedom Rides; registered poor southern African Americans to vote; was almost killed when Alabama State Troopers beat his head in while leading the historic Selma Civil Rights March; chaired the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee; and spoke at the historic March on Washington with Martin Luther King, before running for elective office—is the closest living figure America has to a Nelson Mandela or a Dalai Lama.
As Bill Moyers--a man of old-fashioned grace not normally taken to insults and, like Lewis, a graduate of a Baptist Theological Seminary--wrote after Trump Tweeted attacks on Lewis over Martin Luther King’s Birthday weekend, “Trump isn’t fit to be a carbuncle on John Lewis’s posterior”.
In a manner that only a man of John Lewis’s moral stature could articulate, he clothed his critique of Trump’s legitimacy in the language not only of politics but of spiritual prophecy. In Lewis’s usual soft-spoken, but morally firm, manner, he told Meet The Press’s Chuck Todd,
” I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It's going to be hard. It's going to be very difficult. I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president…
“[W]hen you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something. You cannot afford to be quiet or to be silent. We have to continue to work, continue to speak up and speak out”.
Lewis critique of Trump’s legitimacy was both moral and political. Morally and spiritually, Lewis seemed to be saying that a man of Trump’s narcissism, ignorance, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia could never have the moral authority to be the leader of the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Politically, Lewis focused his critique on Russian efforts to interfere in the American election to aid Trump.
"I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others that helped him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not the open, democratic process."
If anything, in focusing on Russian interference in American democracy, Lewis didn’t go far enough in articulating the reasons why Trump’s election is illegitimate. Here are two more big reasons:
First and foremost, there's voter suppression, something John Lewis, who spent much of his life fighting for voting rights, knows something about.
The NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice reports that since 2010, 20 states have enacted new restrictions on voting. Since 2010, 10 states have enacted more restrictive voter ID laws (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), seven have laws making it harder for citizens to register, six cut back on early voting days and hours, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.
These restrictions are intended to, and/or have the effect of, disproportionately disenfranchising groups like African Americans, Latinos, and young people who tend to vote Democratic. For example, 25% of African Americans lack a government issued photo ID while only 8% of whites don’t have one.
The man The Guardian has described as the “most important investigative reporter of our time—up there with Woodward and Bernstein,” Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast, has done exhaustive research which offers up the proof that voter suppression swung the election to Trump. Palast writes,
Before a single vote was cast, the election was fixed by GOP and Trump operatives.
Starting in 2013—just as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act—a coterie of Trump operatives, under the direction of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State [and a key member of the Trump transition team] created a system to purge 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls of GOP-controlled states.
Kobach’s list is called “Crosscheck” and contains the names of 7.2 million people with the same first and last names who are registered to vote in more than one state. For example, if you have a common name like James Brown, or Jose Hernandez, and that name appears on the voter rolls in both Michigan and Wisconsin, your named could be purged from the voter rolls in both states.
US Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85% of common last names. According to Palast, “If your last name is Washington, there’s an 89% chance you’re African American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94% chance you’re Hispanic.”
According to Palast’s statistical analysis, 1.1 million voters were purged from the rolls, overwhelmingly voters of color and the poor.
It was enough to swing the Electoral Votes in a number of states from Clinton to Trump. Here are a few examples:
Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107
Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922
Trump Victory margin in Arizona: 85,257
Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824
Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008
North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393
Michigan has 16 Electoral Votes, Arizona has 16, and North Carolina has 15 for a total of 42 Electoral Votes. Trump officially won the Electoral Vote by 306-232. Switch 42 electoral votes from Trump’s column to Clinton’s and Clinton would have won the Electoral Vote by 274-264 and we'd be preparing for Clinton's inauguration on Friday.
And that doesn’t even take into account that Trump officially won Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral Votes by 22,748 popular votes and Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral Votes by 44,292 popular votes.
Without bothering to account for other voter suppression measures, Palast concludes that by using Crosscheck to wrongfully purge voter rolls of minority voters, Trump stole the election.
How’s that for illegitimacy?
And then there was FBI Director Comey’s letter, only 10 days before the election, announcing, in violation of longstanding FBI rules, that the FBI was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails because emails from her aide Huma Abedin to Clinton were found on a laptop belonging to Abedin’s disgraced ex-husband, Anthony Weiner.
You can call Comey many things, but stupid isn’t one of them. He surely knew that headlines with the words “Clinton,” “emails,” and “Weiner” could impact the election. Of course the day before the election, after the impact of his announcement was baked into the results, Comey announced that his new investigation had found nothing.
Polling guru Nate Silver concluded that the Comey letter swung the election from Clinton to Trump, tweeting:
Clinton would almost certainly be President-elect if the election had been held on Oct. 27 (day before Comey letter).
And finally, as John Lewis alluded to, multiple US intelligence agencies concluded that Vladimir Putin personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” and turned from seeking to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Putin “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
So there you have it, three reasons why Donald Trump is not only morally an illegitimate President, but actually an illegitimate President who would not have won, but for (1) voter suppression, (2) Comey’s letter, and (3) Russian intervention aimed at swinging the election to Trump.
There’s little question that Trump’s victory was ill gotten and illegitimate.
The only remaining question is whether the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians about their efforts to influence the elections—which would be a crime—and whether Russian intelligence has compromising dirt on President-elect Trump. It remains to be seen if there will be an honest investigation to answer these questions.
There’s nothing that can be done now to prevent Trump from being sworn-in on Friday. But for multiple reasons, John Lewis is right to call Trump’s election illegitimate.
And there’s every reason for millions of patriotic Americans to declare that Trump is “Not my President.”