Although John Lewis left many stunned with his admission that he does not view the President-elect as legitimate, he was only giving voice to what many already believe to be true.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is legitimacy: it is the people who grant authority through recognition, and this is earned instead of demanded. Even dictators are bound by this principle, as their authority only extends as far as the people who recognize it. While Trump may have met the technical requirements to be designated President-elect, he did so without winning the popular vote, nor in “accordance to established rules, principles, or standards” – the very definition of legitimacy. There are good reasons to challenge the legitimacy of the incoming Trump administration and not only for what John Lewis identified.
First, although Trump seemed to think his tax returns were trivial, by refusing to release them, he actually violated a customary standard in American politics. Customs are not just formalities but also the source of law, including many international laws that the U.S. actively enforces around the world. Failure to adhere to this custom means Trump reduced his legitimacy. Second, was Russia’s direct involvement in smearing his political opponent, thus aiding his ascension. This takes on existential dimensions, as tampering of this type by a foreign power is something that the Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, called “one of the most deadly adversaries of republican government,” to which “every practicable obstacle should be opposed to.” This may also explain Hamilton’s preference for a presidential selection process under the guardianship of independent electors, something else that has long been ignored. The failure of our institutions to prevent the rise of a potential foreign puppet to the White House shakes the foundation of the republic as imagined by the Founders. The presence of this existential threat to the nation’s sovereignty all but eliminates Trump’s legitimacy. The third challenge to Trump’s legitimacy rests on the emoluments clause of the constitution, which he is set to violate on Thursday. This clause prohibits gifts from foreign states, something that Trump has already been receiving in droves through a D.C. hotel business booming with foreign diplomats and dignitaries alike. A constitutional violation of this order may not be resolved by the courts, but hopefully resolves the judgements of many Americans regarding Trump’s claim to power.