Nancy Altman, Founding Co-Director, Social Security Works
Ira Lupu, F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Professor of Law Emeritus, George Washington University Law School
Now that a majority of electors have cast their ballots in favor of Donald Trump, he will have the lawful powers of the presidency, as prescribed in the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Legal authority is not equivalent, however, to political legitimacy, moral authority, or entitlement to civic respect.
Trump’s legal authority will give him the power to issue executive orders and repeal existing ones. If he signs bills passed by Congress, those enactments ― however stupid or destructive they may be – will be the law of the land, unless the courts find them unconstitutional. Similarly, Trump will be the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, because the Constitution confers that power on the holder of the office. As a result, as long as Trump’s actions are consistent with law, opponents can and should publicize the costs and hazards of those actions, but will lose if they mount legal challenges.
Though Trump has legal legitimacy, he totally lacks political legitimacy. He seized power through a cumulative set of actions that thoroughly undermine the integrity of the election outcome. These illegitimate actions include voter suppression engineered by the Republican Party; highly inappropriate and outrageous interventions in the election by the Director of the FBI; persistent demonizing and intimidation of a free press; and, most egregious, a deliberate attempt (openly encouraged by Trump himself) by a hostile foreign government to influence the election in his favor. Taken together, these actions fatally undercut the political legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.