Getting Protest Hashtags (#NotMyPresident) Half Right – 2017

Columnist Paula Dvorak, writing at the Washington Post, contends that saying “saying #notmypresident is the same as saying #notmyconstitution or #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica.” See, Stop protesting democracy. Saying #notmypresident is the same as saying #notmyconstitution.

Dvorak is only right about the first two hashtag phrases – she overreaches on the others. It’s true that #notmypresident is like saying #notmyconstitution, as the first depends on the constitutional order of the second.  That’s the reason that I have not, and will not, use #notmypresident: Trump was elected lawfully the 45th president of the United States on November 8, 2016.  Defending the constitutional order is a worthy defense (and a needful defense as Trump is likely to threaten constitutional norms many times while in office).  That defense begins with a fair acknowledgment of who has been elected.

Dvorak’s wrong, however, to think that #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica are somehow impermissible: those terms describe what someone thinks of the society more broadly, apart from a legal or political understanding.

She’s also wrong to think protests against Trump are undemocratic.  In fact, they’re democratic both broadly and narrowly.  Broadly, one should be able to protest lawfully as one wishes.  Narrowly, Trump wasn’t elected by a majority of voters, or even a plurality of them.  A plurality went to Clinton, and a majority went to all the alternatives to Trump.  If one thinks that democracy – rule of the demos – is what should matter, then one would be protesting for democracy by protesting against Trump.

One may accurately say that Trump’s election was constitutionally permissible at the expense of both the majority’s wishes and those of a plurality.  Lawful, to be sure, but by design with a limitation on majoritarian wishes.

This might all be a mere exercise in terms, were the consequences not so large: hundreds of millions, across a vast continent.  Define legitimate protest as narrowly as Dvorak does (so that it’s somehow out of bounds to say #notmycountry or #notmyAmerica) and one denies those millions something more meaningful than a single, lawful election’s result.

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