Faking a Mandate

Published on Author MCDC

UPDATE: Republicans threatening to shut down government to ram through Trump’s defense secretary nomination

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In 1903 the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labor Party broke into two competing factions, as often happens with such movements. This was a bit confusing for everyone, so in an effort to delineate between the two factions people starting calling one the “hard” faction and the other the “soft” faction. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin didn’t find that very useful however, particularly since he was leading the faction being called hard. So in a ballsy propaganda move he told everyone to refer to his own faction as the “Bolsheviks,” from the Russian word for majority. In essence, Lenin was telling people to call his faction the “majoritarians.” And while he was at it he named the other faction “Mensheviks,” which of course means “minoritarians.”

As you may have already guessed, Lenin’s faction was not really the majority. The “Mensheviks” were actually the majority as often as not, and pretty much everyone knew it. Lenin didn’t consider that a problem however. On the contrary, it was exactly the reason he came up with the names. And it worked, because people quickly began to use his new names. Astonishingly, even the “Mensheviks” used the new names!

The votes are still being counted, but Clinton’s popular vote lead is already over 2.5 million. This is because Trump won a number of critical states by only a few hundred thousand votes, while losing others like California and New York by millions. These vote tallies lead to three very troublesome facts: 1) A lot more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. 2) Hillary Clinton actually received more votes than any man who has ever run for president except Barack Obama. 3) Donald Trump won this election with one of the worst vote margins in American history. In fact only two presidents have ever won the presidency with worse vote margins: Rutherford Hayes in 1876 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.

So why do these majority/minority claims matter? Well if you paid attention in your history classes you probably noticed that the specific idea of representing the majority is vital to those who govern, because the idea of representing the majority carries with it the presumption that you have a legitimate civic mandate for your political agenda.

It follows therefore that the larger the majority you represent, the greater your mandate. And while a “mandate” is technically nothing more than an official commission to do something, the term has come to have a meaning more aligned with those greater majorities. Which is to say, in common use a “mandate” is considered to be a type of unique political authority earned when a politician or party wins a landslide victory.