When the Beatles were at the height of their appeal, their popularity was almost immeasurable. They could do no wrong. Their wealth was immense. A lot of the noise came from schoolgirls screaming out their puberty, but there was no doubting the general popularity of the band. They were about as big as Elvis Presley.
But did this immense popularity signify anything about the inherent quality of their music – as opposed to the huge saleability of their product? It would have been absurd to say that the Beatles were on a par with Mozart – and just as absurd to say that Elvis was on a par with Frank Sinatra – or even Bing Crosby. If an entertainer is popular, he or she is to that extent succeeding in their chosen pursuit. It’s the same with politicians. If they are sufficiently popular to win the required number of votes, they may be elected into office – like a pope at the College of Cardinals. That level of popularity and of votes entitles them to claim the prize or title of office. But does it do any more? Does it entitle them to say that they have some kind of seal of approval on the quality of their policies or their character?
Simply as a matter of logic, the fact that a given number of people like you or your policies does not of itself entail that either you or your policies have some intrinsic worth. A proposition about worth does not follow from a proposition about popular appeal. You have only to reflect on popular will in its purest form of action – the lynch mob – or the characters of probably the three most popular political leaders of the twentieth century – Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in, say, 1938 – to see how doubtful a signifier mere popularity is. The leader of North Korea is almost certainly more popular in his own country than the leader of the United States.
If someone claims vindication or exoneration from a win in a political process, they will invite at least two questions. Did the process have integrity? Was there a quality field – who did the winner have to beat? In Australian terms, was he or she up against a drover’s dog?
The election of Trump falters on each. Australians think the U S system is flawed because voting is not compulsory. Democrats say the system is loaded against them. Trump did not win the popular vote. The Electoral College does not perform its original function. And many people voted against Trump’s opponent rather than for him. Many of his supporters are still in that mode. They will support any measure that goes against what the Democrats did – especially if it involved the nation’s first black president.
So, it would be very hard to argue that the electoral triumph of Trump somehow validates either him, or his policies. To the extent that we can identify policies he laid out before the election – such as building a wall, or excluding Muslims – then as President he would have both the right and the duty to seek to implement those policies. (It’s best to avoid that weasel word mandate altogether.)
But to claim that his election as President in some way validates those policies is as sound as saying that the election of Hitler as Chancellor validated Mein Kampf, including the elimination of Jews and the annihilation of Russia. Then you might ask whether Trump’s announced policies entitled him to present a budget which helps the rich, hurts those under the rich, and bankrupts the nation.
All that is clear enough, but we get keep being assured that the election of Trump does in some way validate both himself and his policies.
The issue has crystallized in Alabama. In most political bodies, Roy Moore would be hors de combat because of his found misbehaviour as a judge. In England and Australia, he would have no hope because he is a sanctimonious, bible-bashing hypocrite. He would certainly have no chance anywhere that politics is rational in light of the credible allegations of sexual predation against him – and his dreadful response to those allegations. In many places he would be hopelessly on the nose on the sole ground that this whole fiasco is the product of a faction fight within one party sponsored by a nasty, rich Leninist named Bannon.
But what about the similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the President? With the straight face that becomes serial liars, the White House says that the American nation elected Trump with full knowledge of the allegations.
For reasons I have sought to give, this proposition entails no logically relevant consequence. This case is a fortiori – a successful candidate wants to argue that winning an election doesn’t just validate policies – it also erases sin, or the allegation of sin. And this is where the candidate is a proven liar; he has denied the allegations; he has said he would sue the complainants well knowing that he would never do so; and where he has given evidence that he is a serial sexual predator. And the White House says their case is stronger than that of a Democrat senator who has admitted to and apologised for a lesser offence.
The Republicans have another problem with saying that Trump has been cleared by his being elected. They will move to block Moore even if he is elected. They are apparently choosy about which popular choice they will regard as valid.
The events in Alabama also show how the prejudices of an electorate can show why electoral success can so rarely be cited to support some kind of moral validation. Polls in Alabama show that more than 70% of Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists will vote for Moore despite the evidence of his paedophilia. Why? According to a Republican spokesman on CNN, who is against Moore taking a seat on the Senate, this is because Christian evangelicals regard Democrats as being in favour of abortion to the extent that they might fairly be described as murderers. What is the conclusion of these soi disant Christians? They would rather vote for a paedophile than a murderer.
God give us strength, and spare us from judgments derived from the will of the people. We are after all human. At least one of the Beatles understood this. The first of them to leave us, John Lennon, said: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’ roll or Christianity.’ The Greeks had word for that kind of thing. We call it leading with your chin.