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Democracy, of all systems of government, rests most on the presumption of legitimacy. That is not to say that all governments do not so rest, but there is a crucial difference between the sort of legitimacy a Monarchy has and one a democratically elected leader has; although there is also a crucial similarity. Even a monarch who claimed to rule by divine right actually ruled only as long as his rule was tolerable. So, King John, like his Norman/Angevin predecessors, ruled by right of inheritance from William the Conqueror. In theory there were no limitations on his power; but the way he used that theory created the conditions in which such limitations were formulated and, ultimately, imposed upon him. This was done not by ‘the people’, but by the people who mattered – the nobles and the Church. None of John’s successors was able to turn the clock back. Where, in continental Europe, the fledgling parliaments of France and Spain were stifled, in England the attempt to do so led Charles I to his execution. Voltaire once defined Russian Tsarism as ‘autocracy modified by assassination’, and something similar, if less dramatic is true of all systems of government. If the governed find them intolerable, ways will be found to depose bad rulers.

In democracies legitimacy is assured through electoral processes. Those processes will throw up results that at least half the electorate will not have approved, either because some will have voted for the losing side, or others could not be bothered voting. This often leads to some bitterness and silliness. The whole ‘birther’ thing with Obama would be one example. But one never saw those pursing that line demonstrating in Washington, blacking access to the inauguration or calling for the results of the election to be cancelled, or for ‘direct action’ to thwart the outcome of the electoral process. For that, we had to wait for an educated liberal elite to lose the election to someone whose views they found so abhorrent that they took it upon themselves to advise the electorate that in view of their silly error, they, the elite, needed to set things right. Since it was, in part, this attitude which led to the result they deplore, this seems the sort of error you need to be extremely smart to commit.

It is very hard to see how, next time a liberal President is elected, his supporters can criticise their opponents for protesting. On a very basic level, Trump’s critics are giving their opponents a lesson in how, when their turn comes, they can stoke the fires of division. To respond, as I know some will do, with the retort that ‘Trump started it’ is, I fear, childish. If you consider yourself part of an elite so much better able to judge who should rule your country, you should demonstrate that by being smart enough to accept the democratic verdict and work in the usual manner to ensure your side does better next time. Both with Trump and with Brexit, the other side fought very poor campaigns and made their cases badly. It would, of course, take courage to admit that and it would take time and energy to ensure it doesn’t happen again – and my advice to those on the losing side (such as myself) would be to up their game and stop whining.

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