John Lewis may be correct. The Russian hacking controversy and the last-minute Comey/FBI revelations about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails has deligitimized Donald Trump’s presidency. Yes, the Electoral College selected him last month. Yes, he will assume office next week. Yes, Clinton was not a perfect candidate. She probably should have offered a more compelling message to the American people and finished the campaign in a stronger fashion. And we may never know if Putin’s hacks and Comey’s announcement had any direct effect on voting in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or elsewhere.
I am afraid that Lewis’s remarks about Trump’s legitimacy, while important, will get little traction outside of the Democratic Party. But historians will write about all of this. People will always wonder if Trump won fair and square. There will always be a figurative asterisk next to Trump’s name in the history books. Some historians will try to defend Trump, but in order to do so they will need to dredge all of this stuff up again and bring it to the attention of the American public.
And if Americans ever get around to doing away with the Electoral College, the Trump victory (and the Bush victory in 2000 and others) will be seen by many as a betrayal of democracy made possible by an antiquated and out of date electoral system. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton will be portrayed as victims of such a system.
Of course this is all very preliminary. Historians will also judge Trump on what happens in the next four years and beyond. We do know, however, that Trump’s kryptonite is the idea that he is not a legitimate POTUS.