So much of American rhetoric is spun with providence: John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill,” the American Dream, Manifest Destiny…even our modern politics are sprinkled with dreams that never die and 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling.

And the presidential mandate holds no less weight. The mandate is the idea that the elected president has the support of the electors, the authority to govern in the best interests of the people. In American politics it ideally shapes the President’s agenda and trickles down to their party’s platform, executed by its representatives in Congress and the sway of the Supreme Court. Ideally.

On one hand, free and fair elections are the crowning jewel marble cornerstone of our democracy, and the voice of the people is law of the land. Americans get to chose the person they want leading and the platform they want legislated, and to flout those wishes over the next four years is a slap in the face to our liberty.

On the other, distilling that fervor to a couple tick marks on November 8th captures little of the story. The people have spoken, but the people have been speaking for months, years, extracting every nuance and sketching every line of attack and defense for the principles they want stood for in Washington. The infighting of the primaries overwhelmingly refutes the fantasy of a united states; our fractures are rupturing, not healing.

The write-in section of your ballot doesn’t give you space to express those dissents. Moderate Republicans in 2016 won’t be able to vote for Trump and scrawl a paragraph about how they really really don’t agree with the wall. Progressive Democrats won’t be able to vote for Clinton and tack on a five-page manifesto railing against her Wall Street speeches. Whichever campaign prevails will have to infer that resentment on their own, weigh its volatility and decide whether they can proceed in good faith.

Lots of us have active imaginations, but let’s not pretend Trump give’s a sh*t about keeping Paul Ryan and his reluctant contingents happy. Obviously, its Clinton who’s going to have to, as per usual, tread lightly.

Political fiction writer Thomas Mallon is already trying to slip past Secret Service and into Clinton’s head – it sounds like she’s had that mandate on her mind:

After winning, [Clinton’s] fraud complex, the curse of the compulsive achiever, will kick in, and she will be bitter over the perception that she owes her victory to the mutant candidacy of Trump. Having been denied the chance to run against a mainstream senator or governor, she will worry that defeating the Donald puts another Roger Maris-like asterisk next to her name, like the one next to First Lady—not the most desirable way for the first female President to have begun her ascent to the office.

It’s a little eerie to put yourself in her head (it’s fiction, but sure sounds true) but maybe you can’t help but pity the self-conscious Clinton Mallon excavates. If not Clinton herself, you have to sympathize with someone whose life’s hard work is marginalized by circumstance (Roger Maris 61 single season home run record beat Babe Ruth’s, but was challenged by a couple of logistics and America’s adoration for the latter). SNL’s Kate McKinnon has tried working that compassion into her own caricature; it seems when others speak of her ambition, we’re more likely to cheer her on.

But if or however she wins, Clinton probably won’t be feeling sorry for herself. They say you need to have a certain amount of ego to believe you can run the free world. So it’s up to us to decide what we’ll give her in return. Frank Bruni at the Times addresses the argument more specifically:

The…observation is that when Clinton is elected — sorry, if Clinton is elected — she’ll have shaky authority and murky marching orders, because she’ll be the beneficiary of an anti-Trump vote, not a pro-Clinton one. This, too, misses the mark. Even if we grant that voters aren’t so much rushing to her as fleeing him, they’re fleeing for specific reasons. They’re expressing particular values. Those reasons and values are her marching orders, and there’s nothing murky about them.

I’d go even further and say that they amount to a mandate, which is this: to safeguard the very America — compassionate, collaborative, decent — that he routinely degrades.

When you step into the ballot box next week, there won’t be anyone screeching in your ear about the TPP or Access Hollywood. There won’t be anyone to yell at about the 1% or how Mexico’s not paying for that wall. It’s just you and the ballot and a series of check marks; you votes are counted without context. On November 8th, your opinions are moot, there is black and there is white.

So your vote is your trust. It may not reflect your highest priorities or wonkiest program, and it may not be aligned with many things you want for this country. But even if you vote for Clinton just to keep out Trump, you are choosing her, because you know she’s the only way we make it out of 2016 unscathed.

Whether you like her or not, a vote for Clinton is trusting her – however begrudgingly you do so.


Anderson, Kristen Soltis. “Even with a Landslide, Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Count on a Mandate.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 28 Oct. 2016. Web.

Bruni, Frank. “Hillary Clinton’s Resounding Mandate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Oct. 2016. Web.

Klein, Ezra. “The Myth of the Presidential Mandate.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 8 June 2012. Web.

Mallon, Thomas. “2016: The Novel.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 21 Oct. 2016. Web.

One thought on “Mandate

  1. palatablepoliticsblog says:

    The mandate is an especially interesting concept post-election. With a popular vote win under Hillary Clinton’s belt, she got the mandate. But she doesn’t have the White House. I don’t want to go into the validity/necessity of the electoral college. But with the mandate outside the White House, how will Donald Trump deal with so many people rooting against him? How will he deal with knowing that the majority of voters did not want him to be President? The mandate seems, to me, more metaphorical than real. But what is real is that Trump will have to overcome a whole lot of angst when he settles into the presidency. And what will the Democrats do with the mandate? Block all of Trump’s policies aggressively? Or try to compromise and work with him. Only time will tell.


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