Talk is heating up about the possibility that the Electoral College might displace Trump and select Clinton. I have a couple of thoughts on this.
Firstly, this would be perfectly legitimate. If you need a historical reference, check Federalist #68, which discusses the electoral college and its purpose. Remember, the United States was formulated as a republic, which is not the same thing as a democracy. The Founders wanted to keep a firewall between The People and their government. Over the course of time, we have gotten used to the idea that We The People directly elect our national representatives. We do not, although it certainly appears that way and most folks can be forgiven for believing otherwise.
As constituted, the Electoral College was to be the final say. The possibility that someone completely unsuited to the presidency drove the Founders to cautious hedging. The phrase which no doubt will be oft-quoted in the coming weeks till the Electors meet is this one:
“Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States”
What they sought to do was prevent the possibility of a demagogue rising to the highest office, which in many ways seems to have just happened. But the entire paper is worthy of scrutiny. for instance:
“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.”
Historically, there have been instances of individual Electors changing their initial votes. There has never been an instance where the College overturned an election presumably won during the popular election. Needless to say, occasionally there have been presidents elected by the College who lost the popular vote. Four times before now.
There are two things to bear in mind in the current situation. The first is the mood of the country. We had two unpopular candidates. One was unpopular for perfectly understandable reasons, namely the things that came out of his mouth during the campaign. The other was unpopular for a variety of reasons that have to do with public perception and the complex propaganda of her enemies. Be that as it may, the campaign season has been tainted by an excess of irrationality. We already saw threats of armed uprising by certain groups should the “wrong” candidate win. We are now seeing mass protests by people who are profoundly unsettled by the one who presumably did win. The divide is severe and based now as much on wish-fulfillment and the swift justifications of revisionism as on the perception of looming catastrophe. And now we are seeing a mounting count of popular votes accruing the presumed loser, far more than can be reasonably explained away by statistical error.
It would seem a good time for the Electoral College to exercise its legal authority.
But at what risk? Civil War? Riot, certainly.
Which leads directly to the second point. The Republican Party controls both houses of congress and several high-ranking members have already stated they will oppose anything and everything Hillary Clinton might do, basically a continuance of their stance toward Obama. What point is there, then, in handing her the election by way of an arcane and untested method if for four years she will be required to do nothing but dodge political bullets, worry over impeachment, and be thwarted at every turn? As it now stands, she’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Had there been any turnover in congress to increase the Democratic presence, it might be worth a shot.
I’m asking questions here not proposing solutions. We have made someone the Principle who clearly cannot do the job. We have elected exactly the kind of person the Founders sought to guard against by establishing the Electoral College. The question is, if they act how will that much change the next four years.
Something to think about.