The Electoral College is Not the Problem (…maybe it is)

vote[UPDATE: I’ve actually changed my perspective on this.  Interestingly, the deciding factor came from a Republican argument in Virginia after Democrats won enough seats to take over the state legislature.  One Republican official suggested that they needed an “electoral college” in the state of Virginia, because the votes were distributed differently by county.  It was an interesting argument that, when taken to its logical conclusion – from county to city to neighborhood to household, ends with a one vote / one person argument.

But I am leaving my original post below, because we’re allowed to grow and learn and synthesize information into new opinions.]

I have a controversial and unpopular opinion to share: I think the Electoral College is a valuable institution and should remain in place as a part of our republican government.

Democracy versus Republic

Most of us have probably been taught at some point that the United States is a republic and not actually a democracy, but it’s hard to keep that fact straight when we (myself included) use the word “democracy” with such reverence.

Democracy: A true democracy is ruled by popular vote. Everything is ruled by popular vote.

Republic: Representatives are elected by popular vote, and they go on to create laws and structure under which the masses agree to live.

A democracy is impractical for any organization with more than a few members, because it’s not reasonable to expect a popular vote to be taken on every decision that impacts the members. And so we create a republican framework within which to operate.

(The party names of “Democratic” and “Republican” have little to do with the meaning of the words. The parties have, in fact, essentially switched their key principles since the mid-19th century.)

The Electoral College

Of course, we could still be a republic without the intervening system of the Electoral College. Popular vote could elect a President, who is then the representative of the people. Instead, we vote for electors, who then go on to vote for the President. How the electors vote for the President is a matter that is up to the individual states within the union of the United States.

So why have the Electoral College?

The founders recognized that a popular vote for the Executive Branch of government posed a challenge. The areas of the country with the highest number of voters would control the office of the President. Voters, being white, landholding men, were not evenly dispersed – and the President would consistently not represent the disparate interests of the entire United States.

Yes, it is true that for many of the founders, this meant that slave holding states with fewer eligible voters would not be represented by the Executive Branch. And while that background is abhorrent, the concept continues to have value in our country today.

The Electoral College forces a candidate to listen to the entire country

43018293_sThe Electoral College concept forces a candidate to listen to the needs of the entire country. While gaining vast majorities of the popular vote in highly populated areas could win the popular vote, a candidate has to win the popular vote in more than just a few places within the larger country. A candidate can’t focus on the needs of coastal cities, for example, without considering the needs of the agricultural and industrial Midwest.

There are a lot of reasons to deny the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. The Electoral College should not be one of them.

Mrs. Clinton lost the election, because she failed to win the trust and address the concerns of voters across the country. That is not the fault of the Electoral College system, but rather illustrates why it exists.  She needed to better understand and address concerns in the rural and industrial areas.

The challenge, in this particular election year, is that Donald Trump did not win fairly. While he won the election, he did so by lying to the public, refusing to provide critical information, and through the interference of a foreign government. And his insistence that he won “by a landslide” is such a ridiculous notion that it makes it hard to argue in favor of his Electoral College victory.

The Electoral College is granted the power—at least in some states—to vote their conscience and refuse to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in their state. Should they have done so in this election? That’s a matter of opinion at this point, because the investigations into the foreign influence, financial conflicts of interest and other issues were not completed when the vote was held. It could also be argued that voting against the popular vote in those states won by Donald Trump would have caused violence and conflict that might be more destructive than a Trump presidency.

There are a lot of reasons to deny the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. The Electoral College should not be one of them.

Respect and the Office of the Presidency

10331725 - president clintonIn the movie The American President, Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) refuses to call President Shepherd (Michael Douglas) by any name other than “Sir” or “Mr. President”, despite having been friends for years.  As long as President Shepherd is in office, he will be addressed as “Mr. President” and never “Andy”, because the office of the Presidency deserves that respect.

That idea of Presidential respect has stuck with me for more than 20 years.  The office of the US President deserves a level of reverence that goes above and beyond the man behind the office.  I am careful to always use appropriate titles and to bestow respect that is due, regardless of my personal feelings and political leanings, to the man holding the Office of the President.

After a great deal of consideration and internal turmoil, however, I have come to the decision that I will not be able to address Donald Trump with the title of President.  

There are certainly a lot of reasons why you might question the validity of a Trump Presidency, from foreign interference in the elections to the confusing role of the Electoral College versus the popular vote.  My decision, however, comes down to a very simple reality: Donald Trump does not deserve the respect due to any previous President of the United States, because he has repeatedly proven that he does not respect the Presidency or the people of the United States,  and he refuses to treat the role with the level of seriousness that it requires.

Recently, Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and the leader of Inequality Media, addressed the topic in a Facebook post.  Mr. Reich was responding to a politician (whom he had chosen not to name) who told Reich that he would be attending Trump’s inauguration and festivities, because he believed “in promoting unity over partisanship and supporting a peaceful transition of power”.   Mr. Reich responded,

…It’s not matter of Democrat versus Republican, or left versus right.

The issue here is how former presidents and other politicians should respond to someone who has shown himself to be a dangerous demagogue.

Donald Trump became president by lying, demeaning women, denigrating racial and ethnic minorities, denying intelligence reports of foreign intervention in our election, excusing violence against opponents, and undermining the freedom and independence of the press. And since being elected he’s held rallies and issued tweets in which he’s continued to tell big lies, retaliate against critics, call opponents “enemies,” avoid press conferences, and dismiss conflicts of financial interest.

I told him that, in my view, attending Trump’s inauguration gives tacit support and approval to someone who poses a clear and present danger to our democracy.

The word “resistance” feels scary and reactionary, but it does not feel wrong.  My resistance starts with my language.  #notmypresident


What now?

52448907_sThe reality of a President-Elect Donald Trump has not yet fully sunk in.  At the same time, I seem to be consumed with the thought of nothing else.  I am grateful and humbled for those of you who have given me your trust and a platform to express those thoughts.

It might sound like a cliche by now–the election of Donald Trump is a wake-up call.  This campaign should have been a wake-up call, but many just did not believe that his message resonated as strongly as it did.  Coming from a county that ultimately had 71% of voters casting their vote for Trump, I can tell you that the support is strong.

What I and many others are struggling with is why voters chose Trump.  Many on the left will say that it is a vote for racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.  For some Trump supporters, I have no doubt that this was the reason that they voted for him.  But for many others–and I’m personally counting on it being most of his supporters–it was something else.  

I’m hearing the voices of my Liberal friends who are thinking, “Maybe that’s not why they voted for him, but his sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia is going to have a huge impact on his administration and presidency, and ultimately our lives.”  I agree.  And it scares me.  But as crazy as this sounds, that’s not what I want to focus on right now.  If that is your focus and the advocacy route that you are taking, I support you.

I have deliberately been focusing on staying positive–not positive in the sense that there aren’t serious, potentially catastrophic, concerns about a Trump presidency, but positive in that I am focusing on the things that I can do and on the best ways that I know to impact change.   For now, my focus is on these things:

  • What are the factors that have led us to this place?  What is it that makes Trump’s message so compelling and why have Democrats failed to engage many of the very people that they (we) purport to fight for?
  • What do supporters of President-Elect Trump really believe on critical social issues, like LGBTQ rights, civil rights, police brutality and the need for improved training, gun control, healthcare and welfare?  How can Democrats (or me, personally) engage with those moderate, reasoned Trump supporters to advocate for these critical social issues that lift up all Americans?
  • How can we (I) encourage reasoned conversation that comes from a place of kindness and friendship, and minimize the hate and anger that is lying under the national conversation right now?
  • How we we (I) encourage every individual to get involved at all levels of government and engage with their local, state and national representatives?  How do we ALL go back to a system of government that allowed elected officials to represent their entire constituency and make decisions that they felt morally good about, rather than a two-party system that doesn’t allow for deviations from the party line?

I’m honored that so many of you have trusted me and given me a platform to try to make sense of some of this for all of us, and I’m going to do my best to live up to that trust.