The appendix of America

69 Days Until President Trump

I've written a couple of impassioned, motivational pieces in the last two days - and I've got more of that! A "Firefly" reference, even! But I'm feeling more thoughtful today.

I'm thinking about elections and surgery.

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. 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.

The Electoral College has failed to do its duty.

I wrote the other day about failures in the American experiment. Electing Donald Trump? Failure. Electing Donald Trump despite the fact that he lost the popular vote? Failure.

The honest expectation that Donald Trump is going to become President? Different failure.

The Founding Fathers didn't actually believe in direct democracy. As Federalist 68 makes clear, they were definitely afraid of the rise of a candidate who could sway our baser instincts, who could fool us into believing that he would protect us. Rather than allowing for this terrible danger, they put forward a complex system for the popular election of electors, who themselves would elect the President.

It was . . . desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

The Electoral College exists to protect us from men like Donald Trump.

That's the whole point. That's its actual function, its purpose, its raison d'etre. We The People are supposed to express our intent, and then the wise among us are supposed to get together and decide what's best.

This is incredibly paternalistic, and rife with the possibility of misuse. But as Federalist 68 argues, this system makes it much harder to conspire to rig an election. I wholly concede the possibility that, over the years, a biased system of electing our electors could skew American democracy to terrible effect. But what it is not going to do is allow a malicious party undue impact on our electoral process.

It ain't perfect. But when you have hostile foreign powers attempting to sway American electoral politics to their own ends - oh, wait, has this been covered already?

These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter [sic], but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? 

Yes, that's right: they were concerned about the Brits two hundred years ago, and we're still concerned about the Russians today. It matters that a foreign government has succeeded at interfering with a U.S. election. It matters that Putin's guy is on track to be put into office.

Would anybody be so bla if it had been ISIS behind the hacking, instead of Russia?

You have one job, Electoral College!

It's right there in the words of the Founding Fathers: they are supposed to protect us from "foreign powers" and those with "Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity."

If the Electoral College elects Trump, they invalidate the reasons for their existence. Say what you want about Clinton, but nobody is arguing that she's not qualified. Trump is the least-qualified candidate in history, on experience alone - never mind all of the stuff that happens when he opens his mouth! Can you seriously argue that he is "in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications"?

The Electoral College is not going to make Hillary Clinton President. And that's a good thing.

There's a really excellent article by Andrew Prokop over on Vox that explains why. It also explains why it actually would be a really terrible thing if they did (including the fact that this sort of thing really never goes well anywhere else where it's been tried, and America is not special).

I'm not arguing that the Electoral College should make Hillary President. Don't get me wrong: she deserves to be President. But I share Prokop's fears for what would happen if they tried it, as well as his legitimate skepticism that the party-vetted electors would ever actually consider it.

But I am arguing that if ever there was clear evidence that the Electoral College had failed, it was Election 2016. Everything that it is supposed to do, it will fail to do. The beautiful logic of Federalist 68 has long gone by the wayside.

And perhaps it should. After all, Clinton won the popular vote, just like Gore before her. The American people have shown themselves time and again to be wise. If the system of our elections is - dare I say it? - rigged against us and against our wisdom, then maybe we should take the step the Founding Fathers didn't dare to take.

It's time to close the doors of the Electoral College.

It's time to stand up for democracy. It's time to do away with the Electoral College, an institution that continues to exist solely out of tradition, which fulfills none of the high ideals that had led to its creation.

This isn't about Trump and Clinton. It's not about Bush and Gore. It's about the fact that the experimental parameters have changed, and we are no longer testing the hypothesis. We're doing something foolish and overly complicated for no other reason than that we've always done it.

The Electoral College is the appendix of America. It's time for surgery.