Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The Electoral College a cornerstone of the republic
On Your Right
This week the Electoral College met, and Donald Trump is finally the president-elect.
You read that right. While senators, congressmen, mayors and sheriffs the country over are directly elected by the people, in presidential politics it ain’t really over until the Electoral College sings.
When an electoral campaign produces sore losers — think Al Gore or Jill Stein — there is inevitably a chorus of whining about the fourth branch of constitutional government and the single function it exercises once every four years. It’s an “anachronism.” An “undemocratic device” to “thwart the will of the people.” And other, similar twaddle from people who are too mendacious, too inert or too uneducated to admit that we live not in a “democracy” but in a representative republic. And thank god for it.
When our founders designed our government, they carefully studied many previous and contemporaneous forms of rule. Monarchy, with its tendencies to despotism, they rejected out of hand; even amidst the chaos that was the Articles of Confederation they couldn’t get the taste of George III out of their mouths. Democracy was similarly feared, particularly because of the best-known example of Athens, which went from master of the Aegean to smoking ruin in half a human lifetime because of it. They studied the commonwealth of the Netherlands, adopting some of its features. But in the end, they opted for something new: a Republic with permanently rotating, elective leadership and three permanent branches with divided powers and conflicting interests. “Getting things done” was secondary to preventing a concentration of power in any one branch. The Electoral College is an integral part of that objective.
Like most things unfamiliar, the Electoral College is subject not only to misunderstanding but to misinterpretation, either through lack of knowledge or malice. The latter is common among denizens of the left side of the aisle, who see it as a balk to their favorite tool of popular hysteria and their goal of government by the elite.
There are also particular misreadings, for various purposes. Monomaniacs like Akhil Amar of Yale claim that it, together with much of American life, is all about slavery. Other members of the idée fixe intelligentsia like Howard Zinn blame it on the upper class’ lust for control, or the desire of bankers for stability and gain. None of these pay any attention to the real purpose of the Electoral College: to help balance the equation of interests among large states and small, in various regions of the country.
Simply put, the Electoral College exists to assure that the voices of voters in Rhode Island and North Dakota, Oregon and Indiana receive roughly the same consideration as those in California and New York. If those squawking about direct election of the president by popular majority had their way, our 10 most populous states would choose the president and the rest of us would be told to sit down and shut up. “Flyover country” would be a permanent feature of presidential politics, and a vast number of Americans wouldn’t be worth a candidate’s time or energy; slow poison for a country whose motto used to be “From many, one.”
The Electoral College is also an obstacle to fraud, which the Founders anticipated — humans being humans, not angels. It is much harder to fix the outcome of 13 — or 50 — simultaneous state presidential elections than one national.
Finally, one should consider the argument made by James Madison: Federalism, including a distributed presidential election, would curb the power of “an interested and overbearing majority” and the “mischief of faction.” By the latter, he meant “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Substitute the modern political party for Madison’s “faction” and the argument is clear: We have an intricate system designed to make our political decisions slow, balanced and proof against stampede.
Considering this, we should understand the recurrent cry against the Electoral College for what it is: another attempt to alter the structure of our government in a way not conducive to the interests of the nation and its citizens, but very much in the interests of a political class accustomed to profit from inflaming the emotions of voters whose knowledge and reason they have long worked to undermine. It is they who seek to line their own pockets from the destruction of systems and attitudes which have served this country well, and it is they who must be stopped, on this instance and each which follows.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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