It takes until the end of the Washington Post’s most recent editorial, “Abolish the Elector College,” to get into the real reason the Post’s editors want to turn the longstanding constitutional institution on its head.
“Mr. Trump’s election was a sad event for the nation,” notes the Post. “His re-election would have been a disaster.”
Maybe, maybe not.
It is a question of the partisan’s perspective. Those who are genuinely concerned about the future of American governance would call for institutions that provide political stability to be strengthened, not destroyed.
But if your concern about “American democracy” is really just a euphemism for partisan takeover, you end up making a lot of sloppy arguments. Like this:
It is alarming that one candidate has come so close to victory when he has polled more than 5 million fewer votes than his opponent nationwide. The electoral college is no longer tenable for American democracy, regardless of the virtues it may have had for the Founding Fathers.
The fact that the electoral college does not agree with the “referendum” is not alarming. It is the point.
If the electoral college were to be synchronized with the result of the direct democratic national vote at each election, it would not have to exist. It’s not a gap; It’s a bulwark.
The electoral college exists to promote exactly what the Post believes is most beneficial. namely the “arrogant majority” as James Madison put it.
If majoritarianism is really always the best means of resolving a problem, the Post would support a mere majority of states that are able to repeal the first change or decide on abortion policy.
But if states still play a role, then the “virtues” of the electoral college are far stronger today, at a time when federalism is being ignored and Americans are more likely to cluster in urban areas than the founding generation when Washington was largely powerless.
It is one of the institutions that sustains “democracy” in a truly diverse and vast nation.
At its most basic level, the electoral college helps to force presidents to rule nationally rather than represent a handful of states. We saw it when former Vice President Joe Biden was forced to soften his positions on fracking and defusing the police because he had to appeal to those outside of urban areas.
To be successful, Biden must rule in a way that is popular in various cultural and geographic areas – like North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona, rather than just California and New York.
In big states, increasing the score gives partisan activists fodder, but it’s irrelevant. If Donald Trump had run for the national vote, he might have won it by spending all of his time in California and New York talking about things that matter to Californians and New Yorkers. The overall dynamics of the elections would be different. Our election is aimed at winning states, not people.
It should also be noted that the system that the Washington Post doesn’t want was the most stable in the world.
A direct national survey would be a radical change, even when compared internationally. Most free nations do not have a democratic majority for their leaders. For example, parliamentary systems are not national elections. Between 1935 and 2017, the majority of British voters supported the party, which only formed government twice.
Voters don’t even cast a vote directly for the prime minister. In 2019, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “lost” the “referendum”. By abolishing the electoral college, we are far more likely to create smaller parties that would prevent presidents from gaining a majority.
Of historical interest: Russia’s Vladimir Putin was elected by direct national election.
I will spend the rest of my life pointing out that presidents do not “win” or “lose” the referendum – because there is no “referendum”, has never been, and no one is competing for it.
Reuters told us: “Trump’s open opposition to Biden’s victory in both the referendum and electoral college appears to be undermining public confidence in American democracy.” The entire statement, from the “referendum” to “American democracy” makes me wince.
It is this type of coverage that enables the Washington Post and other critics of traditional constitutional governance to convince their audiences that presidents win elections when they really “lose” them.
It’s a bad sign of our future.
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