The Current Crisis and the Electoral College by Peter Eisenstadt

images-152What would be worse? Allowing Trump to become president, and then watching him violate the rules, principles, and foundations of America’s democracy, or trying, democratically if possible, but extra-democratically if necessary, to prevent him from becoming president? I’m not sure how I would answer, but I never thought that I would ever be seriously asking this question. What a tragic day for America.

Here’s the situation: The Electoral College, or rather 51 mini-electoral colleges, in each state and the District of Columbia, will be meeting next Monday. They will almost certainly elect Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. Once the electors meet, and the House of Representatives ratify the result, legally, the only way to remove Trump will be by impeachment, finding him guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The electors should not select Trump as the next president. There are several reason for this. Another candidate received almost 3 million more votes than he did in the recent election. People have tolerated the electoral college as a strange but generally benign contrivance of 18th century political theory, since the winner of the popular vote has generally won the electoral vote, but of course twice in 16 years this has not been so. It is time for this pernicious anomaly to be eliminated, and there’s no time like the present.

Trump has neither released his taxes nor separated himself from his business interests, and everything his administration might do or not do will be open to the accusation that his is pursuing policies to personally enrich himself. The shocking revelations of Russian involvement in the election, and the question of any possible complicity by Trump or his campaign staff has not been investigated. And, finally, it is clear that he intends to govern in reckless disregard of existing rules governing the presidency. Taken together, they amount to sufficient grounds for the electoral college to be “faithless” and chose another candidate for president, or simply proclaim the winner of the popular vote the next president of the United States.

This is hard for me to write. Democracy works only if most people respect its rules. And there is nothing more important in democracy, no rules more important, than those covering the peaceful transition of power. And, I must admit, there is no obviously disqualifying Nixon-sized “smoking gun,” no critical federal law that Trump has obviously violated. But I don’t think this suffices in this case.

What no one knows is the future. And this takes us, inevitably to analogies to the worst person ever to win an election, in Germany in late 1932. I AM NOT MAKING A DIRECT COMPARISON. Still, if the conservative oligarchs who put him in power in early 1933, if the German people, if Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States had known what he would do over the next 12 years they would have, by any means necessary, by any means at their disposal, prevented him from taking power. But of course it was impossible to know what would happen, and a terribly drastic act, to prevent someone from taking power, after winning a legitimate election, because of what you think he might do. And until some interesting science fiction stories that have this premise are realized, we will have to judge people by what they do, not what they might do.

And perhaps Trump will just be a terrible president, of the sort we have suffered through before, like Reagan or Bush II, rather than one who might undermine the very basis of American democracy. Perhaps, a year or two hence, this post will be seen as a hysterical reflection of the times. Perhaps.

I wish there was more of an organized opposition to Trump becoming president, that there were organized campaigns to change the votes of electors, that Democrats were out in the streets, that Hillary or perhaps even Obama were speaking this way, but I fear sometimes the Democrats are more afraid of being called “sore losers” than standing up for principle. But I recognize that any opposition now to the Electoral College ratifying the Trump victory would necessarily be an ad hoc, herky-jerky coalition thrown together at the last minute coalition, with about a 0% chance of success. But even if a handful of Republican electors vote against Trump they will underline that the Trump presidency is tainted. And that would be a great message going forward. And talk of something further, going beyond the electoral college to ensure the winner of the popular vote becomes the next president is just crazy talk.

But in the end, if you ask me, am I willing to do anything, including putting American democracy in peril now, to prevent a potentially greater peril to American democracy later, I reluctantly must conclude, yes. And damn you, Donald Trump, for making me even think this way.