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Unless You Want a Mobocracy, Don’t Kill the Electoral College

2311

A large number of Democrats for some un-understandable reason are joining the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination fray. To stand out and be the chosen one, they are trying to do many things, some of them reasonable, some of them crazy and some of them utterly confusing.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts’ call for abolishing the Electoral College, while might seem logical to many, to experts it is confusing, and many are of the opinion that it undermines the American spirit, and can be tantamount to cheating the innocent citizens. But we must not call a Harvard Professor a cheat unless we have reasons to. So, what’s her reasoning?

“Every vote matters and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting. And that means get rid of the Electoral College and everybody counts,” she reasoned.

Her statement found support among other Democratic candidates. They are the same people who understandably hold a grudge against President Trump for understanding the electoral system better than their party candidate Hillary Clinton. Trump’s team was right in eking out an Electoral College win rather than run up the score in Republican states.

2016’s election wasn’t a test of the popular vote; it was rather a triumph of the principles on which America proudly stands. While I might not agree with everything President Trump does, there is no doubt that he won the election fairly.

Even if the Democrats want to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College, it is impossible to change on a partisan basis, and therein lies the beauty of the American constitution and the far-sightedness of its framers. So, understand that the Electoral College isn’t going anywhere soon.

Had the Democrats won by both the popular vote and an Electoral College majority—the usual outcome throughout our history—they would not be crying foul about it, and all their concerns over the Electoral College would have suddenly evaporated.

In America, as in the rest of the world as well, Abraham Lincoln stands as the greatest exponent of the virtues of democracy. His definition of the US government as being a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” has since then formed the basis on which most other democracies have laid their foundations on. And this is the reason why advocates of pure-democracy want to abolish the Electoral College.

After all, responding to the will of the majority of people is what democracy stands for. Right?

Wrong.

Let’s try to understand what will happen if we abandon Electoral College as Warren proposes.

First: Candidates will invest their time and money only in states that are populous, rich and therefore have more political clout, such as California, New York and the areas surrounding the District of Columbia. They will start treating states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina the way the rest of America treats them — as second rung states, states not worth visiting. This will make American politics more centralized and more elitist, not less. Certainly not what a well-meaning American would want. But as we all know, many American politicians are money-meaning, not well-meaning, so to expect them to campaign for the sake of betterment of the American citizen and not just for the sake of vote bank would be naïve. And this, the constitution framers well understood, and hence the Electoral College.

Second: People view issues differently when it affects them and those around them.

Let’s try to understand it this way, while in urban America—let’s take New Jersey as an example— most voters don’t know many people in the armed forces, farmers or energy workers, these are the most populous areas, with New Jersey’s population being 9 million.

On the other hand, Alaska has one of the highest enlistment rates in the US military but has a population of mere 736,000 people scattered over an enormous territory.

So, if the president were to be elected based on only the national popular vote, votes from New Jersey’s 9 million people will outnumber those from Alaska. And, Alaska’s concerns will never get heard.

Let’s take another example. When the dot.com bubble burst and the housing sector crashed, there was bloodbath in many cities. But coal-rich towns throughout West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were basically impervious to these problems. Their livelihood was based on coal, and as long as the mining industry would thrive, they knew their future would be safe.

But they ran out of luck when Billionaires like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched campaigns, to close those mines in the name of preventing climate change. So, the mines closed. Today most of these coal powered towns are either dead or are on the verge of dying.

Hospitals in these towns have shut down. Schools have closed for lack of funding. And poverty is rampant, as is drug abuse. Towns that were once vibrant are now collapsing. Parks where children played, now lay empty.

Will Bloomberg raise a dime to help these communities that for so long have depended on coal? The answer is “no.”

Will people working in Silicon Valley understand these problems? People in coal country and urban America are not neighbors and don’t know each other. It’s easy for city-dwellers to support policies that affect them but to think that they understand the whole of America would be foolish.

This differentiation is also visible behind the logic of the Green New Deal. It aims to eliminate combustion engines and build high-speed rail and was written by people who envisioned turning the entire nation into Brooklyn. It was not written keeping in mind an Oklahoma farmer.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an author of the Green New Deal. She and the urban elite see “factory farming” as a solution. It’s unclear what her concerns are, and how much she knows about farming. But as an urbanite, she’s confident that she knows what’s best for the nation…OOPS, for even the earth maybe.

She does not represent the values of farming communities, she cannot understand their issues, just like Bloomberg did not understand the problems of the coal country.

President Obama had no understanding of how rural America works. He was clueless about how to create jobs there. He once told an audience that jobs were not coming back in rural America unless someone waved a “magic wand.” 

And that is the reason that when it comes to electing the president, rural communities and communities with less population deserve equal representation. This is the simple fact why Electoral College exists. President Trump understands the people of rural America, even though he is clearly an outsider. During his campaign he gave them a voice, spent time in rural America – something Hillary Clinton did not do enough – and that made the difference for him.

For these reasons, the government of the United States was never envisioned to be a pure democracy. It is anti-democratic by design. And it’s not a flaw that requires remedy; rather it forms an essential safeguard for individual liberty.

The framers of the constitution knew that in its purest form democracy could be dangerous and would ultimately lead to mobocracy and anarchy. The writings of the Founding Fathers are replete with warnings of this fact:

  • “Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments,” Alexander Hamilton wrote. “If we incline too much to democracy we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.”
  • James Madison argued that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
  • Thomas Jefferson noted that “a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”
  • And finally, John Adams warned that democracy “never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Despite what many of today’s democracy-pundits would want us to believe, the anti-democratic nature of America is just as crucial to its survival now as it was over 200 years ago.

Electoral College ensures that the President has a broad support base throughout the country and not just around the population-heavy coasts. The function of the Electoral College is to respect and equally represent the states as sovereign entities within the federal system.

The same holds true for the Senate. Each state is represented equally in the Senate, irrespective of its population or prestige.

Finally, the Supreme Court is perhaps the least democratic institution of all. Its members are given lifetime appointments by presidents elected via the Electoral College. They are subject to no democratic oversight or elections so that they can function by the book of law and not according to their personal preferences or the passions and prejudices of the electorate.

President Lincoln understood the vital role the key institutions play in safeguarding against democracy’s excesses. In an 1856 speech he advised: “Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles.”

As anyone who has studied the history of American elections will confirm, the most closely fought-over states always change because the issues that Americans care about always change too. Today much of the divide is among urban, rural, and suburban areas, making the Electoral College even more vital.

It is true that politicians in statewide races campaign everywhere. However, it is also true that in the end, it is the urban areas that predominately elect Democrats, not rural ones.

Without Electoral College in national elections—given the vastness of the country and limited campaigning time—candidates would be incentivized to campaign in accessible urban areas that are populous and have a huge media presence. The Electoral College, just like any other system, is certainly not perfect. But it keeps mobocracy at bay and forces candidates to moderate their views, create coalitions, and appeal to voters even in most disparate of areas.

Abolishing the Electoral College would crown New York City, Chicago and San Francisco as the nation’s President-makers. And why would any politician think beyond that when that’s all that is needed to win elections.

Author: Pradeep Banerjee