On the day after Judge Wiley Daniel ruled in federal district court against Colorado’s so-called Hamilton Electors, let’s try to imagine that he had ruled for them.
Or let’s imagine that the electors’ appeal to the 10th Circuit is heard in time and is successful and the Supreme Court goes along with it — I know this is a lot of imagining, but if you buy the premise, you buy the bit — and that, therefore, the stage is set for next Monday and the Electoral College vote.
Let’s imagine then that the few electors from Colorado and a few from the state of Washington and a few others from around the country were to vote their consciences and, more than that, were able to convince a majority of 538 electors that voting their consciences meant not voting for Donald Trump or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton. And so the electors — Democrats and Republicans alike — decided on someone else, like, say, Mitt Romney, who was last seen groveling at Trump’s feet.
In other words, the Electoral College, in the name of our democratic republic, would elect a president who got no votes, meaning even fewer than Jill Stein.
No, I can’t imagine the then-what either.
What I’d suppose is that there would be a constitutional crisis, with rival camps claiming the presidency and the rule of law suddenly depending on who makes the rules and who makes the laws.
The whole American project is based on the notion that we more or less agree to follow the rules. What if an already-riven country suddenly couldn’t agree on what the rules were, and all that was at stake was the succession of power? Or do you think Donald Trump would play the Al Gore role and slink away?
What I’m asking is why anyone would think that Americans would go along with what would basically be a coup of unknown electors with no real qualifications — Hamiltonian or otherwise — to set a nation’s course. It’s one thing for the Supreme Court to make a controversial ruling determining a presidential election. It’s another for a high school math teacher. (Not that I have anything against math or teachers, but you know.)
That’s why, I imagine, Judge Daniel called the case a political stunt. I disagree with the judge. I’d say it’s more like well-meaning, quixotic political desperation, meant to do nothing less than save the country from itself.
But not only couldn’t it work — Republicans are saying that they have been able to locate only one faithless elector among the 306 GOP electors — our question for the day is: Would we want it to work?
The problem is the Electoral College itself. It’s an anachronism. It’s from a time when Hamilton was not a musical, but an actual guy who, among others, worried about one-man, one-vote (certainly not one-woman, one-vote or one-black-person, one-vote) tyranny and decided that electors should elect the president because we shouldn’t trust ordinary folk with that responsibility. It’s an anachronism that has been protected because it gives small states outsize power which they’re loath to give up, even as, traditionally, we’ve given up on the idea that electors voting is anything more than a popular tradition, sort of like the seventh-inning stretch or the British monarchy.
And yet. And yet. There is an Electoral College. It’s in the Constitution. And there is no reason to have electors if they don’t actually, well, elect. And there are actual constitutional scholars who agree that so-called “faithless” electors could actually be “faithful”in their determination to stop Trump.
And now we have Donald Trump, a dangerous demagogue who has somehow gotten himself elected president by playing on voters’ worst fears and despite losing the popular vote by an incredible 2.5 million-plus people, which is a lot of will of the people to ignore. You have a long list of conservative intellectuals who say Trump is unfit to be the president. And we have, in another Hamilton-era fear, likely meddling by a foreign power, in this case Russia, which the CIA is accusing of trying to tilt the election to Trump. Trump calls the idea “ridiculous” and meanwhile sticks his thumb, and a bunch of other fingers, in the eyes of the intelligence agencies and Vladimir-Putin-loathing Republican senators by nominating ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state — yes, the same Tillerson described by the Wall Street Journal as among American citizens closest to Putin.
No wonder some are calling Trump the Siberian Candidate, although a friend, given the Russian hacking, thinks Cyberian Candidate is more fitting. Here’s how John McCain’s former chief of staff, Mark Salter, put it: “Tillerson would sell out NATO for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad. Should be a rough confirmation hearing, and a no vote on the Senate floor.”
Feeling nervous? Remembering the nuclear codes? Cats and dogs living together? Should I go on? The conflicts of interest? The emolument clause (whatever that is)? The fact that today Trump called off the Thursday news conference in which he was supposed to explain how he was going to separate himself from his business? He’s stalling, in much the same way he has stalled on disclosing his tax returns, in much the same way he hasn’t told us where exactly his business interests lie, in much the same way we don’t know how much money he owes, or to whom.
If ever there was a time for faithless electors to step in, this would be it. All you’d have to believe is that Americans could — or should — stand the shock of 538 unknown electors blocking Trump and picking our next president for us. Oh, and to feel confident that the president-elect after that, maybe one you voted for, wouldn’t be blocked by the next set of 538 Hamiltonians.
The problem is, we already have an undemocratic system that suddenly keeps yielding presidents who don’t win the popular vote. How can the answer be less democracy still?
Photo credit: Eli Christman, Creative Commons, Flickr