“In 2016, nearly three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump – but Trump took the presidency. That’s not exactly the sign of a healthy democracy. Democracy hangs on the idea that whoever gets the most votes wins.”
—-Senator Elizabeth Warren, dumbing down democracy to a partisan audience at the Center for American Progress ‘Ideas Conference’
No U.S. election proved the foresight of the Founders and their Electoral College innovation more clearly than the 2016 edition. A single state, California, culturally estranged from the majority of the nation in dramatic, perplexing, even bizarre ways, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton by more than 4 million votes. This single, virtually one-party state, under a pure popular vote system, would have overcome the will of the rest of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, which narrowly favored Republican Donald Trump by more than a million votes. This was exactly the kind of scenario the Electoral College was devised to avoid—indeed, devised in order to have a country at all. The smaller states, then as now culturally distinct from the more populous states and fearing a permanent fate of being dictated to by their larger cousins, insisted on such devices as the U.S. Senate, where all states had equal power, and the Electoral College, which prevented an,overwhelming mob of single-minded voters in one region dominating the choice of a national leader in perpetuity.
There are other benefits of the device as well. The Electoral College tends to handicap single issue candidates and radical ones. It requires that contenders for national leadership appeal to all regions, or at least not to just a powerful few. Narrow issue, increasingly extreme parties as Warren’s Democrats have become are definitely penalized by the Founders’ system, which is why contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination are already taking aim at it. What the Electoral College should be doing is to force Democrats to become more inclusive, less divisive, and rational. Instead, they are already working to de-legitimatize the results of the next election, should it not go their way.
That is not to say that there are not good arguments for eliminating the Electoral College. There are, just as there are strong arguments for keeping it in place. What makes Warren’s statement unethical is that she knows this. She is a scholar and a Harvard professor: she knows the history of the system; she knows the reasons for its existence. Scholars have debated the Electoral College for decades. (You can read some of the scholarship here.) Never mind: though Warren knows better, she still chooses to reduce the debate to the infantile “Democracy hangs on the idea that whoever gets the most votes wins” as if she is unaware that democracy in voting for a class president and democracy applied to choosing a leader of a diverse, populous, sprawling nation that includes different issues, concerns and attitudes in varying concentrations in self-governing states, cities and communities are two very different things. Then she falsely uses her credentials as an academic to pretend that this goo-goo gah-gah analysis that is literally mouthed by fifth graders is objective and sophisticated expertise.
Her statement also conveniently and intentionally omits the California factor, just as it ignores the fact that the 2016 county map looked like this:
One could say with justification that an electoral system that awards power to the Presidential candidate voted for in the blue counties is also “unhealthy”–unstable and dangerous, even. Attacks on the Electoral College like Warren’s should be recognized for what they are: self-serving distortions that are really an admission that the speaker wants her party to be able to openly ignore, indeed oppose, the needs, sensibilities and values of the citizens of “flyover country” and gain power over them anyway.
We also know that had Hillary Clinton won the election while losing the popular vote, Warren and other Democrats would be praising the system, just as the principle underlying Clinton’s insistence that Trump accept the legitimacy of his inevitable defeat once it befell him was instantly inoperative when the Democrats lost.
(It is puzzling, though, that Warren is so eager to ignore the very same region where her people—you know, the Native Americans, especially the great Cherokee—once reigned.)
Pointer: Other Bill