Luckily for Trump, our election system is rigged

    Left: Portrait of James Madison

    Left: Portrait of James Madison

    When the turkey gets cut next week, Donald Trump should be thankful that this country — in defiance of western democratic practice — doesn’t award the presidency to the candidate who gets the most votes. Because if that were the case, Hillary Clinton would be the clear winner.

    At this writing, she’s on top by 962,000 votes — a bigger margin than Al Gore’s over George W. Bush; heck, it’s nearly seven times bigger than JFK’s margin over Richard Nixon — and she’s expected to distance Trump by well over one million votes.

    Yeah, yeah, I know, the antiquated Electoral College is the determinative factor, and I’m not trying to tag Trump as illegitimate. The Electoral College set the rules that all candidates played by. But there’s something fundamentally wrong with our election system when you install a popular vote loser in the White House for the second time in 16 years.

    And any Republican who thinks that “the American people” have given Trump “a mandate” should check the stats. Not only did Trump lose the popular vote, he’s still 100,000 votes shy of Mitt Romney’s losing total in 2012, and his percentage share of the vote — 47.1 — is a notch smaller than Mitt’s losing 47.2. (Some Trump defenders are also arguing that if we ignore Clinton’s outsize win in California, she’d be losing the national popular vote. Right, let’s make believe that our most populous state, a cross-section of America with its racially diverse big cities, sprawling suburbs, and rural small towns, should not count.)

    Yes, Trump won the Electoral College. I’m not trying to rationalize Clinton’s loss by scapegoating it. But the truth is, I’ve been writing about its idiocy for more than a decade. After the 2004 election, I wrote critically that a switch of just 59,388 votes in Ohio would’ve made John Kerry the president even though he lost the national tally to Bush by 3.5 million. It’s nuts to annoint the popular vote loser, regardless of party. It’s nuts to violate the Supreme Court principle that all votes are equal; under Electoral College diktat, the votes in a handful of “battleground” states have become far are more equal than others. And if you’re a Republican in a deep blue state, or a Democrat in a deep red state, your vote hardly counts at all.

    In the words of Texas-based presidential historian George Edwards, who has authored a seminal book on the Electoral College, “I think it is intolerable for democracy. I can’t think of any justification for it, and any justification that is offered doesn’t bear scrutiny.”

    Indeed, it’s nuts that we’re still shackled to an 18th-century backroom deal that was forged in part for the benefit of southern slaveholders. That is historical fact.

    It’s true, as Harvard Law School scholar Michael Klarman points out in a new book about the Founders, that they “rejected direct election of the president mostly because they distrusted the people.” Hence the creation of state “electors” who would presumably choose more wisely than the masses. But just as significantly: Because the largely rural southern slaveholding states feared domination by the more populous northern states, the Founders had to find a way to bring them on board.

    Led by James Madison — thanks a lot, pal — they did it by pumping up the slaveholders’ Electoral College representation. The number of electors equaled the number of senators and congressmen — starting with two senators per state, no matter how small the statewide population. Then, the size of each state’s House delegation was determined by the size of the population — and southern states were permitted to boost their population by tallying their non-voting slaves. The truly creative part was that, for counting purposes, each slave was judged to be 60 percent of a person.

    And now we have Trump, the popular vote loser and favored candidate of the white supremacists, elected to the highest office thanks to a powdered-wig rigging that was basically a sop to the white supremacists. And one of his chief White House strategists will be Steve Bannon, a notorious white supremacist. The most charitable adjective I can muster, to describe this state of affairs, is ironic.

    But here’s a stronger description: “The Electoral College is a disaster for democracy.” That comes straight from our new commander-in-chief. A 2012 tweet, courtesy of @realDonaldTrump.

    Does Trump think it’s wrong that some zealous followers are harassing immigrants, gays, and people of color? On “60 Minutes” last night, he kinda said yeah. After first insisting that he didn’t really know such things were even happening.

    Trump: “I am very surprised to hear that. I hate to hear that, I mean, I hate to hear that.”

    Lesley Stahl: “But you do hear it?”

    Trump: “I don’t hear it — I saw, I saw one or two instances …”

    Stahl: “On social media?”

    Trump: “But I think it’s a very small amount. Again, I think it’s—”

    Stahl: “Do you want to say anything to those people?”

    Trump: “I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, ‘cause I’m gonna bring this country together.”

    Stahl: “They’re harassing Latinos, Muslims—”

    Trump: “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it — if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.'”

    (My favorite line: “If it helps.”)

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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