In the good ole days when our democratic norms were intact, back when it was inconceivable that a reckless demagogue could ascend to the top and confirm the worst fears of our Founding Fathers, the quadrennial December gathering of Electoral College electors was a rote event devoid of news value.
But today is very special. After all, how often do electors get the chance to vet or reject a guy whose global conflicts of interest will violate the Constitution at the very moment he swears to protect and defend the Constitution? How often do electors get the chance to heed or defy a sage warning from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in Federalist Paper 22, “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption”?
And how often are electors confronted with a candidate whose meteoric ascent was greased by a major foreign adversary, in a cybercoup that has yet to be investigated by Congress? Do the electors wish to act in the national interest — by heeding Hamilton, who feared “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils” — or, by the close of business today, will they merely rubber-stamp the verdict of 46.1 percent of the voters?
Yeah, well. We all know the answer.
There isn’t a scintilla of evidence that a sufficient number of electors are prepared to slow the erosion of our republic and defy the drift toward Russia-abetted kleptocracy. The acronym GOP now stands for Grovel Over Putin, and that sentiment trumps Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote in a high court dissent 64 years ago that electors are “free agents, to exercise an independent and nonpartisan judgment as to the men best qualified for the Nation’s highest offices.” And that GOP sentiment trumps Hamilton, who said in Federalist Paper 68 that the electors shall ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
And so we continue to sleepwalk toward disaster. John McCain, whose ’08 campaign slogan was “Country First,” argued yesterday that Republicans still need to think that way:
“We need a select committee [to investigate what Vladimir Putin did for Trump]. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election. There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was cyberattacks. The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.”
But the electors will rubber-stamp Trump before we even begin to assess the damage.
Laurence Tribe, one of America’s top legal minds (and a member of the “elite,” if the definition of “elite” is having a brain in one’s head), succinctly explains the dangers of Trump’s global business conflicts, and the opportunities for foreign interests to gain leverage at our expense:
“Trump stands to benefit personally, in innumerable and largely hidden ways, from decisions made daily by foreign governments and their agents. History teaches that leaders with divided interests cannot be counted on to faithfully serve those who elected them. The framers understood this lesson. The emoluments clause (Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, prohibiting foreign monetary favors) was forged of their hard-won wisdom. No relic of a bygone era, it is a profound expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of sovereign self-government …
“The looming constitutional shadow cast by a Trump presidency poses a frightening risk to our national security and gravely disserves the people of the United States.”
But the electors will rubber-stamp Trump with barely a whimper about this unconstitutional breach. That’s how the process has evolved; 29 states even bind the electors with rubber-stamp laws. The nation is psychologically unfit for a last-ditch rebellion. Even the electors who harbor doubts about Trump feel dutiful; hence, this rave endorsement from Kentucky elector Jim Skaggs: “His personality worries me. He is not open-minded…I hope he is far better than I think he is.” Basically, we’re fated to grapple with the wreckage wrought by Trump only after it reaches critical mass.
And besides, a majority of Republicans already think that Trump won the popular vote. Yep, 52 percent said so in a new poll. I kid you not, 52 percent. That should embolden the electors.
According to reality, Trump actually lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million, but I fully acknowledge that facts as traditionally defined are no longer relevant in Trumplandia. Before the electors fall into line today, they should at least take a breath and ponder Hamilton’s lament that “passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason.”