The People Chose Hillary Clinton. Now We Need To Stop Donald Trump From Trashing Our Democracy
Michael Tomasky reports at The Daily Beast:
Let’s review: We have a president-elect who:
1. Will end up having received around 2.5 million fewer votes than his main opponent.
2. Whose campaign benefited, almost no one now disputes, from the help provided him by Russian intelligence agencies and other even more shadowy Russian actors—which is to say that foreign agents, whether Russian or any nationality, sought to influence this election to an unprecedented degree.
3. Who is so tied up in compromises and conflicts because of his business dealings that past White House ethics lawyers, including at least one Republican one, say he will be in violation of the Constitution from his first day in office and argue that the Electoral College must not seat him.
4. Has already told the American people that, with respect to number 3, his attitude is precisely that of Richard Nixon, back when Nixon declared the president to be by the very nature of the office above the law. Trump said that the president “can’t have a conflict of interest”—meaning, presumably, that it can’t happen simply because he’s the president.
Want to imagine any one of the above four statements applying to any Democrat, but especially to Hillary Clinton? Think about what we’d be hearing right now from Republicans if Clinton had won a substantial Electoral College victory but lost the popular vote by five more than Al Gore’s margin in 2000. Five hundred thousand was close, but 2.5 million isn’t, out of 137 million. It’s almost 2 percent. That’s a narrow win, yes, but a clear one—well above the threshold, for example, that triggers an automatic recount in the 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) that set such thresholds, which is most typically .5 percent or even .1 percent, but never more than 1 percent.
At the very least, we’d be hearing the right-wing radio people, some Fox hosts, and a fairly large number of prominent Republican senators and House members carrying on about the illegitimacy of Clinton’s victory. Recall back in 1992 when on election night itself, GOP Senate leader Bob Dole said Bill Clinton had no mandate because he didn’t win a majority of the vote. Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the vote, which was nearly 6 percent more than George H.W. Bush, and a whopping 370 electoral votes. But to Dole—and through him, to all Republicans, really, since he was the country’s top-ranking Republican at the time, and others echoed him—Clinton had no mandate.
So if Clinton had no mandate, does Trump?
If the situation were reversed, the cable shows would be filled with Republicans insisting that while Clinton may have attained victory under the rules, it was clear that the people opposed her policies, so it was therefore their solemn, nay even their Constitutional, duty block everything she proposed. And that’s at the least. At the most, conservative legal scholars would be trotting out arguments that electors were under no obligation to support her, along with more baroque theories about how her victory had happened in a way that the Founders never intended.
Instead it was Trump who won in a dubious way—although I cannot, alas, say that it wasn’t in a way the Founders intended. They did, of course, intend for the people not to be able to choose the president directly. And why? Well, it’s commonly said that it was because they didn’t trust the people, which they didn’t. But as with so much of this nation’s founding, it was also about race.
As Yale scholar Akhil Reed Amar wrote before the election in Time, the Electoral College was a compromise over slavery. In a system of direct election, votes in the North would vastly outnumber votes in the South, because the North had more propertied white males and the South had more slaves, who of course couldn’t vote. But the Electoral College in effect gave slaves three-fifths of a vote. Consequently, writes Amar, Pennsylvania had 10 percent more white males right after 1800 but 20 percent fewer Electoral College votes. As David Frum tweeted the other day, “‘The people’ wanted Hillary. The compromises of 1787 got us Trump.” The thread tying 1787 and Trump together? Four letters, starts with “r,” rhymes with disgrace.
All that is just with respect to point 1 above, which is the least problematic of the four points. Let’s move on to number 2. . .