Today, the Electoral College officially nominated Trump to be president of the United States.
Now, there were any number of things they could’ve done. They could’ve gone back on their votes and become faithless electors, either voting for another Republican or punting it off to Paul Ryan, forcing him to bear responsibility for everything that comes after this. They could’ve split the ticket, and removed Three Pence None The Richer, replacing him with Tim Kaine. Or they could’ve cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton instead of, you know, a temper-tantrum prone tang-colored chimpanzee wearing a caterpillar on his head.
None of that was ever going to happen, though. And while liberals are now horrified to take part in a country run by a Simpsons joke gone sentient and malicious, we have to remember something: the Electoral College did do it’s job today. As a matter of fact, it functioned almost exactly as those mythical “founding fathers” intended for it to. And it’s because the Electoral College did it’s job that we’ve got to work to get rid of this artifact; for the betterment of all human civilization.
So, how can I say that the Electoral College did it’s job when it elected a rogue Oompa Loompa with a penchant for picking fights with foreign nations using Twitter? When he lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, making him the fifth president in history to become president because of the Electoral College?
One argument, the one most people are familiar with, is that the Electoral College was designed to put a clamp on the idea of democratic representation.
The Founding Fathers were terrified of too much democracy, according to this argument. They were land owning white men, after all, and they were at the top of the pyramid as far as they and everyone else was concerned. They knew that too much democracy could open the doors to poor people voting, and those poor people might vote to take things away from the wealthy and powerful. For instance, consider this quote by Madison from Federalist Paper #10:
Hence it is that such democracies [direct democracies] have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
In this sense, the Electoral College acted perfectly within the original imagined boundaries of the Founding Fathers. It’s goal was to the limit the popular vote so the country wasn’t behold to the will of the majority solely.
Of course, not everyone agrees with this explanation. Some argue that the Electoral College has its roots in something much more pernicious and evil: the original American sin, slavery.
Here’s a rule: if there’s something that doesn’t make sense and you want to know why we do it, nine times out of ten, it has its roots in slavery and preserving slavery as an institution. The Electoral College is no different.
For this, we return to James Madison, who was a slave owner and a founding father. The slave owner comes first, since that was framed everything in Madison’s mind and what should frame everything in ours. Madison was the original arbiter of the Three-Fifths Compromise, which made slaves count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation. This representation links it with the Electoral College, which is the connection constitutional historian Paul Finkelman uses to argue the Electoral College is a”constitutional vestige” of slavery.
It took blood to wash away slavery, but the stain remains in the fabric of this nation.
If you consider the Electoral College a tool to support the systematic oppression of non-white, non-landowners, non-rich people, then the Electoral College accomplished its goal today with flying colors as well, by supporting the white resentment that propped up what southerners called the “Peculiar Institution.”
Of course, there was another stated goal for the Electoral College, as well. They were supposed to represent well-educated, upstanding members of the community who were versed in politics and understood what was at stake when they made their decision. They were supposed to guard against demagogues, and vote with their morality instead of along party lines.
In that aspect — the only one that mattered, at the end of the day — they failed spectacularly.
So whether it did it’s job or it didn’t, one thing is very clear: the Electoral College needs to go. Otherwise, we’ll never know what true democracy is in this country, and will forever be beholden to the stain of slavery via vestigial connections with our sordid past.