The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.
November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.
I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.
As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.
This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.
It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.
To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.
In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic
In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.
A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.
The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.
When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.
I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.
Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.
Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?
Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?
We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.
If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.
See also : Jerrymlawson.medium.com