By Dr Tom H. Hastings
Conventional wisdom tells schoolchildren that the United States was the first modern democracy, modeled to some extent on the Greek experience of a few thousand years ago.
Of course, this is useful for children in broad strokes. Democracy means choice, freedom and a lot of rights, doesn’t it?
There are some very important issues with democracy right now, in the United States and around the world. They are the relationship between freedom and license and the relationship between rights and obligations.
In the best democracies, everyone is free to seek happiness, but no one has the right to do so at the unfair expense of another.
In the best democracies, everyone has the right to help choose representatives to make decisions about public policy and governance, but that means every act of government is done on behalf of the people. The people choose and the choices of the people therefore belong to them.
In a dictatorship, the actions of the leader belong only to the leader. He was not elected, so his subjects are not responsible for his decisions.
What makes it a problem here in the United States is that we, the citizens, are too often woefully under-informed or misinformed about what is being done on our behalf.
Since we allow the Electoral College to continue because we vote for leadership that allows it to remain the law of the land, sometimes we don’t even get the leadership that the majority of us voted for. And a person, a voice? How does it work when George W. Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000 by a narrow margin in the (actual) popular vote, but won in the Electoral College?
Failure to correct this undemocratic component meant that Trump, losing the actual vote of nearly three million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016, still won the inexplicable Electoral College. Trump even called it a “massive overwhelming victory,” a contortion of language so extreme that most of us simply attributed it to his usual bluster without a hitch of fact or truth.
And, as we learn by taking a minute to verify it, in an article at the time of Gregory Krieg on the history of the American presidential candidates who won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and therefore the elections: Clinton’s 2.1% margin ranks third among the losing candidates, according to statistics from US Elections Atlas. Andrew Jackson won over 10% in 1824, but was refused the presidency, which went to John Quincy Adams. In 1876, Samuel Tilden received 3% more of the vote than Rutherford B. Hayes, who ultimately triumphed by an electoral vote.
Attempts to fix this problem have been made from time to time, but never garnered enough votes to put in place a successful solution to this fundamental flaw.
Most recently, Tennessee 9th District Democratic Representative Stephen Cohen introduced a resolution proposing a U.S. constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.
The process is not easy. It takes a real exercise in democracy to get there, and many say that we must not touch the intentions of the Founding Fathers.
Uh… sorry, but we have already edited the famous document 27 times. The Founders agreed with slavery and no franchise for women. They were just guys, advanced for their time, but times are changing.
Please can we continue with the changes and resolve this issue?
Dr Tom H. Hastings is the Co-ordinator of BA / BS Conflict Resolution Programs and Certificates at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of PeaceVoice and, on occasion, Expert Witness for Civilian Resistance Defense in court.