Those who supported Hillary Clinton, or voted against Donald Trump, are questioning the validity behind the Electoral College. Their reasoning? Basically, because their candidate won the popular vote but lost the election due to the existence of the Electoral College.
Those that support this view do not understand the basics of our civic system in the United States. First, and foremost, we are not a democracy, but a republic. The Founding Fathers of this nation were students of history and, as such, great admirers of the Classical world. They were steeped in not only the history of the country they were leaving behind, but also in the history of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome which provide the bedrock for our Western culture.
There is no clearer understanding of this than the hesitancy of the Greek world in embracing democracy, an Athenian invention. Democracy comes from two Greek words, demos (the people) and krateo (to rule). The concept was basically to allow the citizens of Athens equal access to the political power of their polis, Athens. This seems like a good idea to us today, but to the ancients, this was a dubious proposition. For starters, education is a critical component in the composition of a society that decides to run itself. The divide in education, perhaps in antiquity, was greater than it was today – or so we would like to think in our arrogant modern setting. In fact, one could make the argument that the educational divide is greater today than it ever has been due to socio-economic factors as well as cultural factors in which certain portions of our society don’t value education the way other portions do.
Socrates was a big proponent of this line of questioning. The protagonist in Plato’s Republic (Book 6), Socrates introduced a line of questioning asking members of the elite Athenian society to elucidate their reasoning for supporting democracy. The criticism, for Socrates, fell on the overall qualifications of the electorate – did they have the intellectual, moral, and academic chops to really decide who was best qualified to lead?
The School of Life put out an excellent video illustrating this point:
In the end, ironically, it was a panel of his peers that put Socrates to death via the cup of hemlock he was forced to drink. The charge? For corrupting the youth of Athens.
The point about distrusting democracy becomes even more valid and we see that in this election in particular. What are the reasons for which a vote was cast for Clinton? For Trump? Judging by the reactions of the Clinton supporters, the irrational fears about Trump’s potential as the executive of the land were the overriding factor. There were not rational decisions being made for Clinton and dismissals of Trump based on perceived shortcomings. Most of the criticism leveled against Trump are hyperbolic and inflammatory circling around identity politics and attempts to attribute motive – all standards of the fascist left.
With the media demonstrating itself to be nothing short of a cheerleading force in support of the Democratic nominee, those who only tune in for their news without any outside sources are not straying beyond their own echo chambers and are shaping themselves into “low information” voters. If education is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, then Socrates’ criticism holds true. We are a sick society due to the contagion found within our education system; people don’t even understand the basics of how our government works let alone what its mission is. Are we, as a country, ill-qualified to choose our own leaders?
This was a grave concern of the Founders. They mulled over whether or not they, in their time, were morally ready enough to become a self-sustaining government and move on without a king. The ability for self-restraint and control requires this moral grounding. This is why a story like Cincinnatus and his plow was so recognizable to the revolutionaries who founded our country. Today, very few would even be able to retell the story, let alone understand its relevance. Not so for George Washington, who was regarded as the incarnation of Cincinnatus to the early United States founding generation.
Which brings us to the Electoral College. This is truly a firewall against demagoguery. It is a fail safe to protect the republic and prevent a tyrant from taking over. The Electoral College’s role is to be precisely what Socrates was critical of – a qualified voting group that would finalize an informed decision to select our nation’s executive. The average voter has a wide range of motivations for their candidate – as we can see from the protests and recount scams. What the “low information” voter is not entirely aware of is that they are not voting for the president, but instead are voting for the electors chosen by their party.
And Socrates’ criticism is realized and a solution is found. We have a republic, not a democracy, that serves to protect our natural rights – rights which are guaranteed at birth. The Electoral College plays a fundamental role in this process. Anyone who doesn’t support this system of governance is either poorly educated or in support of tyranny, a system that was designed by the Founding Fathers to prevent.
Oh, and one last point. The cast of Hamilton criticized VP-elect Mike Pence while he attended their performance on broadway. They cast a finger at him and demanded that he represent them as well as his supporters in his administration. The irony is that it was Alexander Hamilton, as the author of Federalist Paper #68, outlined the reasoning for the Electoral College as well as the process by which it would function. Review for yourself here.