The United States isn’t a “democracy.” Though every American should have learned this fact in high school civics class, the smart-set still like to ridicule people who point it out–such a cliché, and all.
Today, we see why the Left worked to convince Americans that majoritarianism was a profound moral good. And it’s not just that America is going through another silly debate about the suddenly inconvenient Electoral College; it’s that Democrats are increasingly comfortable attacking foundational ideas of American governance.
Most of the founders believed that a diffused democracy weakened the ability of politicians to scaremonger and rely on emotional appeals to take power. Most of them believed that proportional voting blunted the vagaries of the electorate and helped ensure national stability. Contemporary Democrats agree, which is why they want to scrap the system. So much for protecting norms.
Now that they believe they have the numbers, Democrats prefer a system where politicians who promise the most free stuff to the largest number of people win. Since they can’t admit it, we have to wrestle with preposterous arguments in favor of overturning the Electoral College. The most absurd is the notion that in a direct democracy every vote “counts.”
“My view is that every vote matters and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the electoral college—and every vote counts,” Elizabeth Warren said this week. It looks like most Democratic Party hopefuls are following her lead.
Fact: We always “count” every vote, but “every vote” never counts.
It might come as a surprise to many Americans that their losing ballots don’t count in elections, which is why we disperse power in this country: to protect political and geographical minorities. As anyone who’s looked at a history of electoral maps can see, the most closely fought-over states are always changing because the issues Americans care about are always changing. Today, much of the divide is between urban, rural, and suburban areas, making the Electoral College even more vital.
“This is such a daft idea on its face,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wrote, reacting to Lindsey Graham’s contention that eliminating the Electoral College is meant to snuff out the political voice of rural Americans. “Every American already lives in a state that has both cities and rural areas. During statewide races, politicians campaign all over!”
It’s correct that politicians in statewide races tend to campaign everywhere. It is also true that, in the end, it is urban areas that predominately elect Democrats, not rural ones. In direct national elections—with vast spaces to cover and limited time to campaign—politicians would be incentivized to rack up as many votes as they could in accessible urban areas with huge media markets. The Electoral College, imperfect as it is, forces candidates to moderate their views, create coalitions, and appeal to voters is disparate areas.
For example, it’s the kind of system that might induce a Democratic Party candidate for the presidency to consider the voters of Wisconsin from their Brooklyn campaign headquarters.
Some people like to point out that the Electoral College couldn’t really be important since we’ve only had four elections where it was in conflict with the “popular vote.” The Electoral College isn’t about outcomes, it’s about process. Most successful candidates have messages that don’t merely appeal to big states. If they did, they would lose.
On this note, though, it needs to be said that trying to delegitimize Donald Trump’s 2016 victory by pointing to Hillary Clinton’s “popular vote” victory is one of the most dishonest political arguments going. Not merely because the “popular vote” is mythical and irrelevant, or that he won the presidency in the same exact way every other president did, but rather because Trump ran a campaign focused on the Electoral College. If Republican presidential candidates concentrated their efforts on the huge untapped reserve of GOP voters in big states, the “popular vote” in 2016 may have looked very different. The problem is that we’d have two candidates vying for voters in new York and California.
We don’t know how many voters in deep blue states—which tend to be bigger—don’t bother casting ballots in statewide or national elections. Some people might believe that’s a problematic trend. Perhaps it is. Those voters are free to move. But forcing candidates to calibrate and moderate their message to appeal to the widest number of areas and states helps diminish partisanship and concentration of power.
“The idea that amending the Constitution—or simply proposing amendments—is somehow radical is a recent phenomenon and a silly one,” Ryan Lizza of Esquire recently argued. “The 2016 Republican platform called for five constitutional amendments (abortion, same-sex marriage, term limits, balanced-budget, education).”
What’s truly silly is treating every proposed constitutional amendment as if they were equally consequential. No, there’s nothing particularly radical about partisans proposing amendments that reflect their positions (a balanced budget amendment or an equal rights amendment). None of the ones the GOP has proposed fundamentally challenge one of the core ideas of our governing process. The idea of proportional voting and states’ rights and decentralized power are not the same as an amendment dealing with bookkeeping.
Then again, it was unsurprising to see media outlets quickly take up the Democrats’ cause. “The Electoral College has been debated since the days of James Madison, who called it ‘evil,’” CNN’s John Avalon falsely claimed. Madison was referring to elections that would be thrown to the House of Representatives, which awards two votes to states of every size. As others have pointed out, “evil” in Madison’s connotation, meant harm, not nefariousness. Of all the founders, in fact, Madison, who wanted to create more voters in the Electoral College, made the most impassioned arguments against direct democracy in Federalist #10.
To be fair, it’s going to take a ton of historical revisionism and fairy tales to make constitutional sense of the Democrats’ position.
Though, one of the most (inadvertently) instructive arguments against the Electoral College has been made by people pointing to polls that prove its unpopularity. Did you know that the majority of Americans prefer majoritarianism? Yes, we do. That’s one of the reasons why the Electoral College exists. Direct democracy disenfranchises a sizable minority of Americans.
Now, it’s unlikely Democrats will be successful in their efforts to change the Constitution. The problem is that their core notions about governance are increasingly conflicting with the Constitution in a number of vital ways. This is merely one example of many.