There is only one defensible justification for the electoral college’s existence–especially after its throwing the result to the candidate with 2.8 million fewer votes–and that is as a sanity check against the inauguration of a demagogue, someone who fails to meet some basic standard of honesty, stability and loyalty. If on Monday the College proceeds to confirm Trump, it will have most egregiously failed in this singular duty, showing that the rot in the American political system has truly passed any point of self-correction.
Already there are the augurs of negligence, mendacity and corruption of a blatantness if not scale unseen in modern presidential history:
Abroad, the saber rattling over Taiwan has begun, with suggestions of military escalation across the Strait. China has promptly repurposed its “trainer” aircraft carrier group for maneuvers in the Bohai Sea, and also has begun live-fire exercises near Taiwan.
Domestically, the fire-sale giveaway and demolition of agencies entrusted with the care of public commons and individual protections has begun, as seen abundantly in the form of a series of cabinet nominees more anti-labor, anti-environment, and anti-civil liberties than even anything seen in the latter Bush administration. The “millionaires’ cabinet” of the Bush era now seems almost quaint, with the new incoming “billionaires’ cabinet” poised to oversee a degree of naked class warfare by the 0.1% upon the general population that will demolish all lingering illusion of America as a “classless” society.
Already too we have, from campaign behaviors extolling violence and depraved revenge, and from remarks since the election, ample evidence of an unbalanced mind that delights in carnage and darkness, from Trump himself and his surrogates, such as Steve “Dark Side” Bannon and Gen. Mattis.
Already we have massive conflicts of interest which appear to clearly violate the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause–all of which seems to cause the president-elect no concern whatsoever. Having proven the power of pressing forward without apology or self-restraint against an elite whose only weapon turned out to be tut-tutting, there is no reason the President-Elect or any of his surrogates will be anything but further emboldened once they have taken office.
Then there is the mounting alarm from the CIA and FBI over, shall we say, an untoward Russian influence in Trump’s candidacy.
On this last, it’s hard to sort out what to believe. I for one have no problem with relatively friendly relations with Russia, and I even believe that the leaks which earlier showed the severe corruption and favoritism of the DNC and Clinton campaign did a useful service. The problem was that given the terminally sclerotic state of our democracy, there was little reasonable alternative to vote for: with Clinton and the DNC revealed as richly disreputable, and Trump already obviously so, the only option was to support relatively lackluster (and media-invisible) third-party candidates.
In short, damning revelations about a candidate are of little use to an electorate when the game is already fouled, when there is no exit, when all the other offered candidates are just as damnable–unless the people realize together the need for new movements and new parties. That has yet to happen.
At any rate, the Russian factor falls far short of a smoking gun for vote fraud at the moment–and Jill Stein’s wannabe-heroic recount effort in Wisconsin merely netted the GOP nominee a few hundred further votes. Putin’s blatant vested interest in Trump’s victory, and Trump’s own campaign exhortations for Russia to hack more DNC emails certainly look terrible, and more so now that the intelligence agencies have lent weight to the matter–but for all the coverage of the matter there still seems to be no direct evidence presented that Russian involvement included vote-tampering or changed any outcome. Though it has grown perhaps more credible and mainstream, this “blame Russia” reaction, especially on the Left, still has a tone of moral panic and silencing-the-messenger: blame not HRC’s corruption or the ineptitude of her campaign, nor the abysmal condition of American civic and political culture, but the Russians for perhaps helping to expose these things.
On the other hand, even granting the obvious fact that harmonious relations between the US and Russia are a perfectly worthy goal–they particularly could help head off an incipient Sino-Russian alliance that could dominate half the planet–it is equally foolish to ignore the geo-strategic facts of the matter. Russia, while brittle in its own ways, is a massive, nuclear-armed nation that spans the Eurasian continent, and a traditional threat to America’s closest military allies and cultural kin, the nations of Western and Central Europe. Good relations are one thing, but is unwise to be too gullible towards such a country, especially when it is run by a puppet-master of Vladimir Putin’s league. Our President-Elect shows little or no awareness of these factors.
If indeed Trump’s aspiration is not just to have NATO nations pay their fair share for military defence, but to undermine the alliances of the West, then it is hard to think of a greater and more fatuous gift one could give Russia—and no doubt it’s the very reason Putin much preferred Trump.
Yet for all we might regret this, we come back to the no-exit reality of American politics: there is little reason to believe that a Clinton presidency would have offered a much better picture, other than an irrational sort of tribal comfort for coastal liberals in having “their kind of person” in the White House. (For as ever politics-as-tribal-apologetics continues to outweigh politics as careful weighing of deeds and positions.)
Instead, it is likely President-Elect Hillary Rodham Clinton would now be on a depressingly similar course to Trump with regard to the nomination of financial (Goldman) elites and militarists, with the only difference being a calmer style and somewhat more lip-service being paid to the favored issues of her captive progressive constituents, and disastrous tough-talk against Russia taking the place of disastrous tough-talk against China and the EU.
Returning to the duty of the Electoral College: it is incumbent upon it to clean up the horrid mess it has (partly) created. The reality is that it is basically impossible for Clinton to win, given the partisan make-up of the electors. However, if the reports of there being a significant number of Republican “faithless” electors willing to vote against Trump are more than simply the liberal equivalent of belief in unicorns, there may be just a chance of installing an alternative Republican candidate to serve as president—a corporatist and militarist, undoubtedly, as such is all that is currently allowed anywhere near the corridors of US power–but someone at least without the myriad ethical, rational, and temperamental hazards of the current President-Elect.
The selection of a compromise Republican would, perhaps, be the most tolerable still-plausible option, in that at least it would keep the recklessly corrupt and unstable Trump from office. Loathsome and extreme as the Republican itself has become for the most part–this would be a new nadir in “lesser-evilism”–such an outcome might allow the Republic its best shot of staving off spiritual oblivion while heading off armed mischief from aggrieved open-carriers in the firearm-saturated districts of America’s blood-red white ‘n blue rural heartland.
Time is short. But even if there is a miracle of electoral lesser-evilism in the cards, the mirror beckons us like a court summons. For altogether, the awful predicament we now face goes right back to us. We as citizens have failed, lulled into the drudgery of consumption, the illusion of a future where higher hopes are bribed off with riches that do not exist. We have become voyeurs, embracing entertainment and superficiality, escaping into worlds of fantastic and casual violence to vent the disaffection and misanthropy that has quietly festered under the label of “humanism”.
The Electoral College is called now to assuage the very disease it embodies. That too would be only a superficial fix, but it would at least buy time to address things more deeply under an administration of relative sanity. Lacking that, the politics of radicalism, of reform by revenge, riot and revolution, will steadily move in for its ordained showdown with emergent neo-feudalism.