NEW YORK- “How’s everything with you post election?” our fearless leader, Anya Leonard, wrote to us on Wednesday morning.
We look out the window. Sun still shining.
We glance over our shoulder. Dog still napping on the couch.
We pick up a piece of paper, drop it, and watch it waft slowly to the floor. Laws of physics still behaving normally.
That’s a start…
All of our well-meaning liberal friends predicted utter chaos should Emperor Trump take the throne.
‘What sort of chaos?’ we wondered.
Would the Spartans tear down our city walls?
Would Rome burn anew while Donald tuned his fiddle?
Would the Visigoths storm the city, desecrate our monuments and make off with our women?
Since none of that has happened (yet) we’d like to think we’re getting off okay. You know…all things considered.
There may be celebration in “fly over America” where The Donald is heralded as an American hero, but the bicoastal citizens view him as tantamount to the devil.
Protests erupted across Manhattan following the election announcement. They congregated in Union Square and clogged up much of 5th avenue. We got caught up in the madness and had to find a different way home.
#NotMyPresident was trending as of Wednesday morning. We stop for a minute and wonder how it is that our forefathers every expressed their outrage without the advent of hash tags. How quickly would Caesar been assassinated if #NotMyEmperor had been trending in ancient Rome? How did the American founders possibly revolt without 140 characters and #NoTaxationWithoutRepresentation @BostonHarbor #TeaParty?
I guess we’ll never know…
But dear reader, you don’t pay us to cheer for the winners or howl alongside the losers. In fact, you don’t pay us at all! Which makes our observations on this matter worth at least what you pay for them.
That being said, we always viewed The Donald with guilty fascination; the way you might view a kid burning ants with a magnifying glass or a flaming garbage truck barreling through a retirement home.
He’s a scoundrel; it’s true. We even wondered, despite backlash from readers, if he might just be a tyrant. The man lacks the eloquence of Pericles or the philosophical mind of Marcus Aurelius, but he’s captured the hearts and minds of the everyman. He promises eternal glory to the empire. In that regard, perhaps Trump’s a Cesar-like leader: bold, brash, beloved. Will the Senators stab him to death?
Time will tell.
But back to the abovementioned anger.
The justification for the outrage, or so we glean, is that HRC seems to have won the popular vote. That is to say more of the unwashed voters pulled the Clinton lever. It was the Electoral College, not the popular vote, which delivered Trump his win.
“The man lacks the eloquence of Pericles or the philosophical mind of Marcus Aurelius, but he’s captured the hearts and minds of the everyman. He promises eternal glory to the empire.”
N.B. Our international readers, as well as any American readers who skipped American Gov 101, might want to brush up on the Electoral College. Try here.
“The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness,” reads a very real petition
to abolish the whole shebang, “It is part of the constitution, written when communication was by pony express.”
Has the Electoral College outlived its usefulness?
A lot of our millennial friends seem sure that the answer is ‘yes’.
At Classical Wisdom, we’re never sure or unsure about anything, but always questioning. Like Socrates, we’ve only ever claimed to know nothing, and not once have we failed to live up to that standard.
But since we’re here, let’s get into it.
Tyranny Arises out of Democracy
If you want to see the consequences of a direct democracy, look no further than classical Athens.
Athens is heralded as the cradle of democracy. The caveat being that said democracy was very much a work in progress. While democracy was popular with the demos (the people) it was far from perfect. Just for starters- Socrates was executed as a result of a democratic vote. So were numerous generals and treasurers during the Peloponnesian War.
The people of Athens continuously voted for more and more military campaigns against neighboring states following the end of the Greco-Persian Wars in the early 5th century BC.
And why not?
Money was pouring in from plundered states, the citizens had regular work as oarsmen on the military Triremes (warships), and the Generals were being heralded with untold amounts of glory (political capital).
Never mind that such events led to the Peloponnesian War between the Athenian Empire and the Spartan coalition of the Peloponnese. The war would ultimately conclude with the destruction of the Athenian city wall and a brief suspension of democracy itself.
The philosopher Plato so despised democracy that he would later make the bold claim that democracy could lead only to tyranny.
Or, from the man himself…
||And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.
–The Republic, Book VIII
The American framers opted to avoid such an outcome by attempting to create, at least on paper, a democratic republic that would restrain both the conniving tendencies of politics and the winner-take-all demands of, as Madison put it in Federalist 10, “an interested and overbearing majority.”
The American founders took a page from the Roman historian, Polybius and crafted a government of “mixed regime.” Much in the way that the Roman Republic attempted to balance power between the Consuls, Senators and the people, so too did the American framers hope to stabilize the country through the checks and balances of federal branches.
And as for the “over bearing majority”, the Electoral College was created to keep them in check and avoid the mob rule of a direct election.
The obvious kicker being, and some of you might already know this, the original Electoral College system is not used today.
Originally, the Constitution allowed citizens do elect “electors” who could then deliberate and discern the wisest candidate and vote in turn on the citizens behalf.
From Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution…
||Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
These electors were supposed to be impartial, free agents who could discern the true qualifications needed for the office of Presidency and vote for a candidate who exemplified such qualities.
But in the early 1800s this plan was effectively scrapped. The electors became “voluntary party lackeys and intellectual nonentities.” The electors bowed down to the wishes of the party and the state, without the bother of impartial deliberation.
N.B. the above quote is from Chief Justice Robert Jackson, Ray v. Blair, dissent, 1952
This trend continued until the original Electoral College was replaced with the general ticket that we know today. It was not, and this is just between us chickens, the original intention of the classically-minded men who were very aware of the ebbs and flows of history; men who would have been educated in the classical ideas of the ancient world’s most prolific thinkers.
Even still, would reverting to this original system indeed give us the wise and just rulers that we so deserve? More likely it would be a replay of the massive outrage seen during the Democratic primaries when people figured out precisely what a Super Delegate actually was.
To paraphrase Churchill, democracy is the worst system of government… except for all the others.
Democracy is an experiment originating in the classical age. It was, at the start, a work in progress.
Maybe it still is.