Update June 2017: This post was written at a time when the Electoral College should have exercised a duty that they did not. Although the evidence was available at the time, it becomes clearer with every day that The experts were right: Trump isn’t fit to be president. Meanwhile an anthropologist who once seemed to be lauding Trump has put out a long screed Donald Trump, Empire, and Globalization: A Reassessment. I stand by my contention that the evidence was already available in December 2016. The Electoral College should have fulfilled its constitutional duty and block Trump’s presidency. The latest tweets of 29 June 2017 only confirm the obvious: “What is to be done? We’d applaud if Republican leaders rebuked him in some formal way. But don’t hold your breath. Opponents of the president and defenders of democratic norms and simple decency should fortify themselves and redouble their efforts. They’ve been reminded who is in the Oval Office and the damage he does to our society on a daily basis.
For most of its modern existence, the US Electoral College has been a mere formality, a procedural endorsement of each state’s popular vote winner. However, the original intent of the Founding Fathers was for the Electoral College to have a deliberative function. This deliberation should matter to the vote. If the votes were simply automatically pledged, then we should just do the math and skip the formalities.
The Federalist Papers are quite clear on the matter. In Federalist No. 68, The Mode of Electing the President, Alexander Hamilton specifies the purpose of the Electoral College:
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.
Electoral College: Consider Requisite Qualifications, Ability, and Virtue
Donald Trump eked out a slim Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton. Since that time, Trump has repeatedly exhibited that he does not have the requisite qualifications to hold the office of President. He has rather shown that he excels at “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” For evidence, just look at his Twitter feed, where he has suggested upending the Constitution; engaged in potentially abusive behavior attacking private citizens; spread misinformation about voting rights. That’s just for starters. He has proved he is not someone “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”
Electoral College: True Test of Good Administration
In addition to the obvious lack of requisite qualifications, Hamilton attests that the Electoral College should be able to “estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration.” In his post-election picks for Cabinet positions, Donald Trump has shown that he is failing this “true test of a good government.” Charles Blow’s Patriotic Opposition to Donald Trump takes the tally of controversial appointments: “Furthermore, he is stacking these jobs with people who have given him cash.”
Both Charles Blow and Paul Krugman’s The Tainted Election read as if the election is a done deal. But the real election takes place when the Electoral College meets. Before then, Donald Trump was not the president-elect. The Electoral College had a constitutional duty to block Trump from becoming the president elect.
Post-Electoral College Updates
Although I believe this Electoral College effort was worth the attempt, see Anthropology’s Unfinished Revolution for thoughts from academic anthropology.