Update June 2020: In December 2016, this post argued that blocking Trump via the Electoral College should have been seen as a constitutional duty. Every day since then has validated that Trump is a threat. For an update see Impeachment & Anthropology.
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, 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.
Blocking Trump Updates
- June 2018: In December 2016, this post argued that blocking Trump via the Electoral College should have been seen as a constitutional duty. While many people were willing to “give Trump a chance” and to assume that US democratic institutions would hold, it has become more and more apparent that Trump has no regard for US democratic institutions. As Michelle Goldberg puts it in We Have a Crisis of Democracy, Not Manners: “There’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants.”
- April 2018: For more on the possible consequences of not blocking Trump–a rapid decline in US hegemony–see the series on When will the United States collapse?
- March 2018: This post was written when the Electoral College should have exercised a constitutional duty that they did not. Although the evidence was readily available at the time that blocking Trump was their constitutional duty at the time, it becomes clearer with every day that “this is no way to govern a democracy.”
- This post was a political effort supported by anthropological evidence. For thoughts from academic anthropology see Anthropology’s Unfinished Revolution.
To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2016. “Blocking Trump as Constitutional Duty: Electoral College and Beyond.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/electoral-college/. First posted 12 December 2016. Revised 23 June 2019.