I am nearing 80 years of age and am taking chemo for multiple myeloma, an aggressive and incurable blood cancer that attaches itself to my ribs and spine and sucks the calcium out so that a sneeze breaks two ribs. That keeps me close to home. After several months of treatment it is still not clear whether the chemo is slowing the cancer down, but it all leaves me with little energy and a lot of time to think. And I think a lot, and because I’m a writer I want to put what I think into words for others to read. Give them something to think about too, about local and national politics, about nature, community, history, and maybe even about facing the end of my time on this earth. I am grateful to John and Lori and the ADI for carrying my opinionated stories on local politics and Interstate 11, and hope this series will get readers thinking.
Politically I am not a Democrat or a Republican. I always vote, but did not vote for either Trump or Clinton in the last election. As the Leon Russell song goes, “The Right says I’m Left and the Left says I’m wrong.” I have been a high school dropout and blue collar worker, a labor union official, a student in my fifties, and a labor educator. I have published two books of history along with many articles, essays and poems, and chronicled life in Picture Rocks for a dozen years for the local newsletter and for Desert Times newspaper. My goal with Comments From the Chemo Couch is to inform myself and ADI readers about the often-complex issues which have so divided the nation. I am a trained researcher and will do diligent research to present facts and avoid name-calling. Hopefully we will all learn something we didn’t know and will talk to each other about it. Right or Left, we have more in common than we are often willing to admit, and dialogue is, perhaps, the only thing that can save democracy in America.
ABOLISH THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE?
Defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others are calling for abolition of the Constitutionally-mandated Electoral College in favor of direct election by popular vote. Clinton lost in the Electoral College with 227 votes to Donald Trump’s 303, but had nearly 3 million more votes by the people. On its face it looks like Hillary has a case, but wait! Voter turnout was about 55 percent, the second-lowest in our history. The highest turnout was in 2008 when 64 percent of the voters went to the polls. In 2016 over 90 million eligible voters did not submit a ballot. Who, if anyone, represents them? If they had voted, perhaps this argument would not be happening. Democracy – Use it Or Lose It!
There have been five other times that the popular vote and the Electoral College have gone in different directions: 1824, when John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson; 1876, when Rutherford P. Hayes beat Samuel Tilden; 1888, when Benjamin Harrison beat Grover Cleveland; and 2000, when George Bush beat Al Gore. While Gore and Tilden did not become presidents, the other losers did in other elections.
It has been argued that Gore gave up too soon, sacrificing a potentially-winnable challenge for the “good of the nation.” Clinton called for abolition of the Electoral College then, but she and her party did nothing over the next 16 years to attempt to move the nation in that direction.
Tilden, a rich attorney, cut a deal: The Democrats accepted Hayes’s election and in exchange, Hayes ended post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South, enshrining segregation and racism from the White House south, and west. Segregation was in Arizona’s 1912 Statehood Constitution until 1951.
WHY HAVE AN ELECTORAL COLLEGE?
So, some say, if this is, in fact, a democracy, how come a few hundred people we mostly never heard of get to choose the president – why do we even have an Electoral College? To answer that, we have to go back to our nation’s beginnings. An agricultural south and increasingly industrial north, slavery and indentured servitude, genocide against the Native Americans, white men of property the only people empowered to vote, poll taxes, slaves defined as 3/5 of a man, tensions between the then dis-united states and their spokesmen – creating the United States of America was complicated, filled with competing interests and wildly diverging points of view. Jefferson for the agricultural economy he knew and loved, complete with the slaves that did the work and warmed his bed; Hamilton for unfettered industrial capitalism and a servile working class, perhaps the first Robber Baron. Women in the kitchen.
Finding common ground required compromise, as it always has and always will, and the less populous states – especially the agricultural slave states – needed assurances that they would not be dictated to by the more-crowded industrial north if they were to unite. States Rights emerged as a sacred concept. Thus the Electoral College was a safeguard to protect one way of life against possible encroachment by another, a guard against “mob rule” by the “rabble,” to use the language of the times.
“DEMOCRACY IS GRUESOME”
Times do change, however, and Constitutions need to be updated along with everything else. That’s a reason for the separation of powers, with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government co-equal to provide checks and balances against any accumulation of raw power. It can be argued successfully that, since FDR, the Executive has been amassing more power than it is entitled to or that is healthy for the nation, but no entity likes to give up powers it has inherited or taken. The current Washington kerfuffles demonstrate that this fight is far from settled.
When did Congress give its constitutionally-mandated power to declare war away to the President? When did a President decide he (or she) could sign a bill into law but declare that he (or she) won’t enforce it or parts of it? When did “free speech zones” come into being restricting followers of the Constitution to assemble in places where no one would hear them? How can a president, elected to uphold the law, simply defund or de-staff agencies to ensure the law cannot be implemented?
If we are a nation of laws, we are all expected to follow the rules, starting at the top. For the losing side in an argument it is said that “democracy is gruesome, but it’s the best thing we’ve been able to come up with so far.” If we don’t like a rule, we can work to change it, but the Founders wisely made amending the Constitution a time-consuming and broad-based process, not easy, and requiring substantial consensus for change. That is as it should be when we are determining the futures of hundreds of millions of people.
This current call to abolish the Electoral College will fade, as it has each and every time. Some nations have mandatory voting, but Americans don’t like mandatory much. Perhaps the change that we should be looking at is shifting to a more parliamentary system. Both the Democrat and Republican Parties really contain two or three (or more) wildly contentious factions, left, right and center. More electoral choices for the people. Greens, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers a genuine part of the dialogue. More compromise needed to have a functioning government, something that’s been missing for too long now. More listening and less grandstanding.
That’s this week’s Comment From the Chemo Couch; please join the discussion with your comments, but, please, name-calling, no matter how clever we think we are being, doesn’t really promote dialogue.