Can you believe the injustice done to the Pittsburgh Steelers? They gained more yardage and secured ten more first downs than the Cowboys last Sunday, but, because of arcane NFL rules privileging putting the ball in the end zone, the league awarded the victory to Dallas.
Millions of Americans make this protest, if not in the specific case then at least generally, after Donald Trump’s triumph in the Electoral College despite getting narrowly trumped in the popular vote.
A third of Hillary Clinton voters dismiss Trump’s victory as illegitimate, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll. John Nichols writes in the Nation, “When the winner of an election does not take office, and when the loser does, we have evidence of a system that is structurally rigged.”
A rigged system? That sounds awfully familiar.
“I say it’s rigged,” Trump whined when down in the polls at the third presidential debate. More so than ancient boasts involving roughness with cats, charges of a “conflict of interest” for a Mexican-American judge overseeing the Trump University case, or putting Senator Lindsey Graham’s cellphone number on blast, the refusal to support the election’s winner represented the worst moment of Trump’s campaign. Now the people who call Trump the worst weirdly imitate him at his worst.
Does that not make them the worst of the worst?
Given that both candidates understood the election as a campaign to win states rather than win individual votes, the grievance provokes grievances. Had the rules been altered, one assumes Trump would have campaigned more vigorously in New York and Illinois and Clinton would not have written off Texas and Missouri. But counterfactuals fail, when a factual stands in the way. Both candidates knew the rules and campaigned accordingly.
Crying “robbery” robs losers of the ability to rebound. Rather than reflect on their neglect of the working class, condescension toward Christians, penchant for using “bigot” as a default rebuttal, and distorted view of a primary campaign as a coronation, Democrats, at least a sizable subset of them, perpetuate their own problems by fixating on a nonexistent one, the Electoral College.
Let’s fix the system, not ourselves feels good but ensures bad.
A déjà vu quality colors this controversy. Before the primaries, Trump initially refused to pledge support for the eventual nominee. It turned out that several rivals who made the pledge refused to back him when he won the nomination. The people protesting when Trump refused to promise to accept the results of the election now refuse to accept the results of the election.
Delegitimizing Trump follows Trump raising questions over Barack Obama’s birth certificate to question the constitutionality of his presidency, which follows liberals pointing to Bush v. Gore to invalidate George W. Bush’s presidency, which follows conservatives pointing to the 57 percent who did not vote Democrat to undermine Bill Clinton’s standing. Partisans play a soothing mind game on themselves that imagines majorities always and everywhere supporting their beliefs. They don’t lose. The opposition cheats.
Partisans may need a majority of the popular vote. Presidents don’t.
Alexander Hamilton told us as much in the Federalist Papers, noting that “the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President.”
It’s this reminder of the United States, just as the name implies, as a collection of states — think on that word — as much as election-day disappointment that inflames the sore-loseritis.
States, not a national plebiscite, ratified the Constitution; states, once electing U.S. senators through their legislatures, still find representation in the upper-chamber — California with 67 times as many people as Wyoming sends the same number of senators to the Capitol; states retain rights through the Ninth and Tenth Amendments (and the entire Bill of Rights and the amendment process, really).
It’s all this, as much as Trump, that the complainers find illegitimate. They like their democracy direct (only when they don’t like the outcome, and then executive orders, judicial rulings, and regulations negate the undesired results of democracy). They wish to rid the republic of the remora reminding that it is, well, a republic.
The Founders who set up the Electoral College anticipated the current complaints. Alexander Hamilton’s rebuttal 228 years ago works as well today as it did then: “if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”
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