The electoral college is an anachronism and has been for some time. It is not necessarily representative of the nation as it has evolved in the past century. Nevertheless, it is established by the Constitution and well-intentioned people should not spend valuable time trying to do very much about it, given that so many smaller states benefit from their overweighted influence in the process that the likelihood of their voting to diminish their relevancy is quite limited.
Anyone who has been on a Zoom call understands that when the call is over, one must push the “Leave” button. Now that the electoral college will meet, it is time for Donald Trump to leave and to exit to his Elba along the Atlantic.
As we approach the meeting of electors in several states on Monday, it is valuable to review some of the other electoral adventures into which the country has wandered in the past 200 years, as well as to discuss the current reality/surreality.
In 1825, John Quincy Adams, perhaps the person more prepared for the presidency than anyone else – with Herbert Hoover and George H.W. Bush in contention for that designation – was able to secure election by the House of Representatives by agreeing to name Speaker of the US House Henry Clay as Secretary of State. Clay swung some of his votes to Adams and Adams became president. This also provided Andrew Jackson with the opening salvo of his very successful 1828 campaign.
History tells us that John Quincy Adams followed the model of his father by leaving Washington before his successor was sworn in. John Adams, of course, was not on speaking terms with Thomas Jefferson in 1800, even though they reconciled later in life, dying on the same day, although neither knew the other had passed away.
In 1876, there were different slates of electors presented for three southern states and a special commission was formed that seated the electors who voted for Rutherford B. Hayes, even though Samuel J. Tilden had received more votes. Although history usually highlights Hayes’s willingness to remove federal troops from the South, doing exactly that was part of the Democratic platform and Tilden would have done likewise had he been elected/chosen.
Then there are the so-called unfaithful electors. In 1960, the eight Mississippi electors voted for Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia, an ardent segregationist, but John F. Kennedy still had a sufficient margin to succeed.
In the 20th century, four presidents were defeated for re-election: Herbert Hoover in 1932, Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Hoover and Roosevelt had been friendly earlier in life – Roosevelt had even encouraged Hoover to seek the presidency - were hardly on speaking terms in 1932, but Hoover did not attempt to obstruct the orderly transition of power.
Gerald Ford, a good and decent man who probably spared the nation a continuation of our national nightmare by pardoning Richard Nixon and eliminating him from ongoing public discussion, was defeated in a very close election by Jimmy Carter [I believe 100,000 votes or so shifted in Ohio, Hawaii, and a couple of other states would have flipped the election] also cooperated.
Carter did likewise when Ronald Reagan beat him rather handily in 1980 [yes, Reagan even carried Massachusetts, primarily because of the third-party candidacy of John Anderson].
And of course, George H.W. Bush - the ultimate gentleman and statesman - after being handily dismissed in the three-party contest by Bill Clinton, in part because of the candidacy of Ross Perot – was especially gracious, as we would expect from someone of his background and education.
Now we come to 2020. The nation is on its knees as thousands die on a daily basis from an ongoing pandemic, yet Donald Trump has been acting like a pouting, shouting three-year-old who has been deprived of a favorite toy primarily because it is way past his bedtime. What a humiliation for our nation! Do people across the globe assume that all of us are like him? The antics he has undertaken in the past month have been laughable. Will a sign “Pardons for Sale” be constructed outside the White House?
His questioning of a free and fair election is reprehensible and dishonorable. Even Chris Christie called the conduct of the Trump legal team “a national embarrassment.” Trump’s knowledge of the law (except for the bankruptcy laws with which he is quite familiar) is absolutely zero. If you believe anything emerging from the mouth of the delusional Rudy Giuliani, the present example of the “paranoid style of American politics” of which Richard Hofstadter has written, then the Easter Bunny is likely to be visiting you soon. What a horrible representative of those of us who are lawyers, especially those who are older, balding Italian men!
A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit Trump’s campaign brought seeking to block the certification of the presidential election results in Pennsylvania. Judge Matthew Brann found that the lawsuit was both legally flawed and lacking in evidence: “This Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence…In the United State of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated stated. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
Let us hope when the electoral college meets and the votes are counted and then certified by Congress early in the new year that Donald Trump will perhaps for the first time in his adult life think of something other than himself and remember, perhaps for the first time, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advice that “the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”
Harvard Professor Robert Putnam’s recent volume speaks about how the nation has gone from being an “I” nation to a “we” nation and now an “I” nation once again. Certainly, Donald Trump is the poster child for one’s personal ego surpassing one’s duty to one’s country. It is time to for him to push the “leave” button.