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Calling on the Electoral College . . .

December 13, 2016

by Lauren Shapiro

“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.” —Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers #68

IN ESTABLISHING the Electoral College in our Constitution, the Founding Fathers deliberately created the possibility that people of conscience could override the popular vote to prevent the Presidency from falling into dangerous hands. Our country has never had to invoke this power to “prevent a man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications” from assuming the office of President. We do now.

To this end, five million Americans have signed petitions to the Electors. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Time magazine have published Op-Eds urging Republican Electors to be “faithless.” Republican Elector Christopher Suprun announced in the New York Times his intention to vote for a moderate Republican in place of Donald Trump. Other Electors, Democratic and Republican, have made less dramatic announcements of their intention to be faithless, and Harvard Law School has set up a pro bono clinic to advise them.

Virtually all politicians dismiss the editorials as outliers and the petitioners as dreamers. The fact remains, however, that no one can predict what the Electors will do in this most contentious election since the Civil War.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in American history, the winning party is in the mortifying position of having to assure the public and their Electors that their candidate did not mean what he said and will not fulfill his campaign promises. They ignore at their and the world’s peril all evidence to the contrary. Trump’s proclamation, “I alone can fix it,” in place of the typical “only Republicans can fix it” is not merely a matter of semantics. Yet Republicans have urged their Electors to toe the party line, wherever that line is leading.

Many Democrats assume there to be no chance that thirty-seven of 306 Republican Electors will refuse to put the short term needs of their party ahead of the long-term needs of the country. This is because many Democrats are under the mistaken -– some would say “elitist” -- impression that Democrats have a monopoly on ethics. Perhaps this is why they disregarded rather than embraced the #NotmyGop and #NeverTrump Republicans, and why they didn’t tip their hats to former Presidents Bush and to Colin Powell when they refused to vote for Trump. Perhaps this is also why Democrats who glossed over their own candidate’s ethical weaknesses assumed that the public would do the same.

Both parties’ stubborn determination to vilify the other, instead of respecting them as worthy opponents, is how both parties paved the way for Trump -- who is a plague on both their houses. Now, both parties have the opportunity to redeem themselves by supporting Faithless Electors in preventing him from taking office.

Democrats must reach out to Republicans who want to escort Trump off the stage. Democratic swaggering about “fighting back” and “resistance” is posturing in place of the action that they should be taking. They should realize that if Trump is allowed to become Commander in Chief, he might well respond to true resistance by bringing military repression, and that will be the end of the “fighting back” -- and of the United States as we know it. Democrats and centrist Republican politicians should therefore be pooling their entire political arsenals to lobby and support “faithless” Republican Electors.

How? As Christopher Suprun’s editorial and common sense show, it is plainly unrealistic to expect Republican electors to vote for Hillary Clinton. They may, however, be persuaded to vote for a different Republican, but not if this is perceived as an opportunity for Democrats to sit back and watch them commit political suicide. Therefore, Democratic Electors must share the political risk and vote for any alternative Republican who is put forward. They must demonstrate that if Republicans do their part to rid us of this plague, Democrats will do theirs. Every politician must take a public position urging their own Electors to be faithless in a bipartisan effort to prevent Trump from the presidency.

Every Elector recognizes the unleashing of hate crimes in Trump’s name, with his tacit approval. They recognize the truth and ultimate implications in Eric Schneiderman’s warning, “You don’t get to choose your bigots.” Every Elector knows that Trump is declining intelligence briefings, presumably because he’s too busy tweeting about Hamilton and Saturday Night Live. Every elector understands that Mr. Trump’s staff, who cannot even get him off Twitter to read the Constitution, are not going to be able to control this demagogue.

Every Elector therefore knows that this year their job is not merely ceremonial. Republican Electors must be “faithless” to give new meaning to the name, Grand Old Party. If they fail to do so, history will remember them as having stepped aside and sold the Republic to a tyrannical demagogue for the price of a ticket to this year’s inauguration. And Democrats must help them, or take their place in history as another party of Neville Chamberlain.

And if the Electors do vote Trump out of his majority, and the Army has to be called in -- better now to defend the Republic than later, to repress it.

All political party differences pale compared to the calamities of a Trump Presidency. The time has come to reaffirm that “we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” All eyes are on the Electoral College now, our last hope to rescue the Republic that, in our own ways, both Democrats and Republicans do love.

Lauren Shapiro is a freelance writer and a dance accompanist in New York. Her publications include the song, “Better Things To Do,” recorded in 2016 by Annika Chambers, the essay “Tempo Primo” in “I Thought My Father Was God — NPR’s National Story Project,” 2001, and an article, “Archie Comic Books and Literacy,” in Education Update. Her poetry and journalism have been published in such diverse magazines as American Small Farm and Dance Spirit.