I believe American political discourse surrounding the subject of “democracy,” or elections, has become increasingly painful. All too often I find myself cringing at those who argue that the traditional constitutional order that has endured for over two centuries is outdated or obsolete.
Over and over again, we hear the same accusations from the American left: that our current constitutional orientation is undemocratic, or that it disenfranchises minorities, or maybe how it was founded by racist white men, and as a result, the system perpetuates white supremacy.
Both liberals and leftists alike seem to be in favor of replacing our traditional decentralized system with a federally conglomerated national “democracy” where the autonomy of the states and merits of self-governance are undermined.
Under this system, elections become almost entirely regulated by Washington, as was proposed by the Democrats’ “voting rights” proposal entitled the “For the People Act,” or H.R. 1. Under the bill, American elections would be sloppily federalized, almost disenfranchising the states completely. It’s a constitutional assault of the highest order cleverly disguised as a civil rights initiative.
Other objections to the traditional American constitutional order are exemplified via the Democrats’ constant attacks against the Electoral College; or more recently, Senator Bernie Sanders fumbling basic logic on Twitter when complaining about how two Democratic senators shouldn’t be able to defeat the other 48 Democrats. (Of course with common sense, we know that it was actually 50 Republican senators plus two Democrats, a Senate majority, that has defeated many of Biden’s policy proposals, because Sanders doesn’t know how majorities work).
The primary complaint seems to be that if it isn’t “democratic” (by now you’re probably beginning to see the left has a very different definition of this word), it has no merit in the 21st century. This complaint is an absurd one, and it’s often rooted in a severe conceptual misunderstanding of how our system has worked for over two centuries, as well as the principles that drive the American conception of republican government.
And these arguments become even more outrageous when you consider the left’s suspicious pattern of wanting to radically alter, or even abolish entire institutions under the accusation that they’re outdated or unfair, simply because they were unable to persuade voters under that system. We’ve seen that pattern with not just the Electoral College or the Senate, but also with the calls to expand the Supreme Court, as well as turning the national seat of government into a state for the sake of two additional Democratic senators.
Indeed, the American ideal of “checks and balances” is so often erroneously mischaracterized and misconstrued as “more democracy, more accountability.” We oftentimes forget in the midst of the daily political chaos, that democracy itself is also among the many things that need to be checked and balanced.
And once again, this ill-informed “fight for American democracy” is often accompanied with an almost fantasist delusion that the states don’t exist (or perhaps those on the left believe states shouldn’t exist?). The fact (yes, this is not up for debate) that our nation is a commonwealth of 50 separate states, who are able to govern themselves under the Constitution, is almost completely slighted in pursuit of this grand, almost Utopian vision of “saving democracy.”
Our Union is one that prioritizes both the will of the people and the states. That is the point. The current efforts to “further democratize” the federal establishment are, ironically, paradoxically undemocratic, in that they slight the autonomy of the states in favor of a top-down, fully democratized national government that can override local laws and policies it finds politically disagreeable.
The American conception of republican government is one that seeks to channel and diffuse raw majoritarian impulses to encourage prudent decision-making. That’s why our federal legislature is split into two houses, and it’s why for most of American history, one of those houses was chosen entirely by the state legislatures (a practice I believe we should resume). Those two houses were made to reflect the dual representation mentioned earlier: a House of Representatives to proportionately represent the people of the several states, as well as a Senate designed to represent the states themselves, as individual sovereign entities.
This is also why the two houses have different powers enumerated in the Constitution. The House of Representatives is closest to the people in terms of representation, so it only makes sense that it has the power to act has the money faucet. All bills pertaining to raising revenue must start in the House, where the taxpayers are the most represented.
Such proportional representation is also why the House has the sole power of impeachment. The president is the chief magistrate of all Americans across every state, and yet this power is checked and balanced by the Senate: the council of older statesmen who represent their constituent states, who were (correctly) predicted by the Founders to be more capable of prudent decision-making when it came to holding a trial and potentially convicting and removing from office the nation’s chief executive.
The Electoral College is predicated upon a similar methodology. The people vote to tell their state electors who to vote for, but the mere act of states appointing their electors to choose the president is the hallmark of this system. It provides the American election system with a level of decentralization that is replicated in very few countries otherwise. A presidential election by national poll would almost certainly require a significant amount of oversight from Washington.
And you would think, given the Democrats’ hysterics of the Capitol riots of January 6th, that they would want to advocate for less centralization, not more of it. Common sense would dictate that the events of January 6th are a testament to why the Electoral College, as an institution, retains all the relevance and virtue as it did back in the early days of the republic.
January 6th highlighted the dangers of concentrating a lot of political power in one place. Yes, the rioters were ultimately persuaded of a falsehood: that Congress could somehow overturn the election, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if Congress really was empowered by the Constitution to overturn the election?
A top-down federalized system, where a national poll was managed by some sort of federal committee in Washington D.C., could be far more susceptible to the pressure of angry mobs, surely. But the Electoral College doesn’t suffer from that flaw. The power of electing the president and vice-president is reserved for the state-appointed electors. And once the state governments certify their electoral vote, the business is all but taken care of.
“Insurrections,” as the Democrats call it, are far less likely to succeed because of the traditional constitutional system that we have, especially when it comes to the way it governs elections: by diffusing that power to the 50 states.
It’s for these reasons that I also cringe at the countless complaints from Democrats regarding Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in 2016, despite him failing to garner the “popular vote.”
This is an incredibly stupid position. There is no national popular vote. It bears no political relevance because it shouldn’t bear any political relevance. The presidential election is a culmination of 51 separate elections (50 states plus D.C.), and as such is a series of majority concurrences from the citizens of each individual state.
The national election is only “national” in the sense that all 50 states are required to participate, of course, but is otherwise largely meant to be an opportunity for 50 different sets of people to decide the nation’s chief executive.
It is with this functionality that the Electoral College brings, that requires presidential candidates to win an actual majority of the state electors (as opposed to a mere plurality of popular votes) that accounts for true diversity of a sprawling nation like the United States.
Without it, presidential candidates could simply campaign in the areas where they could garner the most amount of votes, such as California, New York, Florida, or Texas.
The pattern represented through all of these institutions, whether it be the Electoral College, or the bicameralism of the federal legislature, is that they balance majoritarian tendencies with the representation of each state. In other words, they achieve the core premise of our Union’s existence in the first place.
It is for these reasons that I cringe heavily upon hearing the tired and repeated platitudes regarding American “democracy,” and how we must tear down the constitutional system that has stood the test of time for the sake of “preserving” whatever “democracy” means in accordance with the political aspirations of the modern left.
It’s civically inept, politically disingenuous, and dare I say downright tyrannical.