Today is a historic day. Only 5 times in the history of the United States of America has a select number of individuals come together to overrule the will of a majority of voters who case their ballots for the President of the United States.
Those Overrulers are members of the Electoral College. Despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by over 2 million individuals, Donald Trump won the majority of “Electoral College” votes — a relic of early U.S. history established to protect the political power of slave states from “free” northern states.
We are, thus, enslaved over the next four years with being ruled by a President without a popular mandate — again. Our undemocratic Constitution has once more delegitimized and corroded what remains of our democratic republic.
Over the last six months, we’ve seen three grotesque examples of democratic people power being hijacked by the power elite (I.e. wealthy individuals and corporations):
1. Last summer, ExxonMobil Corporation argued in court against publicly releasing documents on what they knew about the effects of human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, on climate change. Their defense was that such a release of such information was a violation of their 1st Amendment free speech, 4th Amendment search and seizure and 14th Amendment due process constitutional “rights.”
2. Over the past two years, the impact of political contributions from the super wealthy and corporations from the Presidential level on down (or up, depending on your view) to the federal Congressional and state levels have drowned out the voices of people and constituencies trying to raise critical issues, perspectives and alternatives without access to millions of dollars to run political ads during the current election cycle. It’s nothing new. It was just worse that the previous election cycle, which was worse than the preceding cycle.
3. The candidate for President of the United States who received two million more votes than her closest competitor lost to that competitor because of some arcane, slavery-era Constitutional provision.
So what are the lessons for those dedicated to creating real democracy?
There are many, but the central one is the need to not only spend activist time, energy and resources focused on changing public officials, laws and regulations. We must also spend at least some time focusing time, energy and resources on changing or amending the many undemocratic elements of the U.S. Constitution.
How many more times will a corporation assert never-intended constitutional rights to avoid being accountable to the public and the planet before we act? How many more election cycles must we live through where the voices of huge numbers of individuals and key constituencies will not be politically heard before we act? How many more Presidents will be “elected” who receive fewer votes than their competitors before we act?
Imagine if a measly 1% of the $1.4 billion that was spent to elect Clinton was invested in a national effort to democratize the U.S. Constitution (addressing the items mentioned above and others)? That’s $14 million. Not a bad down payment for doing some democratic damage (as in positive change)!
Regarding the Electoral College, there is a short-term solution short of amending the Constitution. It’s passage in states of what’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The idea is that states that pass this law agree to award all their electoral votes to the Presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide, regardless of the vote in participating states. Since it’s a law, what one legislature can pass, another in the future can repeal. It’s certainly better than what we have, but not as permanent as amending the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College altogether.
It’s time to take advantage of this outrageous, but also teachable and organizing moment to fundamental (re)create real democracy by democratizing our Constitution.