As an addendum to my last article, I wanted to point people in the direction of some interesting events that occurred after the recent election results.
1) Hillary Clinton received more votes in her favour, than Donald Trump, but still lost the election
Hillary Clinton received 230,055 more votes in her favour, than Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton achieved 0.2% more votes in her favour than Donald Trump, yet lost because the Donald Trump won more US electoral colleges under the electoral college system.
This has happened four times in US history. Despite winning the popular vote, Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824; Samuel J. Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000.
Hillary Clinton loss to Donald Trump marks the fifth time it has happened in US history.
2) Almost Half of (US) Americans elligible to vote, didn’t Vote
Of the 231,556,622 eligible voters, 46.9% didn’t vote. Either because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) decide between the candidates, or because they had no confidence in the system.
3) The People are not permitted to directly vote for a US President
In the U.S., citizens are not permitted to directly vote for the President, instead they vote for electors who then vote to decide who becomes president of the USA. Each elector is voted by citizens from amongst a range of elector candidates in their area. Normally, each candidate (usually) publicly promises to the citizens to vote for a specific presidential candidate if elected. All the electors once elected in a state, then form an ‘electoral college’ to decide which presidential candidate will receive all the state’s elector votes. Different states have different numbers of electors.
The ‘votes’ for each candidate that you see depicted on the election results pages of various media outlets recently, are actually counting the expected and assumed votes each elector would make based upon their promises before the elector’s being elected. What most people do not realise, is that this system was not always this way.
The purpose behind the electoral college system was because the founding father’s of (U.S.) America didn’t trust the masses of people to decide for themselves who was a good leader, as they could be swayed by popular but dangerous demagogues.
George Mason of Virginia, delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, explained the reasoning:
“It would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for a chief Magistrate [i.e. President] to the people, as it would to refer a trial of colors to a blind man.”
Madison Debate Minutes (July 17, 1787)
As the American founding father Alexander Hamilton put it, the purpose of Electoral Colleges was:
“that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people”
[Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist]
The U.S. founding fathers set up the Electoral college system, and did not intend the prospective electors to advertise to the people who they were going to promise to elect. The deciding process was meant to happen after the people elected the electors – in order to give the electors a un-pressured environment, so that they would sit down and deliberate upon the intellectual merits and moral virtues of the presidential candidates, and select one based upon a dispassionate judgement.
However, around 1820, prospective electors begun advertising to the people which presidential candidate they would vote for as electors, believing that this would attract people to vote them into the office of elector if they also liked the same presidential candidate.
Furthermore, by 1872, most states developed the ‘winner takes all’ tradition. This tradition involves a U.S. state having an agreement to assign all their electors votes within an electoral college towards the candidate that most of the electors had promised to vote for, within that state. It’s called ‘Winner takes all’, and means that minority electors in each state will be forced to break their promise and have their votes added to the presidential candidate they did not want to vote for initially. This tradition was started because political parties who held majorities in some states wanted to overcome their weak followings in other states. This new tradition then allowed them to add the votes of electors from other parties (who support the opposing candidate), to their own party’s presidential candidate and get him into power.
The ‘Winner takes all’ agreement is not required by the U.S. constitution, and is not legally binding on a federal level. This means that electors in the minority within such a college, will be expected to vote for the candidate that the majority of electors within that college have promised to vote for (which means that individual electors may have to effectively break their promises in the name of a constitutionally non-binding agreement or tradition). Maine and Nebraska are the exception, and do not have a ‘winner takes all’ tradition.
Ultimately, this means that the US’s electoral college system renders (in effect) some people’s votes to be worth more than others, as those voting for electors pledged to a minority candidate, are ignored and not added to the national total.
Hillary Clinton ‘lost’ the election because only 43% (233) of the 538 total elector positions are occupied by electors who will be expected to vote for her (while the electors who promised to vote for her, but were part of majorities supporting the Trump, are ignored and added to Trumps total under ‘winner takes all’). This is while Donald Trump has 57% (305) of the total 538 elector positions, occupied by electors in Trump majority Electoral colleges who will be expected to vote for him.
The ‘real’ presidential election has actually not happened yet, but will happen on the 19th December 2016, when all the electors cast their votes. This is, now, only regarded as a formality, however…
4) Donald Trump Could – In theory – Still Lose The US Presidential Election
U.S. Electors don’t have to honour their promises or accept a ‘winner takes all’ majority imposed directive on 19th December, and can deviate from how their expected to vote. US electors CAN insist on honouring their promise, and reject the ‘winner takes all’ directive of their college (if different from their promise), or simply change their minds. This means, if a college was planning to give all its electors’ votes towards Trump, the Hillary supporting electors could ‘rebel’ and insist on honouring their promises. Furthermore, electors who had promised to vote for Trump before they were elected, could change their minds and vote for Hillary.
Strange though it may seem, but according to the U.S. constitution, Electors can legally change their minds and not honour their pledges, (or rebel against the College winner takes all tradition) when they cast their votes on the 19th December 2016.
In 1976, a Washington elector who promised to vote for President Gerald Ford voted instead for Ronald Reagan. In 1988, an elector from West Virginia voted for Lloyd Bentsen as President and for Governor Michael Dukakis as Vice President.
SO IN THEORY, it is possible for Donald Trump to lose the presidential election and for Hillary Clinton to win, if just 37 electors use their constitutionally legal right to do different to what’s expected of them.
5) Donald Trump criticised the existence of the Electoral College system, yet ironically won in 2016 because of it
In reaction to the defeat of Mitt Romney by Obama during the 2012 presidential elections, Donald Trump said: “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy”.
The Tweet is still up here:
The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
6) Obama may be evidence that term limits on Presidents are not always the wisest
One of the main criticisms of the Islamic model of government, a Caliphate, is that a Caliph’s term of office is not limited to a specific time, but only terminated once a Caliph ceases to be competent or just (or sane, independent, uncaptured, living….), or they retire. The Islamic perspective allows good leaders to be retained, while bad leaders would be deposed (by decree from the makhamah al madhalim [court of unjust acts/ supreme court]. This is similar to how the judges of the 9-member US Supreme court hold their offices for the rest of their lives as long as they’re just and competent. As the U.S. constitution states, the judges of the Supreme court “shall hold their offices during good behavior”. The U.S. Supreme court holds a foundational role in the U.S. government as arbiters of the law and defenders of the Constitution.
Obama, despite his use of drones and airstrikes and other foreign policies, is a better statesman in eloquence, intelligence and tact (within the American system that is) than his replacement. Likewise was Bill Clinton better than George Bush. How is the U.S. system superior to a Caliphate system, if one throws out good rulers, while the other keeps them?
7) The direction of America will not change just because a new President has been elected
The claim that nothing will change just because there is a new president, has been seen by some as a tired cliche of critics of Western Liberal Democracy – but it is actually true once you think about it.
Mature states that implement a republican system of government (i.e. where the people elect ‘representatives’ to govern themselves [which is different from a true Democracy where the people directly govern themselves and vote on every law and policy]), would not let their domestic and foreign policy be subject to random chance, depending on random individuals coming to power – there are systems that are in place to minimise chaos and limit the effects of elections.
Firstly, domestic policy and foreign policy is usually dictated by a rational consideration of a country’s circumstances and permanent interests. These policies are pursued by dedicated agencies who specialise in their tasks and have more knowledge and expertise in them than anyone else. The national interests of a state (security, wealth, public happiness, influence on foreign affairs) and the detailed calculations done by government agencies of how to pursue these interests don’t usually change, and therefore a new head of government doesn’t really change many policies when they come into government.
Secondly, all governments – apart from absolute dictatorships – have multiple factions, opinions and internal interests jostling for power, imposing limitations on any one person, and restricting what can be done. It is common for U.S. Presidents for example, especially after mid-term congressional elections, to preside over majority senates or congresses who support an opposing party. Furthermore, there is equally great division within a ruling party. Even Monarchs suffer from competing factions within a ruling family or parliament. All this acts to limit what any one person can do, whether making new laws, or enacting new policies that require wide approval.
Thirdly, all states with constitutions and an independent court system, have restrictions on any president or even congress or senate, or what they can or can’t do. Obama was powerless to restrict gun ownership, despite decrying the ubiquitous use and ownership of firearms after every mass shooting.
Fourthly, government policies only change when interests compel them to have to change. Mass public unhappiness is enough to motivate almost any type of government when it reaches a point. Usually in Western Liberal Democracies, the kind of party elected doesn’t change the policies of the government, but just usually reflects the existing public opinion or mood of the people. You’ll find that long prior the every election, most governments were already changing their policies to appease the public and prevent financial collapse, mass rioting, or significant civil disturbance – regardless of their party’s ideology. George Bush was already reducing use of torture (after it had leaked out in public causing an outcry) and seeking to close Guantanamo before Obama was elected for example. Obama was unable to close Guantanamo though. George Bush had started using Drone strikes around the world, and Obama continued that policy.
Under Obama, Muslims have been thrown off airplanes for, well, being visibly ‘Muslim while flying’. Muslim visitors have been turned away from (U.S.) America either before getting on the plane, or (more cruelly) after arriving in the US. It is common for Muslims to report having been ‘randomly selected’ for screening every time they boarded a flight through the US. Obama has used more Drone strikes than Bush ever did, and the Muslim world is in greater turmoil now than ever it was during George Bush’s time.
As for restrictions on Mexicans coming to the US, there is already a patrolled border fence on the U.S’s southern border. All that Trump put forward that was new, was to make it bigger and concrete (which he may abandon as a policy once he sees the price tag).
A Presidential election can be likened to passing a baton during a race from one racer to another. The direction of the race doesn’t change, the track remains the same, only the person running changes.
Any student of international affairs and politics would tell you, that when they look at how a country has acted throughout it’s history, it’s almost irrelevant to consider the times and dates of the changes of administration that happened.
The only way to implement a real change in US politics, requires resources of such a level, it would be indistinguishable to a revolution (minus the violence). A whole new party would need to be created, and it would require funding and advertising the like of which would bankrupt a small country. Furthermore, this party would have to change the minds of over 200 million people before it could be assured of getting an overwhelming majority in both the Congress, Senate and Presidency. And it would have to maintain that majority long enough to replace enough supreme court judges. The chances of this happening unopposed by the existing wealth and power structures are virtually zero.
So despite the fact that Trump was ‘elected’, this shouldn’t by itself be cause for alarm more than usual. US (America) will not change its direction because Trump was ‘elected’, it will continue along its path doing what it had already been doing. Rather, this presidential election is just the election of the figurehead, and it may hearten people to see that the USA will have someone who is less eloquent and less able to explain away the abuses it will commit under its continued foreign policies than his predecessor. However what should be more worrying is the trajectory of America and the groundswell of public opinion that is rising in xenophobia and bigotry, which existed well before this election and had been building for some time – that should really concern us.
While xenophobes and bigots have become emboldened by the election of Trump, it is only because they too mistakenly believe that things have changed by his election. While this is not the case (the law still bans hate crimes), the real worry are the amount of policies the government has wanted to enact for a long time, which slowly have become easier to implement due to the American people’s fears and irrational phobias induced in them by years of media and political scaremongering. This is the trajectory not caused by the people, but cynically inculcated into them due to the pursuit of favourable political interests by the elite, that we all have to worry about.