Given the recent state of national American politics and elections, it's no surprise that there is much turmoil and confusion and anger across the nation. How could it be that the person who won the popular vote NOT be the one who becomes the next President? Isn't democracy about the people choosing their President? Isn't America a democracy where the people control the government and choose their own leaders? Well, yes, democracy is about people choosing their leaders, and America is a democracy...sort of...It's all continental. What the hell does that mean? Sort of? Continental? I'll explain below.
During the night of the election, I felt an unease as to how the votes were going. It wasn't that the numbers weren't there, it was just the distribution and meaning of those numbers that bothered me. And by midnight, my worst fears about one of the problems with American democracy reared up its ugly head. It was the nightmare election of 2000 all over again, with Texas Governor George W Bush winning the election (sort of) even though Vice President Al Gore won the popular (most) votes across the nation. And it all came down to Florida! And it was the crooked Florida state government actions and the corrupted, questionable decision of the Supreme Court that decided the next President, not the American people, whose votes meant nothing.
This whole week has been a roller coaster ride of emotions. People are very passionate about their votes and government and that makes me happy, because we should feel passionate about our votes and government! Government only works when the people being governed participate! The whole point of democracy is that the people make the choices, the people decide the government and its leaders. And American democracy is all about the people choosing their leaders and deciding the direction of government. Yes, and no. What? Well, true, there is a fundamental, crucial, essential element that determines and demands that the American people choose democracy as their form of government, and in a democratic government, the people choose their leaders. That binding contract that makes it possible for American democracy to exist--that establishes the nation and defines the American people--is called the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Constitution is the fundamental framework that makes it possible for the United States to exist and for the US government to operate. The Constitution is the foundation of our nation, our government, and our people. The very first lines of the Constitution, the Preamble, clearly sets forth the spirit, the people, and core beliefs and defining principles of America:
"We the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The Constitution is the living framework that has done a remarkable and miraculous job of guiding and holding this nation together for over 200 years. No other nation before and since has been able to make such great strides in the pursuit of democracy, freedom, and liberty. And no other nation has had to bleed, sweat, and cry endless tears over the pursuit and defense of that democracy, freedom, and liberty. This is the truth about American democracy: it is a continually evolving process, because true democracy, true freedom, and true liberty has yet to be achieved. What does that mean? It means that there are still significant challenges that the nation has to address. The truth is, there are still so many groups of people, born and raised in and dying to defend these United States, that do not have the same freedoms, rights, and equal protection under the very laws and justice the United States claims to uphold for any and all seeking freedom and equality.
Not every American is free or equal. And that's the truth. But isn't America the land of the free and the home of the brave? Well, yes it is, and no, it's not. It's all continental. What the hell does that mean? It means that this is a huge nation, stretching across the North American continent, full of so many diverse, different, sometimes conflicting people. And when a nation is as huge and diverse as the United States, there will be problems. There will be challenges. It's only natural. The weather across this continental nation is as varied and diverse as the many people who live across the wide, changing landscape.
It also means that when I say it's all continental, it means that something that at first, makes sense, until you start to look at it in closer detail, and it all starts to unravel, and it's going to drive you crazy trying to figure it all out! Then out of sheer exhaustion, desperation, or just to keep yourself from going completely mad and insane, you just accept it on the surface, even though you know that there is something fundamentally wrong underneath. But you just don't have the ability, don't have the comprehension, lack the time, nor have the strength nor patience nor endurance to figure out the enigma, the confounding phenomena, this maddening puzzle that's unsolvable, always evolving into something more complicated and troubling after every time you think you've solved it, only to discover that the answers you find only lead to more questions demanding to be answered. That's what I mean by continental.
Need an example? Answer me this. How many continents are there? Think carefully. Stop reading past this paragraph until you've figured out the answer. How many continents are there? Think...Take your time to answer...Once you have your answer, you can move down to the next paragraph. Got your answer? Really think about it.
You've got you're answer? Okay. Read on.
How many continents are there?
If you're like most people, you'd say seven! There are 7 continents! And these seven continents are:
5. North America
6. South America
Congratulations! You've got it right! Like most people, you've correctly answered that there are 7 continents...except you're all sort of wrong...Huh? There aren't seven continents...not really. Even the geologists, geopolitical scientists, and the academic community can't figure it out. Here's the truth: Nobody really knows how many continents there are, because no one can agree on what exactly a continent is!
I know. You're thinking: What the f*ck that does that mean? It means exactly what it means! No one knows exactly what defines a continent, what makes one landmass a continent and another landmass just a really big island.
You're thinking: That doesn't make any sense! Of course you know what defines a continent: it's a large, continuous massive expanse of land, like, duh, Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica! And you would be right! It makes sense on the surface. Big landmasses equal continents. Duh!
But then I ask you to look closer. Look at the definition of continent. How exactly do you determine and define what makes a large continuous landmass? Because if you look at the map, places like Greenland seem huge. So who decided that Australia was big enough to be both a continent and island, while Greenland is just a huge island and not a continent? What's the magic measurement we're using, what's the number, the minimum that we've decided that makes a landmass a continent and not just a really big island?
Can't think of that number? That's all right. Because there is NO set minimum dimension on what makes a landmass a continent or just a really big island! Seriously, there's no real measurement. It's like the whole Pluto fiasco all over again! Remember a few years ago when a bunch of elitist scientists got together on their own and decided that Pluto was NOT a planet? They just voted it down, with no hard facts nor consensus from all scientists on what exactly makes a planet! They just decided to demote Pluto from a planet to a planetoid. And what is a planetoid? A small planet! So what the f*ck? If the scientists can't even make heads or tails of planetary objects, then what chance do we have of figuring out landmasses on our very own Earth?
What makes Australia a continent and Greenland an island? Size? Well, yes, Australia is bigger than Greenland, but still, all the other continents are much bigger than Australia, so I ask again. Why is Australia a continent and not just a really big island like Greenland? And why can't Papua New Guinea and Madagascar be continents, too?
Now it gets interesting. Maybe it's not just the size. It has been argued that a continent could be identified by its people and culture. Generally speaking, it does make sense. Europe is very European, Asia is very Asian, Africa is very African, North America is very North American, South America is very South American, and Australia is very Australian. Greenland is sort of European, maybe North American, and the Greenland inhabitants identify themselves as islanders, whereas Aussies proudly claim their island continent status. Sounds simple, right? Except it's not. It's pretty racist! That's right! It's a racist way of thinking! Not all Europeans act the same! Not all Asians share the same beliefs! And not all Australians have the same values and ideas and culture! So it is with North America, South America, and Africa!
And besides, if we're to define continents by their people and culture, then what the hell does that mean for Antarctica? Because no one lives there permanently! Does that mean Antarctica is NOT a continent because it lacks people and a defining culture? Or are we recognizing penguins as a people with sovereign rights, freedoms, and independent status as a nation? And are those rights extended to whales, seals, and other birds who call Antarctica their home?
Kind of boggles the mind? Right?
Well, what if we just define continents like some people have, as landmasses with their own tectonic plates. That makes sense. Because Australia has its own tectonic plate. And Greenland ends up on the North American plate. South America has its own plate. As do Africa and Antarctica. Seems simple, right? Tectonic plates make continents...and they do...and sort of don't at the same time.
What the hell does that mean? It means that yes, tectonic plates are a large identifying feature on most continents. At the same time, a tectonic plate doesn't always carry continents! What the f*ck does that mean? It means, yeah, the Americas and Australia and Africa and Antarctica have their own tectonic plates, but guess what? Madagascar has its very own tectonic plate! Yes, the island nation of Madagascar has it's own plate! So why isn't it considered an island continent like Australia? And guess what? Hawaii and so many tiny Pacific islands sit upon the largest tectonic plate in the world: The Pacific/Oceanic plate. Does that mean all these independent nations and states and territories should be considered a continent?
Well, some people all ready call that region Oceania, kind of like how we refer to Europe, and Asia, and Africa as a sort general reference to the peoples and cultures and ideologies of Europeans, Asians, and Africans. But there's a danger to that kind of thinking. Because the people who live in Oceania are just as varied in their beliefs and customs and cultures as the people who live in Europe, Asia, and Africa!
In case you didn't know, maps are racist. Well, not intentionally, but maps encourage misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and foster racism. To be clear, maps are not intended to be racist nor are they inherently racist themselves. It's just that maps represent certain ideas and ways of thinking that have, over the years, encouraged and fostered racism. Look at the nearest map in your house--find a reference book, or google map of the world. Look closely at that map. If it looks like the map from school--the huge, hanging on the wall kind that depicts Greenland as this giant landmass almost as big as Africa, and Europe is depicted as almost as big as Australia-- then it's most likely an old Mercator projection map.
What is a Mercator projection map? Invented in 1569--yes, over four hundred years ago!-the Mercator projection map was a navigation tool used by Europeans to sail the world. It was NOT meant to be an accurate representation of the world map and landmasses. It was designed to make Europe central and easier for the people using the Mercator map, the Europeans, to plot out their sailing course and navigate their away around the world and back home. It's a navigation tool, NOT an exact, accurate map of the world.
But over the years--centuries!--that map has been ingrained in the minds of the world as an accurate representation of the world, when it really isn't! The result? We have misinformed and ill formed ideas and opinions about the world because of the associations we mistakenly make from that map. For instance, Europe is really smaller than is actually depicted on the map. As a matter of fact, all the "Western" minded (European/North American) countries are depicted larger than they actually are! And inversely, Africa is so much bigger than the small size shown on the Mercator projection map. Australia is also so much bigger than depicted, and Greenland is actually smaller than Europe and much smaller than Africa than is depicted on the map.
The result? We Westerners have a bigger, better opinion of ourselves, and we've developed these misinformed ideas that we are somehow better than smaller depicted developing nations such as those found in Africa. The truth is, Africa is bigger than North America or South America! And our mistaken notions of somehow being bigger and better than we really are come from the misinterpretation and misuse of this ancient navigation tool. To really see the world as it is, we need to look at the real, accurate world map that correctly displays the world as it is.
But back to the original problem, how do we define continent, when our maps aren't even accurate? Plate tectonics proponents argue that plate tectonics should play an integral role in defining continents. And while they argue among themselves if Madagascar and Oceania should be considered continents, they raise more questions when we really look at continents and plate tectonics. For example: India is considered a subcontinent, because it has its own tectonic plate, the Indian tectonic plate! And that plate collides with Asia to create the Himalayas!
Doesn't that mean India should be identified as its own continent? It's huge and it's got its own tectonic plate! The frequent earthquakes are a reminder that the Indian plate is continually grinding against the Asian tectonic plate. But here's the kicker--California and Baja Mexico are part of the Pacific/Oceania plate that's grinding up against the North American tectonic plate! Does that mean California and Baja are technically, tectonically part of the Pacific and NOT North America? Yes, sort of, it's all continental! And while we're at it, the entire Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East has its own tectonic plate, the Arabian plate! Shouldn't that make Arabia it's own continent? If India is defined as a subcontinent grinding up against Asia, the same definition applies to Arabia grinding up against Asia and Africa!
It's the Pluto problem all over again. If Pluto is not a planet but a planetoid, then what the hell is a planetoid? A planetoid is a small planet. What the f*ck!?! Doesn't that mean Pluto is still a planet? So it is with places like India, Madagascar, and Arabia. If they've got their own plates and are somewhat classified as subcontinents, doesn't that mean those places are small continents? Like Australia is a small continent?
And to complicate matters even further, tectonically and geographically speaking, there is no European tectonic plate! Europe and Asia are actually the same landmass riding the the same tectonic plate: The Eurasian tectonic plate! That's right! Europe and Asia are the same landmass! The same! Blows your freaking mind doesn't it?
All these years it's been drilled into your head that Europe and Asia are different landmasses. Except they're not! Europe and Asia are the same one continuous landmass on a single continuous tectonic plate!
And here's where I blow your mind even further. If continents are defined as large continuous, massive landmasses, it would seem that there really are just four real continents. Yes, four! And some people actually teach this four continents model. And how the hell can there be four continents when there are clearly seven, you ask? Look closely at your map. Geologically and geographically speaking, North America and South America are connected by the isthmus of Panama--yes, we dug out the Panama canal, but we're going to discount man made alterations for now. Since North America and South America are really connected and not naturally separated, it stands to reason that North America and South America are one single, large continuous landmass, a gigantic continent.
And here's where things get even more interesting. By the very definition applied to make the Americas one singe, large continuous landmass, so it can be argued that Asia, Europe, and Africa are one super large continent, because there is no natural separation between Africa, Europe, and Asia! That's right, forget the Suez Canal, there is no natural separation between Africa, Europe, and Asia! That's how it was possible for animals, trees, and important to us, humans spread out from Africa to the rest of the world! So really, Africa, Europe, and Asia are one single, large continuous landmass, a sort of gigantic continent! That leaves only Australia and Antarctica. So, with the American titanic continent, the AfroEuroAsian gigantic continent, Antarctica, and Australia, it could be argued that there really are four continents. And that four continent model is taught by some people across the world.
So I ask you again, how many continents are there in the world? Not so simple now, is it? Right? We think we know, and we sort of accept it at the surface, but when we really dig into it, we really don't know a thing about it! And here's where things get even messier. The number of continents fluctuates and is hard to pin down, just like it's really difficult to define what makes a continent a continent. Because you see, the world is a living, thriving, evolving place. Once, there were no continents. Then over the eons of existence, there arose many lands, and in the epic history of our Earth, there have been several continents, and there has been, at times, one single landmass super continent. You may have heard of it: Pangaea, the name given to the super continent at a time in the past when all the continents were united as one continuous, super massive landmass! Then it broke apart, reformed, and developed into the continents that we know (sort of) and identify today.
And here's what you need to grasp. The continents are continually moving, shifting, evolving. And in time, they will all form into one large massive, super continent once more in the future as they have several times in the past. You may not have heard of it, but other single, super continents existed before and after Pangaea--a few are named Ur, Kenorland, Rodinia, and Pannotia all existed millions of years ago before Pangaea. And in the future, super continents will form and break apart again, so the number of and definition of continents will continue to change.
So I ask again? How many continents are there? It's hard to say, isn't it? Yet, we think we know, and we do at the surface recognize it when we see it. But it's only when we dig under the surface and really look into it that we realize that we don't know anything at all! And it's not so simple, yet it is both simple and complicated at the same time! That's what it means to be continental. That's what I mean when I say it's all continental: It's both simple and complicated at the same time, and on the surface, we accept it to be true, when just underneath, it really isn't so.
And so it is with American democracy! It is all continental! Yes, it's a democracy, but not a true democracy. It's NOT a direct democracy. We don't vote on every law, every policy, every decision. Rather, we are a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY. That means we vote for people to make those laws, make those policies, and make those decisions for us. And that's the important thing we have to remember. WE VOTED FOR REPRESENTATIVES TO RUN OUR GOVERNMENT FOR US! And those representatives ultimately have to make the choices that they believe are right according to their own beliefs and ideas--and those representatives don't always reflect the ideologies and beliefs of their constituents, the people they represent, the people who voted for them. And that's the risk of a representative democracy! The person voted to make the choices often has to make the choices as best as they can, and they won't always please everyone!
We are too big to be a direct democracy--to many people, too many choices, to many things need to be done. We can't all stop our lives and make choices about foreign policy, trade, and safety measures every single day. We are too big a nation, too diverse, too busy to make these choices individually. So we chose representative democracy as our form of government. It's not the best form of democracy, but it's not the worst either. It just means that there are places and times where we will have to find compromise; we will surely have conflict; and we will need to cooperate to keep our nation and people going. That is the challenge of democracy. The people ultimately choose the type of government they want, choose the leaders they want, and they are free to change their minds about both the government and the leaders!
And this election has highlighted one of the biggest challenges in American democracy. Yes, it is a democratic election, where the people vote for their President. Except, not really. Not directly at least. This is the weird and fascinating (and at times, frustrating) truth about American presidential elections. Americans don't vote directly for their next President. They vote for the electoral college; and the electoral college votes directly for the next President. That's right. We are voting for proxies to choose our President for us! And the number of proxies (or electoral votes) needed to attain the presidency is 270 electoral votes. And therein lies one of the many fundamental challenges in American democracy.
The electoral college determines the President, not the people directly. And here's the kicker: The electoral college doesn't always follow the will of the people, and the electoral college is free to vote for whoever they want to be President, even write their own names, and it's happened before in the past! Yes! The people we vote for to pick our choice for President are under NO OBLIGATION to pick our choice for President! That's the irony and fundamental problem with American presidential elections: We don't vote for our President. We vote for people to pick our President for us, and those people are under NO OBLIGATION to respect the voters choices and will. The electoral college can vote for whoever they want, and they HAVE several times in the past!
Blows your freaking mind doesn't it? That we Americans don't vote directly for our President! What the f*ck? But that's the electoral college, built into the Constitution as a compromise that made America possible! It was a compromise to ensure that the new Constitution would survive and the new fledgling American nation would live on. Because here's the thing that most Americans forget or don't know. The Constitution is our third attempt at self governance! Yes, our third time! You know what they say, "The third time's the charm."
The first time was under the Continental Congress, first assembled in Philadelphia on 5 Sept 1774; the second assembly was on 10 Sept 1775. This was the time when the oppressed American colonists rose up for independence and fought the Revolutionary War of freedom from British tyranny. The Declaration of Independence of 2 July 1776 and the Articles of Confederation would guide the nation through seven years of bloody war and devastation.
And when American independence was finally achieved through the Peace of Paris treaty of 3 Sept 1783, the new nation would operate in peace time under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1787. And while the Articles were necessary and effective during war time, they proved insufficient and lacking during peace time. Our first attempt at self governance occurred in wartime, and it was a struggle and terrible and devastating. But it was ultimately uniting and empowering, and it led to independence and freedom, the birth of the American people and nation.
Our second attempt at self governance occurred in peace time, right after the war. And we soon realized that the guiding principles and ideas that served us well in war time had no place nor power in peace time. In six years, we were headed for another civil war if a compromise or new solution could not be found. And so was born our third attempt at self governance: We developed and adopted the Constitution of the United States of America in 1787.
And what a magnificent and marvelous document the Constitution is! The beauty and miracle of the Constitution is that it is both enduring and flexible at the same time. It is a framework that has allowed us to expand freedom and liberties and rights to a great number of Americans. The founding fathers were smart enough to realize that they didn't know everything. And they built into the Constitution the flexibility to change with the times while keeping the spirit of freedom, liberty, and equality the core and foundation of the United States as a nation and a people.
And that's the irony of the Constitution. The document that establishes and defines this nation as a nation of freedom, liberty, and equality was created by slaveholders, rich white men who didn't believe women or nonwhites to be equals, yet somehow, recognized that the nation was changing, and it had to change to survive. And therein lie the challenges of American democracy. Slavery was first brought into America in 1619, before America was independent. And with Independence declared in 1776, slavery would last til 1865, making slavery a part of American society for almost 246 years! Women came to the Americas in those early colonial days, yet they would not be granted the right to vote until 1920, just 96 years ago! There are women alive today who were born at a time when women weren't allowed to vote, much less hold public office! And these are just some of the challenges American democracy has faced. The truth is, the fundamental challenge of American democracy lies in defining what exactly is freedom, civil rights, and equality, and who exactly is an American, and what freedoms, rights, and equality should be granted to these Americans?
That is the core challenge of American democracy. We have to continually and actively define what freedom, rights, and equality means, and we have to continually reassess and define who an American is. Because history has shown that our definitions and values and ideas have changed with the times. It's not our skin color nor our sexes nor our orientations nor religious beliefs that should matter. What matters is that we take a real good look at ourselves and really ask, what does it mean to be free, to have rights, to be equal? And that's an ongoing conversation.
Conflict is built into democracy and our form of American government--because we are a huge, continental nation with so many diverse, different people, with diverse, different ideas and beliefs. We should encourage debate to help us progress as a nation and a people. And we have to realize that conflict will occur, because it will happen naturally in a large group of people in a large area, trying to figure out the best way to live and work together.
There are many challenges to American democracy that need to be addressed. Because if we keep ignoring them, then conflict and distress happens. And that's exactly what has happened in the recent election. The popular vote does not match the winning Presidential candidate. The people didn't vote for this President...and that's a huge problem! A democracy is generally understood to be majority rule--the people decide, not the few. Yet, that's exactly what has happened. The few have hijacked the decision of the majority, and now we have conflict and are left wondering, what the hell happened? How did we get here? Seriously?
This is the core truth about American democracy: There will always be challenges to American democracy, because by its very nature, American democracy is a representative democracy, made up of flawed people who have to struggle to keep up with the changing times and changing needs of the people. Since I first learned about the US Government back in 7th grade, I was fascinated by four glaring problems that have plagued the nation since its very founding. Sure, there are many other challenges that the nation has faced and overcome, and there are many other challenges it still has to face and contend with, and who knows what other challenges the nation will face in the future.
But for me, as a 7th grader, a 12 year old, first learning about the US Government, four particular aspects of American democracy really bothered me. The first was the discovery of the electoral college. It was and still is mind boggling to me that a supposed democratic nation like the US--often held up as the shiny beacon of freedom and democracy for the entire world--this supposed free nation of a free people, DOES NOT VOTE FOR ITS PRESIDENT! How unbelievably f*cked up is that?
Americans don't vote for the President. Nope. Americans vote for the electoral college, and the electoral college votes for the President, regardless of who the people choose or support! The ultimate choice of voting for the next President and Vice President belongs to the electoral college, and they have in the past voted for whoever the hell they wanted!!! And it's perfectly LEGAL and Constitutional!
How can this be? To explain the confusion and conflict that is the electoral college, I beg you to have patience, because the explanation will take time to clear up. I promise to have it sorted out as simply as possible in my next post. Suffice it to say that this post is merely my introduction and thoughts on the challenges of American democracy, and how these challenges need to be met. But for now, let me just say that the each state is assigned a number of electoral votes based on the number of representatives and senators it has in Congress, so a minimum of three (2 Congressional Senators, plus at least one Congressman/Representative). Bigger states have more electoral votes. The number of electoral votes and distribution of representatives among the states is determined by population. Why was it done this way? Because it was the best compromise at the time to keep the nation together, to avoid a civil war. And it did just that: Kept the new nation together, but another challenge in American democracy would throw us into a civil war.
In addition to the electoral college, there are three more challenges to American democracy that make up the four core challenges that have always bothered me: The second challenge is the Supreme Court. There is actually no limit on how many Supreme Court justices can be on the Supreme Court bench. That's right. There's no minimum and no maximum! And throughout history, that number has fluctuated much to the peril and prosperity of this nation. The third challenge to American democracy is gerrymandering--redrawing of districts that are suppose to give an accurate representation of a group in an area to better reflect the constituents, but instead, has been used by political parties to gain power and keep minorities down. The final and ongoing challenge to American democracy is slavery. Yes, I know, you're thinking: But slavery is over! Yes, and no. Slavery may be officially over, but in reality, in this very day and age, modern slavery still exists and still plagues this nation. How can this be? And what can be done about it?
It's going to take a few posts to explain why I see these four challenges as fundamental problems that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. So please, be patient. If you've been a long time reader, you know how I tend to write long essays and novellas. But rest assured, I'm working on keeping my arguments and explanations as brief and relevant as possible. So please, be patient and bear with me. The next post is all about the first challenge of American democracy: The Electoral College.
Until then, if someone asks, "How the hell can a President be elected when he lost the majority vote?" You can say, "It's all continental." It's just one of those things that seem simple and makes sense on the surface, but it really is so much more complex and complicated upon closer inspection.
Now I ask you one last time: How many continents are there? The correct answer: It all depends on your definition of continent and as well as the time, circumstances, and place. What's a continent now won't always be, and the world keeps changing right underneath our very feet. But for simplicity's sake, for us to move on with our lives, we generally have to accept 7, even though when you think about, really think about it, it could be very well more or less. It's such a continental thing to think about. Just accept it as face value, so you can move on and not get trapped in a metaphysical, philosophical, academic, hypothetical, geopolitical, sociological, & psychological debate. Sometimes, we need to focus on our basic, physical needs before we tackle the more psychological, academic, self-fulfillment needs. Sometimes, we have to focus on our immediate needs first before we can tackle life's bigger, more complicated questions.
And so it is with American democracy. Upfront, it seems to solve our basic needs for freedom, rights, and equality. But on a deeper examination, we realize that there are serious fundamental challenges inherent in American democracy that need to be addressed and solved if we are to move forward as a nation and a people. And the electoral college is the first challenge to American democracy that needs to be addressed.
The Electoral College
If you've been watching the recent American Presidential election, you've no doubt heard about the electoral college. Chances are, you're a bit confused as to what kind of college this is, and what does it have to do with the Presidential election? Well, to put it simply, the electoral college has everything to do with the Presidential election. Because the truth is, it's the electoral college, NOT the American voters, who directly vote for the next President (and Vice President) of the United States! Say what? That's right. The electoral college votes for the President! And the electoral college is a fundamental challenge in American democracy.
So what the hell is the electoral college and how the hell did this strange process end up deciding who will be President of the United States?
First up, the electoral college is technically, Constitutional. Yes, it's a legal process actually outlined and defined by the Constitution! When the framers of the Constitution were creating the Constitution, they were doing so in a time of crisis. The new nation was less than a decade old, and all ready, signs were showing that the lack of an effective peace time government and ramifications of the Revolutionary War for Independence raised significant problems and crises that threatened civil war and the collapse of the new, fledgling American nation.
The rising national debt, the crumbling economy, the problems of border disputes that involved native Americans, foreign territories, and unclear borders, topped off by a rebellion of poor farmers taking action to prevent foreclosure highlighted the need for a new form of government. The Articles of Confederation that had served the nation well during war time was proving to be ineffective and problematic during peace time. And in order to save this fledgling nation and preserve the independence and freedom so hard fought for and won just a few years before, the founders held a Constitutional Convention in 1787.
And from this Constitutional Convention would come the never ending debates about national power, local control, and freedom that have been a core part of the American political thought ever since. Among the many fundamental issues debated was the separation of powers, checks and balances, national governing authority, and what rights were reserved for the states. The issue of slavery and women's rights weren't addressed. But the issue of representation was decided by a Great Compromise that saved the Constitutional Convention.
And from this Great Compromise arose the practice that the more populous, bigger states won apportionment by population (a certain number of seats) in the House of Representatives. To protect state power and equality for the smaller, less populous states, the Senate would be composed of two senators representing each state, giving them all an equal voice in the Senate. Together, the Constitution specifies a minimum of three people (1 Congressman/Representative, 2 Senators) to represent each state in Congress. That is important. Because Article two of the Constitution sets forth the electors who choose the next President (and Vice President). And each state is given a certain number of Electoral votes based on the number of its delegation (representation) in Congress.
That means the smaller or less populous states are guaranteed a minimum of 3 electoral votes, while the bigger, more populous states get as much as 38 for Texas to 55 for California. The Constitution was later amended to award the District of Columbia (the nation's capital) 3 electoral votes. As of now, there are a total of 538 electoral votes, and to win the Presidency, the Candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes to claim the majority and Presidency. Generally speaking, most states have a winner take all policy, where the winner in the state election poll takes all the states votes. A few states have a few differences in how they award their electoral votes, but generally, if the majority of a state's voters elect one candidate over the other, the winning candidate gets all that state's electoral votes. That's why bigger states with bigger electoral votes are always frequently targeted by campaigns, especially if they're swing states, states that can vote either way regarding political parties.
And therein lies the problem: It doesn't matter what the national (total) popular vote is. It's the electoral vote that determines who is the next President and Vice President of the United States. You can win the majority of the popular vote, but if you don't win enough states, especially the bigger ones with big numbers of electoral votes, then you don't get to be President, regardless of what the popular vote says!
And ain't that f*cked up? That it's not the majority rule that decides the highest office of the American government. Rather, it comes down to a chosen few who decide who the next President and Vice President will be. Because here's the shocking truth: Those people who are the electoral college can vote for whoever they want! And they have done so in the past, with no punishment nor power to change their vote after they've been cast! That means these people, while they do pledge to support whoever won their state's electoral votes, can actually vote for someone else, and have actually in the past, voted for the opposition or even themselves! And it is perfectly legal and Constitutional! To this very day, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether or not these "faithless electors" should be punished, and the states lack the power and authority to change that elector's vote!
The electoral college is a group of citizens selected by each state's voters to cast votes for the President and Vice President. Before the general election in November, political parties in states create a list of electors from active party members who pledge to vote for the party's candidate in the electoral college. After the general election, the state governor generally prepares and submits to Congress and for the National Archives the Certificate of Ascertainment, which lists the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and the winners and their electors. On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (19 December 2016), the winning political party's electors shall meet at the state capitol and cast two separate votes--one for President, the second for Vice President. The results are recorded in a Certificate of Vote that is sent to Congress and the National Archives for record keeping. On 6 January, members of Congress convene in the House chamber and tally the votes and announce the official winner. On 20 January, the President elect is sworn into office as the President of the United States.
What kind of f*cked up system is this? It's actually a compromise, one of the many that ensured the survival of the Constitution and the fledgling American nation. This was a compromise between two competing ideas at the very beginning of American democracy. On one side of the issue, the founding fathers didn't trust the common man, the layman, uneducated farmer, and poor man to make the right choices, to fully understand the democratic system. The founding fathers feared mob mentality and needed a way to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. But at the same time, the opposing view argued that the members of the House of Representatives should decide the next President of the United States. But that idea seemed anti-democratic and elitist, which seemed anti-American. A select few in positions of power in government should NOT have any influence on who should be chosen as the next President. So, the electoral college was born as a compromise. Instead of the people voting directly for the President and Vice President, they would actually vote for electors, and those electors would then vote for the President and Vice President. It was a compromise meant to balance the competing interests of the slavery Southern agriculture states versus the anti-slavery Northern merchant/industrial states.
At the time, it was seen as a best course of action for a new, fledgling democracy. Democracy was too new for America, and in order for the democratic experiment to succeed, a compromise was needed to balance out the fears of mob/majority tyranny vs elitist anti-democratic elections. Thus, the electoral college was the best compromise that addressed both fears. And it may have worked well those first few years. But America is over 200 years old now, and we've changed too much to be bound by the electoral college.
America is now experienced enough with democracy to get rid of the electoral college. We are a more informed and more experienced nation. And the times have changed to the point where we need to do away with the electoral college. The problem is, since it is in the Constitution, it would take a Constitutional Amendment to get rid of the electoral college. And with the current party in charge now, it seems unlikely that a Constitutional Amendment getting rid of the electoral college is forthcoming anytime soon. And that is a real challenge and significant problem in American democracy. The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. The electoral college is now an impediment and significant problem in American democracy. The electoral college has become anti-democratic in this day and age.
We live in a time and place where it should be the majority who decides the next President and Vice President of these United States! And it's such a shame and embarrassment that the American voter, the American citizen, that proud example of true freedom and democracy, does NOT have the power to elect their own President! What kind of bullsh*t world are we living in, when poor, developing, struggling nations have more freedom and choice and power to vote for their own leaders compared to the so called "mighty" and "free" US of A? Is this not a government of the people? By the people? For the people? Is it not shameful and embarrassing to realize that we Americans who tout and proclaim out loud the virtues of freedom and liberty and equality turn out to have NO voice, NO freedom, and NO power over who we get to elect as our next President?
Yes, it's going to take a lot of work to get rid of the electoral college and change the Constitution to better fit our modern way of life, to uphold the spirit of freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans. But all things worthwhile and important take time and work. And as Americans, I would hope that we all know the right thing to do. Yes, it takes a lot of work and effort to change the Constitution, but that hard work and effort is necessary and essential for the right and justified reasons, for the sake of democracy and freedom and equality for all Americans, for the future and betterment of this nation and its people.
Did we really need a bloody civil war to say that slavery is wrong after two hundred years and counting? Did we really need hundreds of years to tell us that women are equal and deserve the same rights and protections as men? Do we really need to destroy our selves to finally admit that we need to change our Constitution to better reflect our core values and beliefs in freedom, democracy, and liberty and equality for all Americans?
Because that's the challenge of the electoral college. By its very nature, the electoral college is anti-democratic and goes against the very ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality upon which this nation is founded and its people hold sacred. This is the challenge of American democracy we must solve. We must get rid of the electoral college now and soon, because otherwise, we face even bigger problems down the line and sooner than we think.
The founding fathers, in an effort to save the Constitution and the new American nation, decided to delay solving the troublesome problem of slavery. That decision may have allowed the Constitution and the new American nation to survive, but only 60 years later, that slavery challenge to American democracy would tear this nation apart as it turned into the Civil War--costing 620,000 lives and countless casualties. And we still bear the scars and costs to this day. And I fear the electoral college poses the same danger and challenge to American democracy. People are angry. And when their votes don't matter, then they will take action. And sometimes, that action can get violent and destructive. I would hope that calmer minds see logic and recognize that to truly honor American democracy and values, we need to change our Constitution to better reflect our modern life. We no longer need the electoral college, and we are experienced and wise enough to vote for our own leaders. Because one way or another, the people always decide. And when they've decided they've had enough, the results are far reaching and impactful, and at worst, catastrophic and destructive.
American democracy comes at a cost. And we need to get rid of the electoral college now and soon. Lest we pay dearly and more costly down the road, sooner than we think. To be truly democratic and a shining example of democracy, we need to vote for our own leaders. We need to get rid of the electoral college and truly practice the freedom and democracy that we preach and hold so dear and essential to our identity and the very foundation of our nation. Get rid of the electoral college. The time has come for Americans to take control of their own government and pick their own leader. The time is long overdue for Americans to vote for their leaders, democratically and freely. When it comes to democracy, freedom, and equality, are we an example or a joke? Are we leaders or losers? Americans aren't truly free until they're truly free to vote for their own President! Are we free or are we slaves? Are we frightened or are we brave?
Oceans 3, 4, 5