Sundin column: Election thoughts and need for parliamentary system
November 30, 2016
For the better part of a year we have been treated (?) to the most bizarre presidential campaign in American history, ending with a stunning election night surprise (about as big a surprise as the Broncos' win in the last two minutes of their hard-fought game with the New Orleans Saints).
On the one hand, the New York Times has remarked that Donald Trump has yet to prove that he has the capacity to focus on any issue, or indeed the temperament to govern a diverse nation of 320 million people or control the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. He threatens to prosecute his political opponents and curtail freedom of the press, lies without compunction, and gleefully insults women, Muslims and Hispanic immigrants; and has promised to tear up vital deals on climate change and Iran's now-mothballed nuclear program. He has done all this with the loud support of "racists, white supremacists and anti-Semites."
On the other hand, millions of voters were won over by his attacks on the political establishment — both Democrat and Republican — by whom they felt they were being ignored, and his promises to improve our security, bring jobs back to the middle class, close our borders to Mexicans and Muslims, and rewrite our financial and defense agreements with the rest of the world.
This brings up the question of how he and his supporters will react if he cannot deliver what he has promised, much of which may be unrealistic. The Republican Congress may very well be unwilling to support building a fence along the Mexican border or abrogating our foreign agreements. His promise to increase middle-class jobs may falter due to the worldwide trend toward reducing labor costs by automation. We cannot turn backward and remain competitive with the rest of the world.
Also disturbing is his appeal to bigotry and bullying, which has exposed an undercurrent of intolerance and threatens to erase 50 years of progress in human relations. Of even greater concern is Trump's denial of global warming, ignoring the consensus of climate scientists. His putting fossil fuel interests ahead of the future livability of our planet will someday earn him the enmity of everyone now younger than 40.
The 2016 vote has once again demonstrated the inequality of the Electoral College method of electing our presidents. This was the fourth time in our history, and the second time in the last five elections, that the candidate who led in the popular vote was not elected.
The U.S. Constitution specifies that the number of electors each state will have shall be equal to the number of members it has in Congress. The smallest states, with two senators and one representative, have three electoral votes, while the largest state, California, with two senators and 53 representatives, gets 55 electoral votes. When you factor in their populations, California has one electoral vote for every 700,000 residents, and the seven smallest states get one electoral vote for every 250,000 residents — a huge disparity.
The Electoral College is an anachronism that has outlived its function. When it was adopted, communications were limited and few people had any knowledge about presidential candidates or their positions on issues, so it was judged that they would be better served if they picked better-informed electors from their own areas to represent them.
For the same reason, the Constitution required that senators for each state be elected by the state legislatures. In 1913, that was changed to popular election by the 17th Amendment. We have long needed an amendment doing away with the Electoral College and electing our president and vice president by popular vote.
One final thought: In a way, we are fortunate that Hillary Clinton was not elected. She would have been confronted with a Republican Congress to whom compromise is a dirty word and we would have had four years of gridlock and dysfunctional government. The Republican hierarchy has signaled that for her entire term in office they would not even consider any appointment she would make to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
We need a constitutional amendment to convert our system of government to a parliamentary system under which every other democracy operates. Under that system, the public votes for the party whose policies they favor, and the dominant party selects the prime minister from within its ranks, thereby avoiding the kind of confrontation to which we have been subjected.
Hal Sundin's "As I See It" column appears on the first Thursday of the month.