Mulhall column: Let’s not harvest the wisdom of U.S. crowds
The recent presidential election gave way to lots of whining. To get to the heart of it, you have to peel the onion. When you find the conceit near the center, your eyes start to water — from laughter.
The conceit says in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, rich 1 percenters across the U.S. donned velvet smoking jackets, lit Cohibas and swilled celebratory Hennessy from Waterford snifters, pasty old white dudes burned their tie-dyed T-shirts and Birkenstocks and put on chew-stained wife-beaters and cowboy boots, the KKK — led by the late Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd — crawled out of graves to decorate churches and elementary school playgrounds with swastikas and commence a racially unjust zombie apocalypse, and regiments of Ray-Ban wearing, AR-15 toting NRA goons showed up on the southern border to stem the free flow of pixies and unicorns through some chimerical global Utopia.
None of this happened, yet these and other derivations are the narratives.
According to these chestnuts, this all could have been avoided if more Americans had just voted for Hillary, or, short of that, if that unpropitious gimcrack known as the Electoral College didn’t exist.
Many of the disgruntled are signing an online petition to repeal the Electoral College. Others have circulated lists containing the phone numbers, addresses, religions, races and genders of actual Republican electors, encouraging Hillary faithful to pressure these people into voting Democrat, regardless of duty or legal requirement.
Al Gore, who for a decade and a half after the 2000 presidential election supported the Electoral College, has just changed his mind. Of the popular vote he recently said, “We’ve got to get back to harvesting the wisdom of crowds in the United States.”
He’s wrong. About crowds, tradition and harvest.
To Plato, the popular vote was the electoral practice of pure democracy, and pure democracy was “mob rule” — the politics of the crowd, or bandwagon. Worse, Plato thought democracy was a short step away from tyranny — the unrestrained imposition of power.
The problem was, in Plato’s view, democracy was too prone to manipulation by a skilled rhetorician. A slick-tongued speaker could gin up enough support to win an election, even if the guy didn’t warrant the public trust.
Today this may seem off mark, or even inapplicable, but in ancient Greece a skilled orator garnered all public attention — there was no media and no other forum. Were Plato alive today, surely he’d chide the media instead.
Aristotle shared Plato’s disdain for democracy, but he thought you could combine democracy with oligarchy — rule by a small group of people with a common tie — for decent results. Aristotle may have introduced the idea of combining governmental forms.
Enlightenment thinkers picked up on Aristotle’s idea, attracted by the notion that a mixed form government might give voice to the governed while avoiding the tyranny of pure democracy. The framers came up with a representative republic with the Electoral College to minimize democracy’s mob rule problem.
Without the Electoral College, more than one-third of voting power would arise from four states. Without the Electoral College, presidential candidates would necessarily change how they campaign. Without the Electoral College, people in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas wouldn’t live there for executive representation.
Though the popular vote was among some of history’s greatest political thinkers a perilous electoral practice, it is now held by many protesters and at least two prominent figures in recent valley government I know the preferred electoral form — because it would have elected Hillary Clinton.
To frame the Electoral College’s importance in terms a little closer to home, consider Amendment 71, which shared the 2016 Colorado ballot with Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump.
Seventy-one proffered a broader geographic distribution of petition signatures to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot. Since passage, a valid petition requires at least 2 percent of signatures from every one of Colorado’s 35 senate districts. Many districts are in the Denver-Boulder area, but not all. District 7 includes Delta and Grand Junction, and District 8 encompasses Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
Why is this important?
Well, if you’re trying to skirt Colorado’s taxpayer bill of rights and propose an amendment for state-run, single-payer health care — if you’re trying to impose power — you can’t just gather signatures from the like-minded in Denver and Boulder. You have to drive out to the sticks and garner support from Colorado’s “basket of deplorables,” too.
Amendment 71 is generally analogous to the Electoral College. True, Colorado isn’t the United States, and a constitutional amendment isn’t a presidential candidate, but the central idea — ensuring the broadest geographic support possible — is otherwise identical.
Some think of Democrats as the party of fairness, which I suppose gives rise to the fatuity that says when a Republican is president, the music of the spheres becomes a hoedown, the nuances of social justice turn black and white, and the delicate fabric of fairness unravels altogether.
To me, all the whining just means the mob would throw fairness under the bus to keep a Democrat in the Oval Office.
Mitch Mulhall is a longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.