How Trump Critics Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Electoral College

That headline was an excuse for self-promotion. I have a couple of recent pieces that might interest readers of the site. One is at The New York Times here. It argues that misinformation is a problem of consumption as well as supply and that it will persist until we get serious about genuinely liberal education. The second is at Law and Liberty here. It responds to an incisive piece by Sam Goldman that articulated a taxonomy of different kinds of liberties. My response deals with one of those types, liberty of association, and makes the case (per Robert Nisbet) that when informal associations erode, we seek meaning in the anonymous realm of politics. The stronger strains of Trump and anti-Trump fanaticism might be helpfully understood in this way.

With that out of the way, an observation: Yesterday the Electoral College wrapped up Joe Biden’s victory in simple terms: namely, 538 ballots were cast. The counting in Congress could still go haywire but almost certainly won’t. The president is still pushing his claims of fraud. Whether from delusion, calculation or both is unclear. Last night, he retweeted a claim not only that Georgia’s Republican Governor and Secretary of State should go to jail but that they actually soon will go to jail. As far as I can tell, this apparent pledge, not threat, to jail two elected state officials for asserted disloyalty has not merited large-type headlines.

But this is among the values of the Electoral College. It’s over. Yes, Trump might have corrupted the electors or persuaded state legislatures to seat different ones. That is the risk of the Electoral College: 538 electors, or the processes of seating them, are easier to manipulate than 150 million individual voters. But that is also a risk of self-government. Had that effort succeeded, we would have more fundamental problems on our hands than the constitutional mechanism by which such a coup was effected. The real headline is that the effort failed. Institutions worked. More important, the republican mores that Tocqueville said were the keystone of democracy worked.

But imagine this moment without the Electoral College. Imagine recounting 150 million individual ballots with hanging chads or mismatched signatures or whatever else. Or litigation selectively filed by either party in the precincts (any of the tens of thousands nationwide) likeliest to produce results. No citizen could reasonably keep a vigil on such a process. It would be infinitely more open to corruption. It would continue until 11:59 a.m. on January 20. Simplicity has its benefits.

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