In a recent HuffPo outburst, professional singer of Plantinga’s praises Kelly Clarkson observes, in characteristically original fashion, that if “the United States were a democracy, Donald Trump would not be president.” True enough. But also true enough, as Clark acknowledges, is the fact that the United States is not a pure democracy but a representational republic, where the president is elected not by popular vote but by the Electoral College (which he calls “weird”).
Clark uses this observation in an attempt to make the ironic point that while Trump was elected via a representative system, “Trump does not represent.” Represent…who, exactly? Those who disagree with Trump? Well, in that sense, had Hillary won, she wouldn’t represent those who disagree with her, either. No, it seems that Clark must mean that Trump doesn’t represent the United States, where the United States is represented by majority opinion. Clark writes:
Hilary [sic] Clinton garnered 3,000,000 more votes than Trump. Moreover, Trump received only 63 million votes out of 241 million eligible voters, only 26% of eligible voters. Granted, Trump speaks on behalf of 26% of eligible voters and 14% more approve of him. But 60% of American voters view him unfavorably, nearly 20 points more than any previous incoming president. He does not represent the millions who voted for Hillary and he does not represent those who didn’t vote but view him unfavorably.
I won’t dwell on Clark’s disingenuous appeal to the approval of “eligible voters” and those “who don’t vote” to make the stats appear as lopsided against Trump as possible. The chicanery of such tactics should be obvious enough. Clark need only consider those who actually voted—the majority of whom voted against Trump—to make his point, which I take to be that a president not elected by popular vote does not represent the country.
This is little more than sophistical nonsense in need of a basic history lesson. The Founders instituted the Electoral College precisely because they were worried about an unequal representation of states’ interests in the federal union. For example, they didn’t want the voting patterns of states with densely populated cities like New York to determine the course of the entire country, swamping the interests of rural states like Vermont (or somewhere like Delaware at the time). By a pure popular vote, those in a few major cities would have the privilege of deciding who gets to be president in every national election (in fact, by a pure popular vote, the Democrats would have prevented Abraham Lincoln, who ran partly on abolitionist sentiments shared by the majority the Republican electorate, from becoming president in 1860). Question for Clark: how would that fairly represent the diversity of the country? And here we see Clark’s flawed (and arguably bigoted) assumption laid bare: that a simple majority would fairly represent the country.
It should at this point be a commonplace that that assumption is highly dubious. History supplies us with enough examples of what Aristotle understood intuitively: pure democracies, directed as they are by a majority’s self-interest (as opposed to the common good, as in a more enlightened republic), are uniquely susceptible to devolving into tyrannical regimes. It is all too easy for a popular leader to see his popularity as license for dictatorial behavior. After all, the majority will approve, right? This was well-understood by the Founders, who saw the wisdom of a system that stymies the tyranny of the majority, much to the chagrin of leftists like Clark, with their “aspirations to democracy.” They hate to be reminded that there is more to the United States than the blue parentheses of the East and West coasts. There is that basket of deplorables who inhabit the backwater swamps of flyover country. They have a voice, too.
So when the population density of states translates to the Wyoming farmer’s vote having more weight than the Whole Foods employee in California, that is a fair way of representing the voting interests of the country as a whole that avoids, or at least stymies, the dangers of simply bowing to the will of the majority. If there is an ironic point to be made here, it is that leftists like Clark, who style themselves tireless fighters for the interests of minorities, are crying injustice at the fact that the majority didn’t get their way. They should love the Electoral College, and celebrate how it manages to fairly represent the voting interests of both majority (Democrats) and minority (Republicans) in United States! But they don’t, because they despise minorities when they can’t be used as a means to increase their power. Leftist’s utopian visions of a pure democracy and opposition to the Electoral College expose them as the bullies they are: in a pure democracy, they could wield the power of majority opinion, which leans left, to bully the less powerful minority who are right.
Trump may not represent Clark, but he does represent the country. Given the size of the sanctimonious egos of leftists like Clark, it is understandable that they’d confuse the two, just as a tyrannical leader of a pure democracy probably would.
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