This election cycle has provided much demonizing of the major party candidates. Much anxiety stalked the land, or at least the mainstream media. Some of this anxiety fixated on fragility of the perceived legitimacy of the victor in the presidential election. Bosh.
The Declaration of Independence succinctly and perfectly states: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….” And electoral victory, in the electoral college, remains the least imperfect mechanism yet tried to discern the consent of the governed. (Electoral victory plus the division of power between the Congress and the presidency is pretty darned good.)
Our current perceived predicament is neither new nor news. H.L. Mencken, the proto-libertarian “Sage of Baltimore,” summed it up to perfection 98 years ago in In Defense of Women:
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
The fundamental things don’t change as time goes by.
Every election since the dawn of the Republic has been, in some respect, “rigged.” As Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker last summer, How To Steal An Election :
Early American Presidential elections were not popular elections, not only because the vote was mainly restricted to white male property owners but also because delegates to the Electoral College were elected by state legislatures. The legislative caucus worked only as long as voters didn’t mind that they had virtually no role in electing the President, a situation that lasted for a while since, after all, most people living in the United States at the time were used to having a king. But a new generation of Americans objected to this arrangement, dubbing it “King Caucus.” “Under what authority did these men pretend to dictate their nominations?” one citizen asked in 1803. “Do we send members of Congress to cabal once every four years for president?” New states entering the union held conventions to draft state constitutions, in which they adopted more democratic arrangements. This put pressure on old states to revise their own constitutions. By 1824, eighteen out of twenty-four states were holding popular elections for delegates to the Electoral College. Between 1824 and 1828, the electorate grew from fewer than four hundred thousand people to 1.1 million. Men who had attended the constitutional convention in 1787 shook their gray-haired heads and warned that Americans had crowned a new monarch: “King Numbers.”
That king still sits on his throne.
Lepore goes on:
The rise of the primary was a triumph for Progressive reformers, who believed that primaries would make elections more accountable to the will of the people. That didn’t quite come to pass. Instead, primaries became part of the Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement of newer members of the electorate.
The end of Reconstruction saw the rise of the secret ballot, which, by effectively introducing a literacy requirement, disenfranchised black men. If the Emancipation Proclamation ended the electoral advantage granted to Southern whites by the three-fifths clause, the secret ballot restored it. In Louisiana, black-voter registration dropped from 130,000 in 1898 to 5,300 in 1908 to 730 in 1910.
The secret ballot is an institution that has acquired such an aura of sanctity that it is illegal in 17 or 18 states to take (or transmit) a photo of your own ballot taken with your own cellphone camera. Who knew it was inaugurated not out of idealistic motives but as a highly effective means of voter suppression?
Hint: if you paid more than occasional attention to what politics really is made up of, tactical finagling under the claim of idealism, this would come as not much of a surprise.
Tactical finagling over election practices to gain advantage is much more the rule rather than the exception. It’s rarely, if ever, really about “fairness.” “Fairness” is the lipstick applied to the pig. Politics is (mostly) about winning.
Progressives are voluble about “voter suppression.” I, too, detest voter suppression. Mencken, again: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Progressives, meanwhile, are nearly mute on voter fraud. I had the great privilege of growing up near the fringes of one of the great small city Democratic machines of the last century. I thus was made privy to inner workings, which were (and presumably still are) an open secret.
Political machines, at least then, rather routinely stipulate that their District Attorney (an elected official) would be left secure in his job and allowed to prosecute real criminals… so long as he turned a blind eye to voter fraud. Instances of voter fraud, which were rather routine, typically were not investigated and rarely, if ever, prosecuted. I recall a story told me by one of the party Insiders about a conversation had with a Republican gubernatorial nominee who genially put the machine on notice that if elected he’d overlook a few hundred, but not a few thousand, phantom votes for his Democratic rival from the city’s river wards.
To which party does fraud mostly inure? Ballotpedia reports that nine of America’s 10 largest cities have Democratic mayors. Democratic mayors preside over 37 of our 50 largest cities. Surprise!
Memo to vote fraud Deniers: Get real. It’s not quite cricket but in the interest of speaking Truth to Power let’s pierce the miasma of sanctimony in which progressives enshroud themselves. Every one of the electoral “reforms” they are pushing and even enacting mainly benefits Democrats and left-of-center Democrats especially.
Felons voting? Check. Noncitizens voting? Check. Manipulating the decennial re-drawing of Congressional District boundaries? Check. Campaign finance law restrictions? Check. Open primaries? Check. Abolishing the electoral college? Check. Ranked voting? Check. Lowering the voting age? Check. All lean left.
It takes a great deal more naïveté than I can muster to expect otherwise. Don’t look so shocked, shocked!, to find gambling going on in here. (Your winnings, sir.)
A progressive bumper sticker says “I’ll believe corporations are persons as soon as Texas executes one.” As for me, I’ll believe that progressives are operating in good faith as soon as they seriously put forth electoral “reform” proposals neutral in their effect. That said, the magnitude both of voter suppression and voter fraud is almost certainly far more modest than the overheated claims by their partisans.
Meanwhile, back here in the Real World, the anticipated crisis of legitimacy for the candidate elected is an imaginary hobgoblin. Elections always, to an extent, have been "rigged." Politics always, to an extent, will be rigged. There is simply no way of unrigging it. What a protest will signify is that the other team proved more adept at rigging it.
Democrats continue to attempt to delegitimize Trump's victory in part by ridiculously magnifying the influence of a minuscule racist faction and by featuring his louche statements while suppressing reference to their own team's louche conduct. As they have been doing right along.
The winner will claim a "Mandate." Of the 320 million in the United States around 219 million are eligible to vote, 146 million are registered to vote and 126 million voted in 2012. Obama received about 66 million of those votes. "Mandate" is a pretty strong word for the agenda of someone who received the vote of 20% of the population.
Much of the elite will play along with the claim of "mandate" for fear of spoiling the grand illusion that allows them to feast. The losing party will do everything in its power to thwart the agenda of the winner.
And the band plays on.
Take heart! Have confidence in one thing. Our politicians and officials will “keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
Originating at Forbes.com