The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Elections:
Below the Surface

Nov 23, 2020

In every part of the world other than Donald’s world, Biden won the election.

In Donald’s world, Donald won, and he rushed to declare it even before most of the votes were counted. When vote counts did come in, he raged on Twitter about “fraud” and “corruption.” His lawyer claimed to have found papers showing Trump won with a 70% share of the vote.

Of course, it’s a joke. Even Donald knew he had lost. But after driving five companies into bankruptcy, stiffing his investors while making off with the loot, he knew how to turn a company’s loss into his own personal profit. He also knew that Reality TV could turn a loser into the “mega successful” businessman he had pretended to be. Why not president?

It’s pure Reality TV—and also a financial scam. Trump, being chauffeured off to one of his golf courses, begged his followers to donate money for legal costs to defend his election protest. To note: nothing in the way he made his request prevents him from making off with the money personally, stiffing people who trusted him.

But it’s more than a financial scam. Trump demanded that state legislatures run by Republicans ignore the official vote count and instead select their own slate of electors to cast votes for him in the Electoral College. And a few Republicans jumped to carry out his every wish.

Trump’s demands won’t put him back in the White House. But that’s not because, as so many claimed, that “democracy” worked. The electoral system worked the way it always does, and that has little to do with democracy, whether Trump won or lost.

Need we be reminded? In two of the previous five elections, the candidate who was installed as president lost the popular vote, that is, the actual vote of the population: in 2000, Bush lost by half a million votes; in 2016, Trump lost by more than three million. This year, with over 150 million people voting, a shift of some tens of thousands of votes to Trump in four “swing” states would have been enough to let the Electoral College put the loser once again into the White House.

This is exactly what Trump was playing on—the fact that the Electoral College, shrouded in mystery, can decide the opposite of what the people in their majority decide.

In this “democracy,” there is no direct vote by the people for president. A direct vote is no guarantee of “democracy,” but the lack of such a vote surely means that what the people mark on their ballot is not decisive.

This is not just an oddity, a little known fact for Jeopardy. It is the direct result of the way the electoral system was set up in the beginning, the purpose of which has carried over into today.

The aim of that system—as expressed in the words of John Jay, one of the chief architects of the Constitution—was to guarantee that “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” In other words the wealthy classes ought to rule over everyone else. Jeremy Belknap, one of the architects of the Electoral College, explained its goal this way: “Let it stand as a principle that government originates from the people; but let the people be taught that they are not able to govern themselves.” The letters between James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the main authors of the Constitution, reiterate over and over and over again that “the proper role of government is to protect against leveling tendencies that might lead to an agrarian law,” that is, a law that would have served the majority of the “free” population in that period, who were agricultural laborers or farmers.

To put it into plain words: the population can vote—so long as it doesn’t vote for something the ruling classes don’t want. So the problem addressed by the makers of the Constitution was how to structure the system avoiding that danger, while seeming to give the people a voice. As Madison expressed it in another of his letters, giving people the right to a meaningless vote was useful for diverting the people’s attention from their own interests, keeping them lined up behind the wealthy classes.

Every important politician since Madison’s day has known how to play on elections for exactly this purpose.

So what is Donald Trump’s purpose now? Certainly he didn’t expect to grab the presidency back. Probably he was hoping to keep part of the “people” lined up behind him. Perhaps he was seeking to make a deal gaining immunity from prosecution. After all, he faces a multitude of criminal charges for past financial crimes, once out of office.

Whatever his purposes, Trump’s maneuvers—and the fact that some parts of the political establishment acted on them—served to pull the curtain back on this sham of democracy.