As I write early Wednesday morning, we’re still sorting. In Kansas, as usual, the Republican majority has won most races. Our new governor Laura Kelly a welcome exception. Maybe one or two more. Hopefully, the Republicans are moderates. Nationally. Democrats won control over the House and at least a tad of balance of power between legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Walter Williams column last Friday (Nov. 2) grabbed my attention.. He worried Democrats might win a House majority. That was something, he said, that “Republicans and much of our nation dread.”
But Walter didn’t sound big time worried. Democrats winning even 51 Senate seats wasn’t likely. And if they did, anything that Trump (or the plutocrats) didn’t like, he could veto. To over-ride it, Dems would have to own not just a majority but two-thirds of the House. Ditto for the Senate. Historically, over-riding a Presidential veto is relatively rare. So what’s Walter’s and “much” of America’s dread? (Maybe it has to do with the House’s power to subpoena Trump’s income tax records? Stuff like that?).
Then he gets to his big problem:
Williams’ paranoia is that the Electoral College (which gave us Donald Trump, despite losing by almost three million votes) could be scrapped. If you didn’t know,, the U.S. is the only major country that has an Electoral College. Only five Presidents have lost the popular vote. Trump set a record.
But for Walter, losing the popular vote but winning the election anyway, is hunky-dorey “The Founding Fathers had utter contempt for majority rule. They saw it as a form of tyranny,” he says. (So rule by minority would be less tyrannical?)
Williams defends the Presidential power to veto anything that doesn’t have a two-thirds majority in both Houses. So maybe a majority isn’t tyranny … if it’s one political party controls House, Senate, Presidency, and the Supreme Court?
C’mon, Williams. You can’t have it both ways.
The Founding Fathers certainly deserve our appreciation and respect. Even the capital letters. But maybe not uncritical worship. Maybe they were partly human, to some measure cultural products of their times. For example:
Article 1, Sec. 2 of the 1787 U.S. Constitution declared slaves to count as three-fifths persons.. None were considered equal to “white” men. That didn’t begin to change much until the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 — three years after slavery was declared illegal by the 13th Amendment. But it took almost a hundred years for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to bring more equality. Things have improved, but racism is still around.
The Founding Fathers also didn’t think women deserved the right to vote. Not until 1920 did that change with the 19th Amendment. (Maybe we could have used some Founding Mothers, eh?
Challenges to Founding Father sainthood mentality have to begin with a two-thirds majority of members of both Houses. Members who get there by winning the popular vote, not Electoral College approval. Then, to be ratified and added to our Constitution, any proposed Amendment must be approved by three-fourths of state legislative bodies. In each state, two-thirds of the legislators must approve.
(The one exception was for the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th – which had outlawed production or sale of alcohol nationally. That was done by constitutional conventions. So, enjoy your beer. Just don’t overdo it.)
As for tyranny of the majority, the first 10 Amendments — the Bill of Rights — are intended to protect us from what Walter Williams seems to dread. In my opinion, the Bill of Rights does a good job of that, supplemented by other Amendments.
We certainly owe respect to our Founding Fathers. We also owe a great deal to reformers who have historically worked toward a perfect union. The Electoral College, like racial and sexist prejudice, didn’t make us a more perfect union. It’s out-dated, and needs to go.
As Lord Acton observed, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I would add two others: ignorance and apathy. Ignorance is better when it remains on the sidelines. Apathy is worse when it does the same. Put more simply, the survival of a democratic republic requires a majority of informed and active voters. Otherwise, tyranny happens.
Bob Hooper is a 4th generation Western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.