No Major Defections: Electoral College Affirms Trump Victory Despite Loss of Popular Vote

The Electoral College serves to exclude progressive ideals – and has done it again, says historian Gerald Horne


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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. The New York Times and NPR is reporting that President-elect Donald Trump has secured more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to become our 45th President. Now, it must be noted that these Electoral College votes won’t be officially confirmed until Congress votes on it, or at least opens the votes next month, January the 6th.

But December 19th is when 538 designated Electors meet in their respective State capitals to cast their Electoral College votes for their party’s Presidential candidate. Now, this time around we saw protests across the country at state capitals, many of those trying to convince Republican electors to flip their electoral votes against Donald Trump. And this is usually an uneventful procedural event — but as we all know, nothing about the 2016 campaign has been what most would describe as typical. And many are closely watching what possible faithless electors may do, especially when Republican electors do, whether or not they will mount a revolt against Donald Trump, whom at least one Texas Republican elector described as “not fit for office”.

But today we’re joined with Dr. Gerald Horne. Dr. Horne holds the John Jay and Rebecca Morris Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s also the author of many books, including most recently, the one titled, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne, we appreciate you joining us again. Thank you.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

KIM BROWN: Well, Dr. Horne, we are getting a little bit of breaking news as we commence this discussion about Donald Trump, supposedly — at least according to numerous news outlets — getting the required amount of 270 Electoral College votes to make his ascendency to the White House. There was a lot of talk about whether or not Republican Electoral College voters would possibly flip their vote, but we’re actually seeing the opposite. More than several reports of Democratic Electoral College voters changing their votes not from Hillary Clinton, not even necessarily to Bernie Sanders — a couple supposedly went for Bernie Sanders. But we saw other names tossed out there, including Colin Powell. What do you make of the 2016 Electoral College vote procedure?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, on the level of generalization, I think the future historians will conclude that 2016 needs to be ranked with 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell or 1945 when World War II ended, as a historically important year, because I’m afraid that with this step towards certifying the election of Donald J. Trump as US President, United States — and perhaps even the world — are entering a new dark age, which will be a severe challenge to progressive forces, nationally and internationally.

With regard to the vote of the Electoral College, I think that some of those who chose not to cast their electoral vote for Hillary Clinton, but for Bernie Sanders, were trying to send a message of encouragement to the Sanders voters in trying to get them to gear up for the severe challenge that we will all be facing in the next four years with the election of this imminently unqualified man, Donald J. Trump, to be US President.

KIM BROWN: Well, Dr. Horne, give us some more historical context about the Electoral College. I mean, it was created during a time of American History where only white male landowners were allowed to vote. Now, in spite of the fact of the right to vote being open to all American citizens, is the Electoral College still in place to preserve that historical power structure?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I would say, generally speaking, that the Electoral College was inaugurated in the late 18th century for a number of reasons. Number one, to protect the interest of small states like Rhode Island. But more than that, I think the Electoral College was instituted to protect slavery. That is to say, that there was an idea that states like Virginia, which had substantial populations of enslaved Africans, there was a question as to whether or not they should be counted for purposes of population as five-fifths of a human being or three-fifths of a human being. We all know that they were counted as three-fifths of a human being and because the Electoral College is based upon congressional representation, this gave an advantage to slave states like Virginia, which is one of the many reasons why before the US Civil War, most of the US Presidents were slave owners and most of the US Presidents hailed from the State of Virginia.

It’s fair to say that in 2016, the Electoral College is something of an anachronism. Although, you still have states like Wyoming and like, Rhode Island, smaller states, who feel that it protects their interests and gives them an advantage when it comes to confronting bigger States like New York, Florida, Texas and California.

KIM BROWN: So, when we heard the lobbying of possible Republican Electoral College voters, people were trying to convince them to flip their vote, not vote for Donald Trump, as one elector described him as “not being fit for office”. Was the Electoral College designed to keep a demagogue or a tyrant out of office? Does the Electoral College wield that power?

GERALD HORNE: Well, if you look at the writings of Alexander Hamilton, who was, of course, one of the so-called Founding Fathers, certainly that was a purpose, that was an intention, in terms of the framing of the Electoral College. But at the end of the day, I think it’s also fair to say that the Electoral College was also intended as an anti-democratic instrument. That is to say, it was a kind of fail-safe manoeuver that would allow elites to prevent a person such as yourself, or myself, from being elected President, if we had won the popular vote. That’s one of the many reasons why so many progressive forces today are clamoring for an end, a termination of the Electoral College.

KIM BROWN: Now, Hillary Clinton now leads the popular vote by nearly three million and this has happened several times throughout American History, where the candidate who has the most popular votes does not make it to the White House. And we saw this most recently in the 2000 Presidential election. So, has the Electoral College ever bucked the system, so to speak, and instead cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote, even if that candidate had fewer Electoral College votes?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that if you look at it from the point of view of progressive forces. The Electoral College, generally has operated to prevent candidates who are to the left on the political spectrum from getting elected, such as Al Gore, for example, vis-a-vis George W. Bush, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, vis-a-vis Donald J. Trump. That is to say, that it theoretically could operate to prevent a conservative from getting elected, but generally speaking it has not worked out that way — which is one of the many reasons why many feel that it should be terminated, sooner rather than later.

KIM BROWN: So, in your opinion has there ever been a presidential election where the popular vote, perhaps in a given State was fraught with voter suppression or voter disenfranchisement that it affected how a state’s electoral votes were awarded?

GERALD HORNE: Well, you could even say that for 2016. I mean, it’s well known that in black communities in particular, often times there are fewer voting machines, the voting machines that are there often times do not work. That leads to longer lines, which causes voters to turn around and go home. We all know that in the black community, in particular, nine out of ten times, voters tend to vote against the right. That has affected the outcome, I would dare say, in North Carolina, from where I’m speaking today. And certainly, it probably affected the outcome in Wisconsin, if you look at how the black vote in Milwaukee turned out in November, 2016. So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that the electoral outcome has been impacted by very shady machinations, but that seems to be par for the course for the United States of America in 2016.

KIM BROWN: I was going to say, Dr. Horne, because this was not the first election that there have been specific problems with communities of color being able to cast their vote, with people who are black, Latino, Muslim, being intimidated out of going to cast their vote. So, this, as you said, par for the course.

GERALD HORNE: I’m afraid so. You may recall that during the 2004 election in which John Kerry, the present Secretary of State, was defeated by George W. Bush who won a second term, that Congressman John Conyers of the Congressional Black Caucus did an exhaustive study, that showed that in particular States like Ohio, that the kinds of dirty tricks that we just made reference to, were quite rampant and that it certainly affected the outcome of the vote in Ohio and presumably affected the outcome of the election.

United States has very severe problems when it comes to running democratic elections, which obviously calls into question the ability of the US State Department to wag the finger of accusation at other nations, with regard to their own electoral practices.

KIM BROWN: Has there been any serious effort ever in Congress to dismantle the Electoral College? And, if so, why were they unsuccessful?

GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s been a lot of loose talk for decades now about dismantling the Electoral College, but those plans have generally run aground. I think that’s true for a number of reasons. One, as noted, you have a number of States such as Rhode Island, such as Wyoming, where Senators and Members of Congress object to this. Secondly, the Republican Party, which as you know, now has a stranglehold over both houses of Congress, generally tends to think that the Electoral College works to their advantage, since it tends to empower States like South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, where Republicans tend to be hegemonic.

In fact, the conservative columnist, George Will had a piece in The Washington Post, just a day or two ago, where he argued that the Electoral College operates in an excellent fashion. That’s more or less a quote, if not a paraphrase. Given that kind of thinking, I don’t think that you should expect any dismantling of the Electoral College any time soon.

KIM BROWN: It’s so ironic how Donald Trump ran on a platform of populism, of “drain the swamp” but yet, his entire election — or at least the way that the system worked in his benefit to help him make it to the White House — just really affirms that the elites actually do hold a lot of the power in this system.

GERALD HORNE: Well, look, I think it was Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida who referred to Donald J. Trump as a conman. And I think that when a biography of him is written, that will be the title. How could he talk about draining the swamp, when he’s invited into his cabinet a number of swamp creatures, including his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, his CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, not to mention a number of billionaires, such as Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, such as Betsy DeVos, his Secretary of Education. I think that the voters, who voted for Donald J. Trump, presumably in good faith, thinking that the swamp would be drained, should feel that they’ve been bamboozled. They’ve been cheated.

KIM BROWN: Well, Dr. Horne, in your opinion, as we move forward from this very fraught and contentious election, is it possible for the United States to even have, what I guess most would describe as a democracy, if the Electoral College remains in place? As you mentioned earlier, it’s been serving, in a way, to keep more progressive minds and personalities out of the White House and to make sure that the conservative ones do make it in. So, can America ever be a democracy with this system remaining as it is?

GERALD HORNE: Well, that’s the $64-question. And I would have to answer the question negatively. That is to say, that when you have a Hillary Rodham Clinton who gets almost 3 million more votes than Donald J. Trump, and yet she loses the election, that calls into question the bona fides of US democracy. Certainly, I think that one of the top priorities going forward for the progressive movement should be to abolish the Electoral College and declare that the winner of the popular vote is the winner of the US Presidential election. Now, you have this interstate compact that a number of States have entered into, which suggests that these states, which include, places like Illinois, will cast all of their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote. But as of now, states who have decided to sign onto the interstate compact only comprise about 165 of the 270 Electoral College votes that are needed to win the election. I don’t think that we should expect any change because, as noted, the conservatives and the Republicans feel that the Electoral College operates to their benefit and so they see no reason to change.

KIM BROWN: Indeed, we’ve been joined with Dr. Gerald Horne. Dr. Horne holds the John Jay and Rebecca Morris, Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s also the author of many books. You should check out his latest titled The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne, as always, we appreciate your expertise.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

KIM BROWN: Thank you and we appreciate you watching The Real News Network.