Botswana, Micronesia and Us

According to the Pew Research Center’s “Fact Tank,” no other democratic nation elects its President quite the way the U.S. does, and only a handful are even similar.

Besides the U.S, the only other democracies that indirectly elect a leader who combines the roles of head of state and head of government (as the U.S. president does) are Botswana, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, South Africa and Suriname. (The Swiss collective presidency also is elected indirectly, by that country’s parliament.)

At this writing, Hillary Clinton looks likely to win the popular vote by over two million; Donald Trump won the electoral votes of the so-called “swing states” by the thinnest of margins–  a collective hundred and seven thousand votes.

The dictionary definition of “democracy” is “rule by the majority.” Although it is certainly true that America’s system was not originally intended to operate by majority rule (it was instead conceived of as a representative democracy), and it (thankfully!) remains true that our Bill of Rights limits what government can do even with the support of popular majorities, we have changed our electoral system over the years, and we have done so in the name of increasing popular democracy.

In two of the last four national elections, the candidate clearly preferred by a majority of citizens has not become President.

We need to ask ourselves whether America truly wants to move in the direction of genuine democracy, or whether we want to continue a system that privileges the votes of more rural citizens over the votes of urban Americans– a system that decides who will win based  not upon the larger number of votes cast, but upon where a candidate’s voters happen to live.

I fully expect that the elevation of a mentally unstable and monumentally unfit man to the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth will usher in an era of chaos and social upheaval. I have no idea what will emerge in the aftermath–assuming that there is an aftermath, and that a thin-skinned and vengeful ignoramus in possession of the nuclear codes doesn’t destroy the planet.

If and when we do emerge, we need to decide whether we are committed to democratic decision-making or not. If we are, we have a lot of housekeeping to do.


  1. I am waiting, watching and wondering if the people that voted for trump will rise in an uproar when they realize his plans elevate the rich elite class even more by taking opportunity and money away from the middle class – or what little is left of the middle class.

  2. For the first time in my life, I am frightened. And it’s not the kind of frightened you feel when a body is found near your home…no, it’s a kind of frightened I’ve never felt before. It comes with despair and a feeling of being lost in darkness on a mean street. And there’s no one I recognize as safe. And I fear it’s going to be a very long night. This isn’t my father’s country anymore.

  3. Assuming our last faint hope of the recount or of massive elector default doesn’t give Hillary an electoral as well as popular vote advantage, then, as I have been writing on my blog, we are in for a rough four years. An internet professor who claims he has never missed picking a presidential winner has written that he picked Trump to win but now writes he will be impeached, though the professor is vague on the reason or reason(s) why.
    I think there is a good chance that he will be impeached and that the reason why is that making money is baked into his neurons and he will pretend or actually not be able to understand that the Oval Office in his perfect world is not just another opportunity to make money, an opportunity he will claim to have earned with his election and thus the “approval of the people.”
    I think he well understands the enormous influence the office has in the international marketplace and the possibility for personal self-enrichment that it provides and that he will show us how to be obstinate while he practices being president as a sideline designed to provide a mere springboard from which to make money, and that anybody who talks ethics or opposition to using one’s office for self-enrichment will be denounced (first by Twitter) as anti-business, socialist, or “it’s Hillary’s fault,” or Obama’s, or Schumer’s, or anybody’s but the guy at poolside admiring his visage, who is never wrong.
    Why such a conclusion? Well, he has already suggested that the details of governing are not his thing and that he will delegate that to Pence and his cabinet while he roams the globe “making America great again” (and perhaps picking up some choice land from Putin on the Black Sea for a Trump hotel and golf course in exchange for who knows what).
    So could it get worse than this? Yes, and here’s why. Pence will be the acting president while Trump is making America great again, and if Trump is driven out of office due to his Midas and other complexes, guess who (officially) becomes president?

  4. Since the popular vote only benefits big D Democrats and small d democracy, it is not likely that we will see a change in the near future.

    I am also afraid of what the new government might do, as it seems to be under the control of the lunatic fringe of the right wing. That being said, we brought this upon ourselves by not engaging in our political lives. I saw an article last week that showed that the people most unhappy about Trump’s election didn’t vote. What will it take to energize Americans to do what is right and necessary?

    Be afraid, but don’t be despairing. That won’t help. Stand up. Speak out.

  5. The Electoral College is sadly here to say. It was a gimmick to begin with. Every other election in America the winner is determined by who received the most votes. The winner of any sporting event is determined by who has the most points at the end of a game. Well we cannot convert to the metric system of weights and and measures either, even though it is far more flexible and logical to work with. We cannot have a single payer Health Care System, even though all the reports I have read indicate it would be much more economical and longevity would be as good or better.

    The anniversary of JFK’s death recently passed. It was JFK’s cool head plus his experience in war that defused the Cuban Missile Crisis in spite of being hard pressed by the NEO-CONs of his time to escalate.

  6. I said in jest that Trump would be the LAST President if he won and I still believe that. I, too, feel that he will break the law and be indicted for something he is completely clueless about. And Pence in charge is just as awful. I think that once these trump voters figure out what he’s done or is doing to the country, they will revolt and it will be ugly for all of us. You had great arguments in your blog earlier about getting rid of the electoral college which I believe are true and I’ve used them as an example for getting rid of it. Why should city people be dictated by rural folks? It should be one man/woman = one vote. But it’s not. At. All.
    I see that there are more votes cast in a few WI counties than voters so hopefully, this will steer the states to recount everything. Can we get it done before Jan 20th? We’ll see. By the way, He’s NOT MY PRESIDENT.

  7. One of the things that this group can be proud of is foreseeing that the failure of the Republican Party would be problematic for the country even though we could not imagine the specific nature of it.

    Let’s face it, TrumPence conquered America. He did it by paying attention to the total failure of the GOP in governing and offering up qualified candidates and how their reaction to their failures was the necessity to court the voters in every class of deplorable one can think of. Sexists, racists, white supremacists, misogynists, Evangelicals, Islamaphobics, isolationists, science deniers, libertarians.

    Trump first conquered that weak institution and added to his own support millions who always and only vote “R”.

    He also took full advantage of the desperate gerrymandering of the failing party over the last decade.

    That’s how one conquers a Democracy even though he fell 2,000,000 votes short of a majority.

    That capitulation of America of course does nothing to solve any of the structural problems that started publically and arguably with Rush Limbaugh.

    The country will all but collapse from the looting which was Trump’s real motivation for his excellent adventure.

    Can it be rebuilt in four years? Are four years enough for the Trumps to establish a family dynasty for life like Saddam Husein did?

    We don’t know but we can’t wait for the threat to mature like we did for the threat of a Trump Presidency.

  8. While the Electoral College does look ‘weird’ to say the least, and especially this year, we must also remember that the Senate and the House of Representatives have the same bias toward small states.

    The constitutional convention grappled with the problem almost 250 years ago, and this was the best compromise they could come up with. Like many other things about our constitution, it was a less than perfect solution – but probably the only solution that had a chance of holding the country together. We all need the agricultural states – and they need to have a reasonable influence on the government. The Senate with it’s equal representation for all states, and the House of Representatives’ insurance of at least one representative for all states regardless of population provides that minimal representation for all states – and the Electoral College insures that they can’t be totally ignored in the Presidential election – and the 2000 and 2016 elections show.

    One of the problems has been that since the “one-man-one-vote” decision we have increasingly come to believe that we live in a democracy – when we in fact live in a republic, and that in a republic we have only an indirect representation. And in a republic, questions require time and consideration to reach a decision – we can’t survive as a republic if we are going to demand instant solutions to problems brought up in a 24-hour media bombardment.

    Trump was not my choice for president – and was not the choice of the majority of voters – but he is the person elected by the country elected using the rules we have – just as all the other federal officeholders are. The Electoral College will not go away – a Constitutional Amendment would require the agreement of those very states that have the benefit it gives them in influencing our government.

    Just the facts of life folks. Remember this when voting in the party primaries – the person you select then will have to be attractive to a majority in the Electoral College – not just in the party, or the cities, or the country, but a majority in the Electoral College.

  9. The world is constantly changing and every institution be it public or private can only be competitive and growing, or even just holding their own, by continuous improvement. That to me is the essence of progressivism. Like evolution among all living things institutions must change constantly and study feedback to know which changes were for the better and are keepers and which need to be rethought.

    The electoral college may well have been the savior of the early republic but in these times it has proven itself to be anti-democratic and troublesome.

    It’s our job to end its rein.

  10. I have predicted that President Trump will be so confused, entangled in legal actions, and/or at risk of having his business empire fail, that he will resign voluntarily. The odds for his impeachment are significant. Pence will be a headstrong right winger, but he does have at least have a number of good qualities for serving as chief executive.

  11. Increasingly the Electoral College will be a matter of chaos as the dominance of the low population and rural states continues to play out in the general election. I found this interesting, that Hillary won fewer than 500 counties, yet those counties represented 64% of US economic activity. Trump won about 2600 counties with 36% of the economic activity, i.e., Hillary counties each had about 10x greater economic importance than each of the Trump counties. Is there true justification for continuing to allow the tail to wag the dog? Since 1880 conditions have changed drastically with regard to the rural population yet the public seems content with having rural population granted unequal favor in national elections and in Congress. Talk about voting against one’s own best interests.

  12. It’s pretty clear that the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause conflicts with the institution of the electoral college, but good luck getting this court or any near-future court to agree with that.

  13. It is fairly obvious this iteration of our democracy is dysfunctional, and I agree with Pete that our institutions can evolve and be modified. We are still a work in progress. This can apply to the outdated Electoral College.

    Many of the creators of our Constitution and the Electoral College were gentleman farmers, which led them to ensure that the sparsely populated rural minority would have a voice at the federal government table.

    After the changes of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and years of population growth, people living in our cities must claim a larger share of representation, which includes modifying the antiquated Electoral College. Thereʻs got to be a way to make sure rural areas are represented, yet not at the expense of the majority of our citizens. We are a nation of ingenious and innovative minds, and Iʻm sure we can figure it out.

    And while we are at it, we can mandate that women are proportionately represented at the state and federal levels as legislators, judges, etc. It seems ridiculous that over half the population are women and there are only a handful of women senators and representatives.

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