by Rod D. Martin
April 29, 2016
Despite holding 200 more delegates than he would were the races decided proportionally, Donald Trump and his supporters have taken to screaming that “the process is rigged,” that proportional representation should rule, and that a plurality — not a majority — should determine the Republican nomination.
This is of course just campaign talk. The Trumpkins did not feel this way when they won 99 of 99 Florida delegates with just 45% of the vote.
Still, this increasingly shrill line of attack is a problem, particularly in a country where fewer people than ever actually understand the system or why it’s designed the way it is. “Rigged” now means “my guy isn’t getting his way.” It also means “not fair” by the most superficial of definitions, without regard to centuries of accumulated wisdom.
Delegates matter. No, they don’t have to be selected exactly the way they are now in the various Republican contests. But the specific details of their selection are not as important as the principle, and indeed, whether or not he realizes it, Donald Trump is assaulting the legitimacy of the republican form of government.
The idea that a plurality should decide our elections is the exactly opposite of the Founding Fathers’ vision. They demanded majorities, and even supermajorities, in all things. They deliberately limited direct democracy in multiple ways, believing that majorities are necessary to build consensus, that consensus is necessary to avoid the sort of abrupt dislocations which wrecked France (and the rest of Europe) in their era, and that all stakeholders needed to be carefully balanced against one another so no one could get the upper hand.
This is why there’s an Electoral College: to give voice to state-level interests, and to keep smaller states from being run over by larger ones. This is why there’s a Senate: to blunt the passions of the “people’s house” and, before the 17th Amendment, to serve as a sort of “House of Ambassadors” from meaningfully sovereign states.
Almost all of those states are deliberately smaller than European countries: they were intentionally of a size that allowed them to be communities. The members of communities can look out for each other, and care about each other’s unique needs; strangers not only will not, but cannot. And the more that decisions are made by a roll call of strangers, the more communities are suppressed, and the more demagogues can sway the masses.
Attacking the republican idea, trashing the legitimacy of representation, and demanding pluralities rather than majorities will do more to make us the sort of democratic socialist Eurostate Sanders advocates than all Barack Obama has managed in eight long years.
Understood this way – and the Founders would have understood it this way – the Conventions are not rigged insider affairs: they’re run-offs. If the people can’t come to consensus, then their elected representatives will, no matter how many ballots it takes.
This is, by the way, exactly how the Founders designed things come Fall. If there is no consensus (which is to say, majority) in the Electoral College, a plurality cannot win. Rather, the House of Representatives decides, in an election calculated to produce a majority.
Majorities matter. Americans build their coalitions in public. Parliamentary systems with proportional representation feature parties that are able to promise anything they want, knowing that no party will get a majority and the eventual governing coalition will be cobbled together with backroom deals after the election, producing a result for which absolutely no one ever voted.
No system is perfect. But the American system is the cleanest in the world. It’s also the most successful. Junking it would be a catastrophe, made possible only by massive widespread ignorance of the principles on which it is based.
Losing that would accomplish the exact opposite of “making America great again.”