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Are US elections democratic?

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2020 - 12:00am

As I write this column, the final winner of the US elections is still to be decided. The final count in four states has not yet been finalized. But it looks like Joe Biden will most probably be the next president of the United States. Although the final count is still being awaited, there are some conclusions that can already be made. Here are my own observations.

The electoral system can be confusing. The finality of the presidential contest is based on the electoral college votes and not on the popular votes. The election seems close based on the electoral votes; but the popular vote is not close. Biden has more than 73 million popular votes and Trump has only 69 million. The electoral college gives every state automatically two for the two Senate seats per state plus the total number of congressmen in the state. This structure means that the smaller states have greater representation than the biggest states. For example, California has a population of almost 40 million and 55 electoral votes. Wyoming, the smallest state, has a population of 580,000 and three electoral votes. So in California one electoral vote represents 720,000 people and in Wyoming one electoral vote represents 193,000 people.

The electoral college heavily favors the smaller states. While this may be considered unfair, the United States is a federal union of states; and the election system was designed, from the beginning, to protect the small states by giving them additional political leverage. Whether this system is fair or not is a hotly debated issue in that country; but it is the present prevailing system.

The Republican Party is  usually very strong in the rural areas while the Democratic Party is dominant in the metropolitan areas. The small states are predominantly rural and normally lean Republican, while the Democrats are strong in the states that are predominantly urban like California and New York. In 2016 Hillary won the popular vote and lost the electoral vote.

The other observation about US politics is that the two different sides are very passionate and emotional about their cause. Neither side can understand the reason for the other side’s passionate stand. Trump is either loved or hated with very few neutral about their feelings. I was also bewildered before until I found a reasonable explanation in one of the books of Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. He writes:

“Referendums and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality. If democracy were a matter of human rational decision making, there would be absolutely no reason to give all people equal voting rights – or perhaps no voting rights at all. There is ample evidence that some people are far more knowledgeable and rational than others when it comes to specific economic and political questions.”

In a democracy, Einstein and a homeless person would each have one vote. Each one would vote for the person he or she feels would best address his needs or desires. An Einstein would probably vote for a highly educated person who would encourage the advancement of science and think of issues that will affect the world in the coming decades like climate change. The homeless person obviously would probably vote for the person who would provide him shelter and his daily needs.

This has been the biggest issue even in economically advanced countries. After the UK referendum on Brexit led to a decision to leave the European Union, eminent British biologist Richard Dawkins said that the vast majority of the British public should never have been asked to vote on the referendum because they lacked the necessary background on economics and political science. He also included himself in the list of those not qualified. However, a decision on Brexit made by a few intellectuals and economists would never have been accepted by the British public. It is true that many observers believe that the majority of voters were swayed by emotions rather than reason.

If elections are about feelings then Einstein and other intellectuals are no better than anyone else, including illiterate laborers. Whenever I hear people say that there should be a required level of education for public officials, I am tempted to remind them that the most corrupt people in government are those who had superior education and many of them were even considered to have brilliant minds.

Many times in movies and novels I have observed characters seeking advice on what is the right thing to do. Oftentimes some wise personage will answer: “What does your heart tell you to do?”

There are two questions that are being asked now about US politics. The first is whether Trump will concede if he loses the election. Second, will Trump and Trumpism continue after the election?

Trump will never concede. It is not in his nature and his followers will turn away from him if he conceded. Trump may even succumb to the numerous court cases that will be brought against him.

But Trumpism will not disappear. I foresee that racism will become a bigger issue because the whites are decreasing in terms of their percentage of the population. The rich and educated whites may not react violently but the working class whites will see this as a threat to their economic, social and political influence.

The United States, and the whole world, will have to look for what Pope Francis calls “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good.”

*      *      *

An invitation to online writing classes: Young Writers’ Hangout, Nov. 21, 2-3 p.m. with Rin Chupeco.

Adult series on writing human interest stories, Nov. 28, 2-3:30 p.m. with Paulynn Sicam.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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