The informed consent of the people

What gives someone the power of a public office? We hold elections, of course, but what are we measuring? It’s not simply popularity. The election should measure the informed consent of the constituency to be governed. And that informed consent requires a free press. We confer the power of a public office to a candidate by the franchise of the vote. That’s the mechanism of democracy. In most elections it’s straightforward. The candidate with the most votes wins. But not the presidential election. We vote for electors, not the candidate.

In the last presidential election, Hilary Clinton won 48.2 percent of the popular vote and her 65.9 million voters were denied their choice by the Electoral College. The contest was given to the candidate that won only 46.1 percent of the vote or 63 million votes. So for the last four years we’ve watched with incredulity while someone occupied the highest public office without the informed consent of the majority.

Here’s how far away we have strayed from democracy: In 2016, only 55.6 percent of registered voters bothered to vote. Of that 55.6 percent of registered voters, 46.1 percent voted for Trump. Of all registered voters 25.6 percent voted for Trump. Not all citizens are registered voters. So, only 19.2 percent of American citizens actually voted for Trump. With that minority, the Electoral College gave us the most audacious demagogue in our history.

A leader that achieves in power under these circumstances should be humble. The first priority would be coalition building, acknowledging that you have the presidency without a popular mandate. Instead, over the past four years, we’ve witnessed the degradation of the office by a deeply flawed man. Along with all the damage to civil society, all the damage to the body politic, all the lives lost to a pandemic he continues to ignore, all the laws he violated and all the norms tramped, we are left with a Supreme Court that, for the foreseeable future, will no longer represent the best interest of the us citizens.

Democracy dies not from those that vote, but from those that just couldn’t bother to. I pray we do better this election. There’s so much at stake.




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