The Albany Times Union is the latest newspaper to call on the Electoral College to deny Donald Trump the presidency when it meets next week. "We do not ask this lightly. We realize that millions of people, including many of our readers, voted for Mr. Trump," the editors writes, "And we realize that passions are high and such a move by the Electoral College would further inflame them." That's putting it mildly. While it may be an argument from cowardice in some eyes to warn that violence is certain to result from such an action, it's also a pragmatic argument worth listening to by anyone who claims to value life. People will get killing mad over what they would take, understandably, as the ultimate proof that the system was rigged against "outsiders" after all. The TU claims that the electors have a constitutional right to vote for whomever they please -- though some states have made laws binding them to the winner of those states' popular votes -- but rather than cite the Constitution itself the editors refer to one of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist papers, in which our hip-hop Framer explains that the Electoral College is meant to guarantee that "the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” Hamilton's wishful thinking is typical of Founders' opinions before their document actually took effect, but the TU, I suspect, is taking the Constitution literally but not seriously. History tells us that from the very beginning, presidential electors were chosen with a conscious expectation of whom they, in turn, would chose for the presidency. And while things may have been different from what we expect now in those states and at those times when electors were chosen by legislators rather than the electorate, when the masses have had the franchise they have, I'm pretty sure, always expressed their preference for president rather than elector, with the implicit expectation that the effectively anonymous elector would echo their choice instead of making one of his own. While the Constitution does not say that electors can't vote for whomever they want -- the only original stipulation was that electors had to use one of their two votes on a candidate from a state other than their own -- nothing in it says that they can, much less should do so. It would not make sense to recommend that once any state held direct elections in which voters named presidential candidates rather than electors. It makes less sense to recommend it now based on what inevitably must be a subjective appraisal, with which many millions disagree, and thousands might fight over, of Donald Trump's fitness for the White House, more than a month into the traditional transition period.
The TU makes an ad hominem appeal to faithless electors supposedly authorized by Hamilton. The editors claim to be guided neither by ideology nor a desire to see Hillary Clinton become President. And to be fair, they more or less rule out the Clinton option by suggesting compromise Republican draftees who are certain to reject the proposed honor like a poisoned chalice or a bloodstained crown. They condemn Trump for his narcissism, his assumed conflicts of interest as a global businessman, his nebulous-seeming relations with Russia -- should we recognize this as the liberal answer to birtherism? -- , as well as "the bombast, the insults, the lies, the bigotry, the attacks on the free press" and so on. But ad hominem arguments are plentiful enough to be practically worthless, and can come from any quarter. You're sure to find people in this country who'd find any President-elect since Carter (except, perhaps, for the first Bush) personally or superficially unworthy of electoral votes. Anyone who is elected President is going to be disliked by millions of Americans. Any President-elect is going to inspire fear in his opponents -- and that probably applies even to the first Bush with his CIA history. But to the extent that fear follows from one side losing an election, both sides have to live with that fear, the winner tolerating it without feeling insulted and the loser swallowing enough of it to abide by the rules of our republic. Donald Trump won the presidency by the rules that have prevailed for more than 200 years. The only other time people rejected an election result this vehemently, the result was civil war. Of course, no newspaper editor today wants a civil war, and if we get one the editors will blame the other side. Nevertheless, there's something cowardly about this call, not just the hysterical fear of Trump that inspires it but also the constrained legalism of it all. For if Donald Trump is so self-evidently unfit for office that we should risk a terrorist civil in order to keep him out of the White House, why even leave him alive to rally the enemy forces. Given the likely consequences of overturning the election this way, how much worse would it have been for the Times Union simply to call for Trump's death? Either way, after all, someone is sure to die, so why not make sure the one you're really worried about goes first.