A look at racial bias in American Presidential elections
America has had a long and troubled history with race & race relations. As the world takes to the street amidst a global pandemic to protest in support of the simple notion that "Black Lives Matter" it's important that we reflect and examine how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
Today, June 19, 2020 we observe "Juneteenth," which commemorates the 155th anniversary of Union Army General Gordon Granger's reading of federal orders in Galveston, Texas proclaiming that all slaves in the United States were now free.
This piece will delve into two plain truths:
1 - We as a country have failed, with devastatingly costly expense, to live up to our nation's founding principle that all men are created equal.
2 - The American presidential race is fundamentally, systemically, intrinsically, and historically racist. It was designed to be so, because the Electoral College was designed to be so. If we are to move forward as one nation living in a world of true equality, our very first next step should be to abolish the Electoral College once and for all.
On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence at what is now known as Independence Hall, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. In it, our newly born country declared with one voice that it was self-evident that "all men are created equal."
Ridiculously, and to our own detriment, we have spent the past 244 years testing the limits of these words. If only we took the very core motto of our nation to heart we may have avoided the Civil War, which cost us dearly in terms of blood, sweat, and tears. Specifically, wasting 4 years and 27 days of our history and resulting in casualties exceeding 620,000 lives.
The Civil War remains the deadliest military conflict in American history and it was all because we did not truly live up to the words in our own Declaration of Independence.
99 years after the Civil War, our country passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In other words, 188 years after we started our "free" country declaring equality for all, we passed a law prohibiting discrimination because, you know, equality for all.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and later of 1968) did not come easily or cheaply. The civil rights movement spanned 14 years of advocacy, protests, and racial tension, with notable casualties such as Emmett Till and Dr. Martin Luther King. Let's also not forget that the Selma to Montgomery march protesting the killing of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by a white police officer (how 2020 is that?) ended with the infamous "Bloody Sunday" violence when Alabama Governor George C. Wallace authorized use of force on the peaceful protesters near the Edmund Pettus Bridge (again, how 2020 is that?).
If only we actually lived up to the words "all men are created equal," we could have saved centuries of racial tension, injustice, casualties, and strife. But, as we know, inequality didn't end in 1968. To this very day protests continue for equal rights - and not just for "persons of color," but also for women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.
244 years have gone by since we founded our nation on the principle of equality for all mankind, yet we have fought the very spirit of these words with all our might every step of the way. We have sought every loophole, stretched the limits of every definition, contorted our morality and our laws to make these simple words of universal equality as limited in scope and as suffocating as possible.
Imagine if we hadn't. Imagine if we believed the words in their truest, purest, simplest, fullest form 244 years ago. Imagine there was no need for a Civil War, no need for a civil rights movement, no assassination of President Lincoln or Dr. King - how much farther could we have progressed? How many families were completely wiped out as a result of the Civil War? How can we even quantify the self inflicted damage we have done to our future generations simply because we didn't want to be worthy of the ideal that all mankind was created equal?
Why are we not better than this? Why can we not simply live up to the words that we declared our independence with nearly a quarter millennium ago? As long as we fail to embody the equality our forefathers spoke of centuries ago, we will continue to waste valuable resources and lives while we merely run in place - or worse yet, run in reverse.
The Presidential Race-ist
To call an individual American President racist is a controversial statement. But I don't understand why we as a society can't agree that the entire system of electing each and every American President through the Electoral College is racist. How is this controversial? In fact, we know it to be true because that's how the system was designed centuries earlier. We only need to look to history to see that our future continues to be determined by a slave-based institution from our past. Some chains were made to be broken - it is time for us to break the chains the Electoral College continues to use to shackle our presidency with the remnants of a bygone slave era.
Before we get into the history of the Electoral College and its significance, let's remember something very simple and very American - winning matters.
In the Super Bowl, the team with the most points wins. In any game or sport or competition, the team with the most points / highest score, etc. wins. That's the American way - and so it is with politics. The candidate with the most votes wins when it comes to local elections, statewide elections, and for all other elections with the exception of the Presidency.
Whether you're voting for your Mayor, Alderman, US Congressman, State Senator, US Senator, or State Governor - the candidate with the most votes wins.
This is not the case with the Presidency, however. That's right, the highest office in our land uses special rules where you don't need the most votes to win. In fact, 5 American Presidents have won the presidency without having won the most votes. That bears repeating - 5 American Presidents became President without "winning" the most votes.
John Quincy Adams in 1824
Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876
Benjamin Harrison in 1888
George W. Bush in 2000
Donald Trump in 2016
The key difference between the presidential election and every other election in America is that the presidential race is the only one that utilizes the Electoral College. Ever wonder why? Because the Electoral College unfairly rewards slave states and former slave states, which is what it was designed to do.
During the constitutional convention, Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed a direct (popular vote) national election of the President. But the savvy Virginian James Madison responded that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”
In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this same speech—instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.
If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.
How does this translate to modern times? Over the past 132 years or so only two Presidents have won the presidency without winning the popular vote. George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. In both cases the former confederate states, for whom the Electoral College was created, overwhelmingly favored Bush and Trump.
In 2000, George W. Bush thought he might win the popular vote as the result of strong voter turnout in Texas, but lose the electoral vote to Al Gore.
On November 3, 2000 the Boston Herald reported that if Bush did win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote he "would likely challenge the legitimacy of a Gore win, casting it as an affront to the people's will and branding the Electoral College as an antiquated relic."
Fortunately for Bush the reverse happened after a controversial Florida vote count and an equally controversial and politically charged 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.
Similarly, Donald Trump thought he would win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College in 2016. He too planned on rejecting such an outcome as illegitimate and calling for the disbandment of the Electoral College.
Trump called the Electoral College a "disaster for democracy" 4 years before his own election.
What do Trump and Bush's electoral wins have in common? They both overwhelmingly won the former confederacy, which alone counts for more than 1/2 the electoral votes needed to become President.
So how does someone like Hillary Clinton, who defeated Trump by 2.9 million popular votes (a 2.3% margin of victory) not win the presidency? Because over 200 years ago, Madison was able to get the electoral votes of slave states and former slave states weighted in their favor to disproportionately sway elections regardless of the popular vote and the will of the people.
The real question is - why do we continue to use the Electoral College today? George W. Bush called it an "antiquated relic" and Donald Trump called it a "disaster for democracy" yet we elect our leader, who is often referred to as "the leader of the free world," by relying on a slave based system that is only used every four years in only one election. No other elected official uses this system to determine the winner.
The Racist System and Systemic Racism
What does the Electoral College have to do with Juneteenth and systemic racism? Everything.
If we use a slave era racist system to select the leader of our free world, then the resulting system that selects our legislative agenda and its judicial enforcement will itself perpetuate that racism, long after slavery has ended.
For George W. Bush and Donald Trump, their legislative and judicial agendas are largely discriminatory against immigrants, LGBTQ people, women, and people of color.
The American President selects our Supreme Court judges and federal judges who are appointed to their seats for a lifetime. Those judges are the final say in how our laws are interpreted and enforced. Therefore the Electoral College not only infects our Executive Branch with racism, but our Judicial Branch as well.
Consider this, 4 of the 9 current Supreme Court judges were appointed by Presidents who lost the popular vote - that means by a popular vote election the Court would currently be 8-1 in favor of a "liberal" interpretation of the law (with Clarence Thomas, appointed by George H. Bush, as the lone conservative justice).
This re-shaping of the Supreme Court, against the popular vote will of the people, has resulted in significant racial repercussions that continue to reverberate throughout America today.
In 2013 in Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (along strictly party lines) that racism was over. And because racism was over, the Court determined the United States no longer needed legal protections under the Voter Rights Act from racist election laws, paving the way of course for racist election laws in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Specifically, the Court's decision invalidated a decades-old “coverage formula” naming jurisdictions that had to pass federal scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act, referred to as “preclearance,” in order to pass any new elections or voting laws.
This historic ruling effectively gutted the Voter Rights Act of 1965 and further enabled the racist manipulation of the Electoral College through gerrymandering and voter suppression that led to Donald Trump's "victory" in 2016.
The decision in Shelby County opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States. The effects were immediate. Within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo ID law. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to enforce photo ID laws that had previously been barred because of federal preclearance.
It's important to underscore that the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on Shelby County v Holder was a 5-4 decision where the justices ruled along party lines. The deciding votes were cast by judges appointed by George W. Bush - a President that did not win the popular vote in 2000.
You can draw a direct cause and effect relationship between the Electoral College and the gerrymandering of districts to manipulate the congressional and electoral map, which further stacks the Electoral College in a calculated never ending cycle of systemic racism that is deviously effective.
Pull up a list of all states that have actively tried to gerrymander their districts. You'll find they are run by Republican governors and/or Republican legislatures, and those realigned districts benefit the GOP, specifically in presidential elections.
All of which further encourages voter suppression, voter ID laws, and opposition to vote-by-mail opportunities. There is a clear divide on these issues between the GOP and the Democrats. One party wants to make election day a national holiday and make voting as safe and easy as possible. The other does not.
Donald Trump freely admits that the GOP is hurt when we make it easier to vote in this country.
If you want to end systemic racism, you must first end the racism in the system. Failing to do so will continue to corrupt our Executive and Judicial Branches for generations to come.
To illustrate how the Electoral College represents a stranglehold on the rule of law in the United States, understand that George W. Bush and Donald Trump have made stacking the federal courts the top priority of their administrations.
Bush appointed 327 federal judges including 2 Supreme Court justices.
Trump will appoint not less than 200 federal judges in his first term alone, including a Supreme Court seat which was lawfully President Obama's to fill, though his nominee Merrick Garland was denied any consideration by Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate.
This is America
This is America in 1839 fighting for equality through an Anti-Slavery Almanac.
This is America in 1921 after the Tulsa Race Massacre and burning of Black Wall Street.
This is America on Bloody Sunday 1965 fighting for equality when a peaceful protest against the killing of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by a white police officer was met with violence on the orders of Governor Wallace.
This is America in 2014 standing up for racial equality, dignity, and justice after the officer that killed Eric Garner was acquitted by a Grand Jury of any wrong doing.
This is America in 2020 protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and racial injustice as a whole.
America is so pretty when viewed through an Instagram filter view of society. We like to think we're the strongest economic power, the country with the best education, the best healthcare, the best democracy.
However, a closer look without the filter shows we're over $22 trillion in debt and are the number 11 best economy in the world on a GDP Per Capita Purchasing Power Parity basis, we rank 27th in healthcare and education, we do not rank as a top 5 democracy - rather we're are classified as a "flawed democracy" by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Let me be clear, I love my country. I love America. I was born and raised here and it will always be home. But we have work to do. We can be better. We should be better. We are better than this, right?
As the world takes to the streets to call for racial justice and racial equality we have to face 2 stark realities:
1) That for nearly 250 years we have willfully chosen to disavow the "self-evident" truth that "all men are created equal."
2) That our Presidential elections are determined by the very racist Electoral College system, which was created in order to preserve a disproportionate advantage to the former 18th century slave owning states.
In 1776 our deeply flawed founders (many were slave owners themselves) assigned us the task of recognizing the self-evident truth of the inherent equality of all mankind. 244 years later we're scoring an incomplete at best on that assignment.
The incomplete, if not failing grade, might as well go for the Statue of Liberty's request that we welcome immigrants, the First Amendment's founding ideal of the separation of church and state, and the Second Amendment's explicit instructions that the right to bear arms be viewed in the context of a "well-regulated militia." Basically, we're not so great at reading comprehension and internalizing those written lessons.
If we want true equality and true justice in our society we need to start by abolishing the Electoral College. This will allow the President to be chosen by the will of the people and isn't that how it should be? Just as the team with the most points, runs, goals, etc wins. So the candidate with the most votes should win. It should not matter which district those votes were cast in, only that they were cast.
Remember, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes nationwide, but Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a total of less than 80,000 total votes across a handful of districts in three states.
This is not democracy. This is America.