December 2016: A Republic, if You Can Keep it

“Ruins in Richmond” Damage to Richmond, Virginia from the American Civil War.
“Ruins in Richmond” Damage to Richmond, Virginia from the American Civil War.

by Thomas L. Knapp…….

As I write this column, nearly 2.5 million people have signed a petition seeking to overturn the outcome of the November 8 national vote and make Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump, the next president of the United States.

The petitioners are asking presidential electors, chosen by the voters of their states to support Trump, to instead “faithlessly” cast their votes for Clinton on December 19.

“Faithless” electors are nothing new. The only electoral vote ever won by a Libertarian presidential slate came from a Virginia elector who couldn’t bring himself to support Nixon in 1972 and instead cast his vote for John Hospers. But they’ve historically been few and far between and have never changed the outcome of a presidential election.

The American political system can stand a few faithless electors casting protest votes now and again. They’re a burp in that system, a noise in the machinery that lets us know it is actually running.

But the American political system cannot survive electors defecting en masse from the clear winner to the clear loser of a national election. That’s not a protest or an act of civil disobedience. It’s an insurrection.

So let’s be clear on what the petitioners are asking for here:

They want a coup d’etat.

Their candidate lost an election, so they want a mutinous electoral college to set aside the results and transfer executive power to the loser instead of to the winner.

Emerging from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall at the end of the 1787 constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of political system the convention had chosen. “A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

The pro-Clinton petitioners don’t want to keep it. They would gladly throw out nearly 230 years of imperfect but working method in favor of getting their way just this one time.

In 1860, the presidential election didn’t go the way the southern slave states wanted it to go. But even those states didn’t demand that the result be overturned; they merely chose to show themselves to the door, and only went to war when they found that door barred.

With their appeal for a presidential coup, the pro-Clinton petitioners are flirting with same outcome: Major riots and social dislocations at least, quite possibly outright civil war. Even as a radical libertarian who believes the United States is past, or at least approaching, its “best used by” date, I don’t relish the prospect.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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15 thoughts on “December 2016: A Republic, if You Can Keep it

  1. “Hillary Clinton’s Popular-Vote Victory Is Unprecedented—and Still Growing” (The Nation, 11/16/2016) Clinton so far has won the election by over one million votes – and counting.

    The electoral college does not reflect the will of the people fairly and equally. The weight of an individual’s vote varies according to location from a low of 0.83 to a high of 2.50, definitely a form of discrimination in this country of fair and equal treatment under the law. The electoral college now definitely should be abolished.

    1. You’re correct — the electoral college does not reflect the will of the people fairly and equally.

      Disclaimer: I was not trying to JUSTIFY the existing system in this column. I was simply pointing out that it IS the existing system and that the project of getting pledged electors to break their pledges is an attempt to overthrow that system. If I was a constitutionalist (I’m not, particularly), my argument would be that those who want to go with e.g. the popular vote need to get both houses of Congress to propose, and 3/4 of the state legislatures to ratify, an amendment doing so.

    2. Will agree that it is time to change the system but we can’t change it for this election. We might all be surprised if the system changes to popular vote. It would have changed where they campaigned. Maybe more minorities would have voted.
      The key issue is we stopped the bitch from destroying our country any worse than Obama already has. You have a choice of leaving the USA.

      1. Jim,

        Why would I care whether it’s Clinton or Trump who continues the process of destroying the US? That process is pretty much on rails at any rate.

        And why should I leave my country just because Democrats and Republicans want to turn it into North Korea? Let THEM move.

        1. Was no question about the future had Clinton won. Now we need to sit back and see what happens with Trump. Given the 2 choices , Trump was our only choice short of what would been 4 more years of Obama style. Trump has a hard time ahead to undo what 8 years of Obama has done to us. Only a month to go. Can we get 1 of them count down clocks like we have for Fantasy Fest ?

          1. If Clinton had won, it would have been four more years of the same thing it’s been for the last 50 years or so.

            Trump won, so it’s four more years of the same things it’s been for the last 50 years or so, but with a little game show panache and really bad hair.

            “Given the 2 choices”

            There were six choices on the Florida ballot, plus quite a few registered write-ins. There were nearly 2,000 candidates for president of the United States this year. That Clinton and Trump came in as the top two is a pretty good sign that America is done.

          2. yes 6 but with 4 that stood no chance in hell of winning. A vote for them was just a wasted vote.
            True both parties could have ran better candidates but they did not. I do believe we could found better qualified. But the same was true 8 years ago.

            In this computer world I do agree the system needs changed to popular vote. And no reason for it not to all be done by internet. Something that was pointed out to me by my Trump supporting son was the ease of qualifying and proof to vote by mail. We could easily have dead people voting. Just maybe 4 years from now this will be a reality.

          3. A wasted vote is a vote cast for something or someone that you don’t actually support. My vote was never, ever, even for a microsecond, available to either of the two fascist uniparty candidates — THAT would have been “wasting” it.

            I voted for Gary Johnson. I wish the Libertarian Party had picked a better nominee, but he was the one they did pick and he was a thousand times better on his worst day than Trump or Clinton on their best.

          4. OK , maybe it is just me but to vote for anyone that you know will not win just seems stupid. Surely you had a preference of the 2 even if not behind either 100%.

            It did brink up a serious question. If a husband and wife were split with 1 wanting Clinton (yuck) and 1 wanting Trump , should they save the time and gas and just stat home ?

            All members our family voted for Trump. 🙂

          5. No, I didn’t have a preference between the two. If they were both on fire in the middle of the street I wouldn’t piss on either of them to put it out.

            You have no idea who your family members voted for. All you know is who they told you they voted for.

  2. Under the current system, 24 states do not require their electoral college members to be “bound”. The petition is aimed at those who would be in their legal rights to vote for whomever they choose.

    Mr. Knapp has defended his position by cherry-picking his historic points. The Electoral College was originally designed to be “un-democratic” by current standards – to prevent the illiterate, under-educated and ill-informed from selecting the President. Of course, the whole system then did not meet our current standards for a democracy, since no women or non-whites could vote and, in many places, non-landowners were also excluded.

    Our system of government has survived by evolving to meet new social, cultural and technological circumstances. The “binding” of electorals was at one point an attempt to make the process more democratic. Twice in the last 5 elections, the Electoral College system has made the elections LESS democratic by ensconcing a LOSER in the White House.

    It is time to, again, evolve the system. We cannot eliminate the Electoral College without amending the Constitution – too late for the damage that may be permanently inflicted on our democracy by this botched election. However, we can use the current system to enforce the clear majority WINNER of the vote – Clinton- by encouraging Electors in un-bound states to vote the will of the MAJORITY OF AMERICA VOTERS.

    That is less of a disruption to a “working” democratic system than the gerrymandered Congress – but that is another problem…

    1. Electors from all 50 states are “bound.” That’s what the election IS — voters choosing electors who have pledged to support candidate X.

      Not all 50 states have penalties for violating the pledge made to the voters, but it’s still a pledge made to the voters.

      A coup d’etat by the electoral college would not be “using the current system.” It would be overthrowing that system.

  3. That would be the biggest mistake this country could ever make. Basically would destroy the voting system and might cause a civil war. The bitch lost big time and her shit eating smile is over. She was so confident of winning that it took her by surprise. The system is destroyed if such an event took place. The election is over and Trump not only won but is exactly what we need, A HUGE CHANGE.
    She lost for many reasons. The people wanted a change and she would have followed in Obama’s foot steps. Her mud slinging while having a rapist husband hurt her. This country needs rid of Clintons and Obama. Nothing good happened for most in the last 8 years. Trump won because we needed a change and because voting for Trump was the only way to keep Clinton out. They picked the worse person on earth to run and now they got the results.

  4. A heads up: ‘Objectified: Donald Trump’ is on tonight at 8PM and also 11PM on Fox. I haven’t watched Fox, CNN or anything else for the last few years until recently with the elections and all, but have watched lately and happened to run into this. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to watch it with an open mind.

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