Is the proposal to block Trump in the Electoral College a test of good faith?

NY Electoral College

At the LSE’s US politics blog, Jeffrey Tulis has summarized a plan to convince enough members of the Electoral College to disregard their instructions to put the election in the hands of House of Representatives. He concludes:

We offer the proposal in a genuine attempt to stave off what we argue is an existential threat to the American Republic.  But even if the proposal goes nowhere, as is likely, it serves the purpose of a kind of test of true opinion of Americans who consider it.  If one really believes, as so many Americans have claimed to believe, that Trump will be an autocrat (indeed, for many commentators he is an American version of a fascist), then can one seriously claim that the threat posed by this proposal to alter settled norms is greater than the threat posed by Trump?  Or, does one really not believe that demagoguery is a serious problem, or that Trump has a tyrannical soul?

Some states do have legal penalties for faithless electors, but as Tulis points out, these penalties are little more than a nuisance. Convention, not law, is what truly binds electors to vote as they have been instructed and strips the electoral college of its deliberative role. It is only in virtue of this convention that the American system of government qualifies as democratic in a contemporary sense, just as it is only in virtue of the conventions of responsible government that Canada qualifies as democratic in a contemporary sense. This is why the campaign to convince electors to break ranks and block Trump’s election is not, as Tulis claims, a good test of true opinion regarding the prospect of a Trump presidency.

If American democracy depends on the integrity of the convention against faithless electors, and Americans who oppose Trump hope to use democratic means to eventually replace him in office, then it’s reasonable for those Americans not to support the call for electors to block Trump’s election. This is true even if Trump is an autocrat or a fascist; a strategy that requires undermining democracy in America might defeat Trump, but it would entrench conditions that are highly favourable to autocratic or fascist government.

Certainly a Trump presidency will be disastrous; many people will die who would otherwise have lived, and many people will be immiserated who would otherwise have flourished. Because of the seriousness of the threat at hand, many Americans are surely contemplating means of resistance beyond what they would normally accept. But to be justifiable, these means must at the very least satisfy the condition of having a reasonable prospect of success. If lobbying the Electoral College to ignore their mandates would, as I’ve suggested, actually be counterproductive, then this means of resistance should still be considered beyond the pale, and the sincerity of Americans who profess the belief that a Trump presidency poses a grave threat but balk at Tulis’s proposal should not be doubted.


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