American Suicide: A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Trump Problem
A common refrain concerning suicide is that it's a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide is a drastic and permanent solution to a situation that in all likelihood will pass.
Amid the fervor of anti-Trump hysteria, there are now 15 states that have either passed legislation or are attempting to pass legislation giving their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the presidential election (1). These moves no doubt are aimed specifically at defeating President Trump in the upcoming contest.
The problem with these moves is that they are a permanent solution to the Left's temporary Trump problem. While these legislative acts are understood in the present as an effort to beat Trump in the next election, the authors of these bills fail to understand that the move may have long-term consequences that could come back to hurt them. As Edmund Burke once said, "Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear" (2).
Long-term legislation designed to fight a temporary issue that has no long-term possibilities is a mistake.
James Madison recognized and attempted to mitigate this line of fallacious reasoning. He understood that sometimes, our emotions in the short term will get the best of us and bring about our own demise. In Federalist 63, he forewarned:
Such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. So there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. (3)
Madison and Burke shared an understanding that man's unruly passions and appetites too often blind our rational faculties and encourage rash and potentially damaging decisions. In Federalist 10, Madison articulated the idea:
The public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. (4)
Madison feared something he referred to as the "tyranny of the majority." This is the idea that might makes right, that the larger parties can gang up on the smaller ones and impose their will, morality being irrelevant to the will of the masses. Madison echoed this important thought in Federalist 51 when he proclaimed, "It is of great importance that a republic not only guard the society against the oppression of its rules, but to guard one part of the society against the injustices of the other part" (5) Madison was fearful that "[i]f a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure" (6).
This is the thrust of the electoral system in the first place. The Electoral College exists to prevent the many from ganging up on the few. In Federalist 10, Madison discussed the differences between a democracy and a republic. Among the differences is that republics have representatives who are delegated by the citizens to vote, whereas in a democracy, the citizens themselves vote directly. These delegates are necessary because they act as a check and a restraint on unruly passions and appetites. Madison reiterated this idea in Federalist 51, where he said, "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place oblige it to control itself" (7). Madison understood that men need restraints included among their rights and freedoms.
Edmund Burke understood the need for men to restrain themselves as well. He said:
Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves; and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. (8)
Burke, as well as Publius, understood human nature. Buried not so deep down are our unruly passions and appetites. Yes, human beings need a way to protect themselves from outside forces like foreign invaders and angry mobs, but they also need a way to protect themselves from themselves.
When we remove the restraints on our passions and appetites, they run amok. This is why, in their infinite wisdom, the founding fathers chose to make our government not a democracy, but a republic. As John Adams once warned, forebodingly:
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. ... Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never. (9)
By altering their electoral process, liberal states are giving in to their unruly passions and appetites, fueled by their hatred of President Trump. It is only a matter of time before other states, legislators, and people find ways to do likewise.
1. Del Real, J., & Turkewitz, J. (2019, May 22). Should the electoral college be eliminated? 15 States are are trying to make it obsolete. The New York Times. Retrieved from: American Suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary Trump problem
2. Burke, E. (1790). Reflections on the revolution in France.
3. Publius. (1788). The Federalist Papers.
8. Burke, E .(1790). Reflections on the revolution in France.
9. Adams, J. (2016). The Works of John Adams Vol. 6: Defence of the Constitution IV, Discourses on Davila (Annotated). New York, NY: Jazybee Verlaag.