Amid the despair and meteoric rise in hate crime following the November 8 election, we are also being confronted with the horrific spectacle of white supremacists and right-wing extremists taking top positions in the next administration. The Alt-Right (Alt-Reich would be a better term) is hailing its new leader with neo-Nazi salutes, and plans are underway for a registration database for Muslims. Rather than debate just how bad things will get under a Trump administration, and the real national conversation should be about what can be done. In light of this, we want to draw attention to three things every citizen should know.
First, Donald Trump has not officially been elected president. The only legal effect of the November 8 vote was to select 538 electors making up the electoral college. According to the United States Constitution, the actual presidential election takes place on December 19, when those electors cast their votes. Electors are not bound by the popular vote, and are under no obligation to vote for their party's nominee.
Second, there is a very real path by which the electors could deny Trump the presidency. If about 40 Republican members of the electoral college vote for anyone other than Trump, this will be enough to put the election in the House of Representatives, which would be free to elect someone else.
Third, there is every reason for Americans to pursue this constitutional path. A Trump presidency would be a disaster that this country is under no obligation to endure. The electors are free to vote for whomever they choose on December 19; they should be encouraged to vote against him. If they will not support Hillary Clinton, the winner of the popular vote, they should at least support a third person and turn the election over to the House.
Contrary to widespread belief, presidents are not elected by popular vote. (We would prefer election by national popular vote, but that would require a constitutional amendment.) Under article two of the Constitution; they are elected by the members of the electoral college, who are separately chosen by each state. Specifically, each state appoints a number of electors equal to its number of Senators and Representatives in Congress. The electors vote in their respective states, and their votes are tallied on December 19. If one person wins a majority of the electors' votes, that person is elected president. If no one wins a majority, then the election is moved to the House of Representatives, which must choose one of the top five vote-winners in the electoral college.
This means that Donald Trump was not "elected" two weeks ago. Rather, in effect, a group of electors was elected, who will cast their votes next month. Though the final results are not in yet, it appears that Trump prevailed in states with a total of 310 electoral votes, compared to Clinton's 228. What this means is that of the 538 designated electors for next month's electoral college vote, 310 will be Republicans, and 228 will be Democrats. By simple arithmetic, if over 40 of those Republicans, along with all of the Democrats, vote for someone other than Trump, he will be denied a majority in the electoral college vote.
Two possibilities present themselves. A 40-plus minority of Republicans could join with Democrats to give Clinton 270 electoral votes, making her president. Or, the minority Republicans could vote for another Republican - Mitt Romney? Paul Ryan? Or someone else? - and throw the election into the House of Representatives. There is then a good chance the House would elect that other Republican to be president, which would be a better outcome than the election of Trump. The two of us would prefer the first possibility, the election of Clinton; but we think any alternate Republican chosen by the House would almost certainly be better than Trump.
The specter of a Trump presidency demands that every constitutionally sanctioned check-and-balance instrument be deployed to prevent it. American voters are angry, and the political system is failing them. Many are apparently willing to burn it down. This is a very self-destructive yet natural human tendency, as is the rapidity with which the human psyche can adapt to and normalize a traumatic outcome. However, our nation cannot afford to normalize the obscenities that Donald Trump embodies, and we cannot afford to take a gamble on the future of our planet and the generations ahead. The people who have been out in the streets since the election - some of them supporters of Clinton, others of Sanders or a third-party candidate - are not there because their candidate lost. They are there because they refuse to silently bear witness to the threatened extinction of American values and democratic institutions that would come about under a Trump regime.
Would denying Trump an electoral college victory be undemocratic? Only if you ignore the numerous reasons to be concerned about the legitimacy of electing him. As of today, he is losing the national popular vote by 2 million votes with the potential to increase by several million. He has demonstrated himself to be grossly unfit for office and has made numerous pledges that run afoul of the Constitution. It is increasingly apparent that broad elements within the FBI were orchestrating an agency-wide agitation to influence the outcome of the election against Hillary Clinton. FBI director Robert Comey's unprecedented interference in the American election sapped the momentum of Clinton's campaign and galvanized Trump supporters. Russian computer hacking eased the path to victory for the Kremlin's preferred candidate.
Moreover, there are many biases built into our political system that prefer the minority forces of the right in the political establishment over the majority progressive voices, rendering it as a subtle apartheid where the votes of some truly weigh more than those of others. The Senate scales are tipped heavily towards the right, where the few hundred thousand voters from Montana equal the millions of Californians in the upper chambers of the land. The United States has among the lowest turnout in elections of any developed democracy, and the Republican party engages in tactics to further suppress turnout in order to win elections. Blocking Trump in the electoral college might also prompt desirable systemic reforms for future elections, including a national popular vote for president, restrictions on gerrymandering and vote suppression, and other needed changes to a corrupt and ossified structure.
Crucially, the two-party system is also stifling the spectrum of opinions and voices of our nation's millions of voters, and perhaps the outcome of this election spoke most loudly to this frustration. It is clear that much of the consternation apparent with the low turnout and the "holding the nose" vote was born of having to choose between one of two candidates whom many did not feel spoke to their values or concerns. For the electors to compound this consternation by electing a demagogue like Trump will not solve the system's problems. It will only make things far worse.
The political establishment owes the American people a President who does not threaten to banish from our nation broad swaths of the populace, whose campaign does not expose the most vulnerable of us to violence, and whose administration will render many of us without our basic liberties and dignities. There must be a sustained and forceful push to urge electors from both parties in this dark hour in our nation's history to truly vote their conscience. The demonstrations must proceed with peaceful resolve, gaining strength and numbers. There must be a concerted effort to sound out our voices from across the political spectrum, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, that the choices the system forced upon us do not define us as a nation and we will not allow this system to imperil the lives and safety of our planet and fellow human beings.
We must organize to reject the shredding of our constitutional values, of basic decency, and respect for women, people of color, and people of different faiths and those of no faith. The greatest disservice we can do to our nation is to heed the calls for reconciliation and finding common ground with fascism and demagoguery. Instead, we must unite under the bipartisan promise of "Never Trump" and the historic vow of "Never Again." Rabbi Hillel's words have never been more apt: If not us, who? If not now, when?