Hail, Hail Hillsdale (continued)

Hillsdale College, which had mailed me a free copy of the Constitution, sent me an email about an “urgent matter” that’s “vital to our nation’s future.” I could almost hear the Jaws music as I read, “A movement is growing, led by progressives—but supported by many well-meaning Americans—to change the way we elect our president. In effect, it seeks to do away with the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.” I immediately noticed the absence of “other” between “many” and “well-meaning” in that sentence, but I did not know if that meant progressives were not well-meaning or that they weren’t Americans, or both. The email warned that states were joining “together in an attempt to undermine this constitutional bulwark of liberty.” This dangerous movement “has grown largely because of the failure of America’s schools to provide young people with grounding in American civics—too many Americans simply don’t understand the importance of the Constitution, including the Electoral College, to liberty.” (Quick. Tell me how the Electoral College is essential to liberty.) Presumably, this lack of understanding would be corrected if schools started following the recommendations of the 1776 Commission.

The email urged me to take a survey on “Presidential Selection.” I was curious because I have studied and written about the Electoral College [see the end of this post for references to some of those previous posts], so I clicked on the link in the email. I knew from the very first of the ten multiple choice questions that I had a problem. It asked initially if I agreed that we “should continue to elect our president through the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.” There is no way to answer this. You can’t continue to use something that is not being used. Our present Electoral College is not the one adopted by the Constitutional Framers. That one was so flawed from its inception that it was changed by Amendment XII (classical education useful here) within fifteen years after the Constitution went into effect. We do not use the flawed Electoral College created by the shortsighted Framers.

The second question did not ask about presidential selection, but about American civics classes. The next query returned to the Electoral College, asking if Americans understood the Electoral College “and its role in preserving free and representative government.” Quick. Tell me again how the EC does that. If it does so, it is not obvious how, or at least it is not obvious to many well-meaning Americans.

The fourth question asked if I agreed that the EC’s elimination would “disenfranchise citizens in large parts of the U.S. and increase the intense partisanship that is already dividing our nation.” Of course, that is two questions, and I don’t understand the first one. I don’t think that any proposal to reform the Electoral College would prevent or even make it more difficult for any citizen to vote. In fact, the serious movement to prevent or make it harder for citizens to vote in all elections including the ones for the Electoral College has been coming from conservative state legislatures seeking to gain a partisan advantage and make government less free and representative.

Then I was asked if I agreed that the “Electoral College requires candidates and parties to form broad coalitions that represent the interests of many Americans rather than just those of particular regions or urban areas.” And I asked myself: “To be successful in any nationwide election system don’t the parties have to represent the interests of many Americans? It seems to me that if they fail to do that, they won’t get elected. However, it begs the question of whether the EC does that better than, say, a direct vote?” As I have written on this blog, the Electoral College makes it easy to disregard the voters of a minority party in a solid Red or Blue state, and that would not be the case with a direct election of the president. I also noted “urban areas” in the question. I wonder how those who take this poll would feel if they were asked if they agreed that the Electoral College should be retained because it enhances the political power of poorly educated rural whites. Of course, such tendentious questions should not appear in any serious poll.

I felt something similar about the next question which asked if I agreed that the movement to eliminate the EC by “progressives” was politically motivated to “give an advantage to one political party over another.” That is a perfectly fair question, or it would be if paired with the flip side: “Is the movement to retain the Electoral College motivated by the right wing to give a political advantage to one party?”

Then came a question that made no sense: Was I aware that Washington legislators had “introduced legislation to abolish the Electoral College and that 15 states and the District of Columbia have already voted to do away with the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.”  Your first reaction might be: Well, I am now. But hold on. No one is seeking to abolish the EC devised by the Framers because, as cited above, that original failure was tossed aside by the Twelfth Amendment more than two centuries ago. Moreover, the current Electoral College is embedded in the Constitution. It could only be abolished or done away with by a constitutional amendment, as it was reformed before, not by legislation.

(concluded March 30)

April 10, 2019 “What if We Abolish the Electoral College” What if We Abolish the Electoral College? – AJ’s Dad

March 4, 2020 “Democracy Indexed and Flawed” Democracy Indexed and Flawed – AJ’s Dad

October 28, 2020 “The Shortsighted Electoral College” The Shortsighted Electoral College – AJ’s Dad

November 13, 2020 “Voter Turnout” Voter Turnout – AJ’s Dad


Hail, Hail Hillsdale

          The Constitution was missing. I work at two different desks, and in easy reach on both desks I keep a pocket-sized copy of our fundamental charter. I was at one of those desks participating by Zoom in a history book club discussion. Wanting to make a point, I reached for the ever-present Constitution, but it was not there. After the meeting, I searched unavailingly for it. I assumed that I had inadvertently mingled the little booklet together with other papers slated for disposal. This straighten-up-the-office routine does not happen often. A few weeks before, though, I had put sheets of paper into a cardboard box for recycling, but the box remained on the floor next to the desk. I went through it. The Constitution was still missing. I did not regard the missing Constitution as a metaphor for our recent politics, as I might have done—I considered it merely mystifying.

          I felt out of sorts without my Constitution. I did find that the fundamental charter was printed in the back of one of my legal books. I knew that it was easy to find online. I know there are apps that provide the Constitution. But I knew that for me sought-for constitutional provisions were more easily found in the pocket-sized booklets than elsewhere. My local bookstore’s website said that the store had something akin to a pamphlet-sized copy, but I was going to have pay ten bucks for it, and I feel that the Constitution should be free. A friend who is teaching a college course in legal history had obtained a trove of Constitutions to hand out to his class and offered me one, but with the coronavirus, I was not seeing him except on Zoom and that would not get me a copy.

          Then I remembered that some organizations online offered free, pocket-sized Constitutions. I went surfing and quickly found two sources. I don’t think you can really draw a statistical conclusion when the n is 2, but both were from conservative entities.

          I ordered the document from each source. Both told me that my free Constitution—no requirement to pay even shipping and handling—would arrive in six weeks. There was no explanation from either as to why it would take so long, and they did not tell me how I was supposed to fight for freedom in the interim. Two months later, a copy from each has finally arrived. But, of course, emails from both organization started appearing within hours of my requests. And surprise, surprise—although the Constitution is free, each organization will be willing to take money from me; indeed, they regularly beseech me for donations. They do more than that, however. One sees itself as a fighter for religious freedom, and they send me articles about that topic. The other is Hillsdale College, a small, private liberal arts college in southern Michigan. Known for a curriculum that stresses the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions, Hillsdale got national attention several decades ago when it gave up all government moneys and therefore no longer had to comply with federal and state laws concerning racial and other discrimination. Hillsdale’s college president is Larry Arnn, best known nationally these days for chairing Trump’s 1776 Commission on “patriotic education,” which was formed in response to the New York Times “1619 Project,” detailing America’s racist history. (The executive director of the 1776 Commission was Matthew Spalding, a Hillsdale vice president.)

          Hillsdale has kindly emailed me a copy of the 1776 report, but I have yet to read its forty-five pages. The college has also encouraged me if I visit their campus to tour, not their library or their biology labs, but their John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center, completed during Arnn’s tenure as president. The shooting center surprised me because I was not aware that rifle ranges were an essential component of the classical Greek or Roman world or that skeet traps were part of traditional Judaism. On the other hand, I did know that since the Reformation, guns have played a large part in helping believers in Christ impose their religion on native heathens around the globe; fight other Christians who believed in some different and therefore unholy doctrine; use them often in crimes; and of course, employ them in suicides.

          Hillsdale also touted an array of free online courses. Many seemed of interest: “The Genesis Story: Reading Biblical Narratives”; “Winston Churchill and Statesmanship”; and “The Young Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey.” Since I came to Hillsdale to get a copy of the Constitution, I thought it only fitting that I take “Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution.” The course had accompanying texts, most of which I had read and did not read again, but I did watch the twelve lectures, which averaged about thirty minutes each. The presenters, sitting in a room with burning candles presumably to give a colonial feel, were good. I was never bored. At the end of each lecture, a multiple-choice quiz of about a dozen questions was offered. (You will be shocked, shocked I say, but I did not always get 100 percent.) I took another test at the course’s conclusion. I passed and got a certificate announcing my constitutional proficiency. I did print it out to show one and all (one and all in this case was the spouse), but I have not yet (?) had it framed for presentation.

(continued March 24)