Lady Gaga, faithless electors and the crazy long-shot way Hillary Clinton could still be president

Philip Nelson

On Sunday morning, experts were predicting that when all of the ballots are counted, Hillary Clinton will have won the popular vote by as much 2 million people; about 1.5 percent of the popular vote

As the New York Times’ David Leonhardt notes, Clinton — the loser — won by a larger margin of victory than Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Donald Trump becomes just the fifth president-elect in American history to take the electoral college but lose the popular vote.

So what is the electoral college?

Essentially, when you vote for president, you’re actually voting for an elector who places a vote in the electoral college. There are 538 electors — one for every member of congress, and then we just pretend the District of Columbia is a state (and has congressional representation, which it totally doesn’t LOL).

This system is kind of bizarre, but it’s also rarely out of step with the broader population so it’s almost never challenged.

In a recent conversation with Vox, Yale Professor Akhil Reed Amar explained how pressure from slave states lead to its original creation:

In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population was slaves, and slaves couldn’t vote. But an Electoral College allows states to count slaves, albeit at a discount (the three-fifths clause), and that’s what gave the South the inside track in presidential elections. “And thus it’s no surprise that eight of the first nine presidential races were won by a Virginian. (Virginia was the most populous state at the time, and had a massive slave population that boosted its electoral vote count.)”

Another important point is that because every state gets two electors to begin with (the rest reflect each state’s population), less populous (“smaller”) states have a disproportionate influence.

One of the justifications for the electoral college system — like the existence of superdelegates in the Democratic Party’s nomination process — is that it provides a means of choosing a new president if the winner dies or falls into scandal* (or some other unforeseen circumstance) between the election and taking office.

Now an important note about the electors: there’s no law forcing them to vote for who the people elect them to vote for. A slight majority of states have laws requiring them to pledge to vote for who the people choose, but the Supreme Court has never ruled that actually punishing them is constitutional.

The magic number

Forty-two. That’s how many additional electoral college votes Hillary Clinton would need to hit 270 and take the presidency.

Faithless electors — which sounds like a bad political hardcore band — are the electors who, for whatever reason, don’t vote for the candidate they were elected to vote for. According to, there have been 157 of them since 1796 and 82 were initiated because the elector didn’t support the candidate. They’ve never swung an election, but they have denied both candidates a 270-vote majority and pushed the decision to the House of Representatives.

To do that, just 21 electors would have to switch sides to Clinton or abstain from voting for Trump… It’s perhaps possible that the House would at least vote to make Mike Pence president instead of Trump.

As of Sunday evening, a petition encouraging electors to defect from the Republican candidate and vote for Clinton had garnered over 4 million signatures — twice the number she won the popular vote by. The petition reads, in part:

Casting your ballot for Hillary preserves majority rule — the “sense of the people” — and prevents the most unqualified candidate in history from taking office. Never in our Republic’s 240 years has our President had no previous experience in an office of public trust, be it elected or appointed, civilian or military. Never has a President admitted to sexual assaults. Never has a President encouraged violence at campaign events.

There is no reason electors cannot vote with their conscience. They are not taking away the majority vote, and are not violating the Constitution.

So here’s where Lady Gaga comes in:

Actually she isn’t really central to any of this, but Democracy Now!’s coverage of the petition on Friday consisted almost entirely of footage of Gaga giving peace signs to a crowd at a Clinton rally. So… there’s that.

This is really unlikely, but isn’t it also kind of… immature?

Really, the only time anyone cares about the existence of the electoral college are the scenarios exactly like the one we find ourselves in now.

“This is just how we do things. Suck it up and quit being a sore loser!” is a pretty good way of summing up the argument against faithless electors. It’s also what Democrats would be saying to Trump supporters if the tables were turned.

That doesn’t make it wrong or right — it’s just the reality of politics. Here’s how Donald Trump reacted when he thought Mitt Romney had won the popular vote in 2012:

screenshot via LBC

The current president-elect CALLED FOR REVOLUTION!


It’s worth considering two key points: 1) the electoral college is fundamentally undemocratic, and 2) this election was also undemocratic, but in a different sense.

“The Electoral College is in tension with one strong democratic ideal that I endorse: the idea of one person, one vote,” Amar argued later in the Vox interview. “The Electoral College ends up counting votes unequally depending on where they’re cast. That is at tension with a modern democratic sensibility of counting all votes equally.”

To say the 2016 general election was undemocratic may seem counter-intuitive. The people voted in free elections. No one was coerced with threats or bribes. As far as we know, there were no instances of mass vote fixing or voter fraud.

While the election was technically democratic in that sense, it seems much less so when one considers actual democratic ideals.

The 2016 general election, in which racial issues, tensions and resentments played a major role, was the first in over 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

The Nation’s Ari Berman called it the “most undercovered story of 2016,” noting that there were 868 fewer places to vote in affected states, leading to long lines, as well as cutbacks on early voting.

In 2012, when the VRA protections were still in place and fewer states had restrictive voter ID laws, an estimated 730,000 voters were deterred from voting by long lines and wait times. Blacks and Latinos also faced longer wait times than whites.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast uncovered documents from the government’s Crosscheck program that suggested as many as a million people were purged from voting roles based on flawed information (below).

Additionally, over 6 million people were barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement. This punishment was historically used, in the words of one South Carolina legislator, to “deprive every colored man of their right of citizenship.”

Imagine how different the results in the sunshine state could’ve been, based on this passage from PBS:

In Florida, once a Confederate state that now has some of the strictest voting rights policies, one in every four black people are disenfranchised, among one of the highest ratios in the nation, according to The Sentencing Project.

It also has the most disenfranchised voters — about 1.6 million, with one-third of them black — and is a state where Clinton needed approximately 120,000 more votes to win its 29 electoral votes.

Democracy entails more than just voting too. There’s a little thing called an “informed electorate” that’s critical to “the people” being able to make informed decisions in their own interest.

I don’t need to go over political polarization and the role that (social) media echo chambers play; we all live this every day.

Less than a month before the election, Gallup found that Americans’ trust in the media had fallen to its lowest level in the poll’s history. Less than a third of respondents had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of faith in the press.

Media professionals have written unendingly about how they failed during the primary season and run up to the election. (you can read them for yourself here: Poynter, NPR, the New Republic, HuffPo, The New York Times)

These issues are not emblematic of a healthy democracy. And, counter to what Trump spent the last several months warning his supporters of, these flaws in the system mostly hurt Democrats, not Republicans.

Lawful Neutral

Then there’s the hedging argument:

The Republicans control Congress. At a time when Americans have almost never been more polarized, it may be best to have a Democratic president to allow for checks and balances between the branches of government. With a Republican in the White House, the GOP will have majority control of the executive, Supreme Court and both chambers of Congress.

In that scenario liberals, Democrats and many minority groups will not only harden their opposition against the ruling party, but they can no doubt expect to be targeted by it as well.

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote after the election:

[Trump] takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens — powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

It was partisan for Obama’s supporters not to question the NSA’s mass surveillance or extrajudicial assassinations under his watch. But it’s objectively more dangerous to have a Republican, especially one as unhinged as Donald Trump, at the helm of these programs, without a powerful adversarial force to keep them in check at a basic level.

Donald Trump has demonstrated his level of restraint: basically, none. To any reasonable person, the choice is clear: a very high probability of vast government overreach, the trampling of civil liberties and due process and the expansion of the surveillance state; or a state of more or less what we’ve experienced for most of the last eight years: the executive and legislative don’t get along, nothing really gets done, but everything looks much less dystopian.

The electoral college needs to sacrifice itself to save democracy

In the Wisconsin Law Review, Professor Stephen M. Shepard defended the idea of the faithless elector, writing:

an event may occur or a revelation may be reliably made such that an elector’s reasonable expectations are in fact frustrated so considerably that the elector cannot in good conscience make good on the commitment to vote for a given candidate and still believe that the elector has performed the office for the good of the country. In such a case the elector cannot be morally bound to the commitment to a given candidate. If the elector cannot morally be bound to the commitment, then reliance on the customary expectation of a commitment would clearly be misplaced, and the fundamental basis by which the Supreme Court has upheld a state requirement of such a commitment would fail.

A (constitutionally-protected) mutiny on the part of a few dozen electors would most likely demonstrate that the electoral college is a flawed, potentially undemocratic way to chose our presidents. Voters would demand to either get rid the electoral college altogether via constitutional amendment or to bind the electors to their constituencies’ vote via legislation or a Supreme Court ruling.

Either way, it’s functionality would be pulled into question, and at the very least, a loophole — that will otherwise continue to be a threat to Democrats, liberals and others as well — will be closed.

Put another way, the electoral college is a nonsensical tool originally created to empower racists. If this loophole exists, why not take advantage of it to highlight how absurd the whole thing is? The electoral college’s final act could be to put a dent into the legacy of racism it was spawned by.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder advocated for abolishing the electoral college system on “Real Time” on Saturday (starts at 18:54).

*The upcoming lawsuit against Trump University may be the only chance the president-elect has of becoming embroiled in a scandal (with real legal implications) before he’s sworn in. His lawyers, however, are pushing to delay the trial set for the end of the month until after Jan. 21.

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There’s nothing wrong with being emotional right now

And you’re an asshole if you make fun of people for being upset…

I’ve noticed a few of my conservative friends sharing articles and videos about professors canceling tests and colleges allowing absences because students are reacting emotionally to the election.

“Really??? I mean really???” one poster commented on a video from Fox News.

The caption read: “Tests canceled, pizza ordered. Sad kids at college campuses being consoled after election…”

It certainly fits the caricature of liberal millennials that the right wing media has created: that they don’t know how to process losing an election because they always got participation trophies; that they’re being overly-dramatic, narcissistic hypocrites who won’t accept the election results.

Even if you’re so brainwashed by Breitbart and Sean Hannity to not understand why people might be upset, the least you can do is let them grieve without tearing them down.

You may not understand why Donald Trump’s success would bring a female college student — or a Muslim parent, or a gay coworker, or your relative that you think is being sensational — to tears, that doesn’t mean the pain or fear they’re experiencing isn’t legitimate.

As a journalist, you learn to compartmentalize world events: 35 civilians killed in car bomb attack, 300 missing after massive earthquake, Earth has entered its sixth mass extinction period — one simply lacks the emotional energy to respond to every headline.

Politics is also, for many of us, generally abstract. Even if we participate in getting someone elected, or work to change a law, it’s very rare that we are directly affected by the outcome.

I say this as an explanation, but also as a confession. I may have been moved to tears listening to Trayvon Martin’s father speak about how great of a person his son was, or by a friend’s story of being raped and ostracized, but for the most part, I feel very little emotion when dealing with politics or the news.

I watched the second debate between Trump and Clinton with a group of student activists. Some yelled at the candidates on the TV, some mocked their responses, but when it was all said and done, any humor in the room was sucked out the window.

Amid the post-debate chatter, one person started to cry. The room went tense — that awkward question: how to respond to someone breaking the taboo (especially for males) of crying in public. A friend consoled them. Another person started sobbing.

They expressed love for everyone in the room, and fear of being targeted because of their identity. More tears slid down cheeks.

I’m used to translating this kind of emotion into text, not experiencing it up close and personal. I may have been caught off guard, but I shouldn’t have been. I knew how deeply passionate these activists were about justice, equality, and fairness — and they had just watched the biggest threat to those things mock, interrupt and belittle the only hope for preserving them, in front of the entire American electorate.

“Orlando was my community. My people were attacked and killed,” someone sobbed. The group moved outside and formed into a couple circular group hugs with several people still crying, and the others telling them that they mattered; that they were not alone; that they were there for them.

It’s not hard for the LGBTQ community to identify deeply with the victims of something like the Orlando nightclub shooting. To them it wasn’t just another random mass shooting, but a targeted act; a heinous manifestation of the same hatred and bigotry that kept gay and lesbian couples from getting married until just last year, and almost always made them feel less than in schools, churches and, too often, society.

Pulse Nighclub, electroshock conversion therapy and record high numbers of transgender people being murdered are all part of the same beast… a beast Trump’s movement has empowered.

A beast that will only grow stronger when the Supreme Court inevitably gains a “family values” justice to take Scalia’s seat; and one that Mike Pants knows intimately well.

Considering that under Obama, a black, former community organizer, slightly less than one in three black men could expect to spend time behind bars during their lifetime, it’s not hard to imagine why the black community might be worried about a president who has been sued for housing discrimination and who praised stop-and-frisk (AKA blatant racial profiling) during his campaign.

Under Obama, who campaigned on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promised to close Guantanamo Bay, hundreds of innocent civilians were killed by drone strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and Syria . The most advanced surveillance and intelligence system in history targeted whole families, funeral processions and weddings.

Donald Trump campaigned on bringing back torture programs and bombing suspected terrorists families intentionally — both of which are illegal under international law. It’s not hard to imagine why someone from or with family in Africa or the Middle East might have anxiety about their loved ones’ well being.

None of the people mocking those who are distraught about the future of this country would’ve questioned George W. Bush’s sincerity when he struggled to hold back tears in this address days after 9/11:

Or poked fun at John Boehner welling up at the thought of the American dream:

There’s no question that politics and ideals are worth getting emotional about, no matter what side you’re on.

A great number of Republicans voted for Trump not because they supported him, or approve of his actions, but because “Hillary/another Democrat would’ve been worse.” Mistreatment of minorities obviously wasn’t a big concern of theirs then, but it should be now.

At the very least, there’s self interest.

After the Holocaust, Protestant Pastor and German dissident Martin Niemoller explained what had happened during the implementation of the “final solution,” with these famous lines:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

There have already been dozens, if not hundreds, of instances of harassment and mistreatment of minorities since Nov. 8. Far from an abstract fear, it’s all but undeniable that Muslims, Latinxs, LGBTQ people, Sikhs, and other groups of people live in a more dangerous world than they did even days ago.

Regardless of who we voted for, we all have to take a side: love or hate, humanity or tribalism. There is no in between — no neutral on this moving train.

We have to listen with open minds when people say they’re afraid. Politics aside, we all have to exhibit a basic degree of empathy — and that starts with letting the distraught mourn in peace.

Many (all) of us were caught completely off-guard by the election results, and the full implications of what this means are still difficult to grasp. Years of hard-won progress will no doubt be eroded away before our eyes. The undermining of environmental measures alone will cost innumerable lives, no question.

If anything is ever worth skipping school, ordering pizza, and staying in bed all day over, it’s having to come to terms with the end of the world as we knew it.

Jill Stein is a shit green party candidate

(And why we should chill out about the next election)

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Spare me your outrage. I voted for her in 2012, and I liked it.

I waited in line for an hour, I didn’t second-guess myself, and I never regretted it.

My politics haven’t changed much since then. If anything I’m much more concerned about the environment and climate change now than I was four years ago.

I’ve covered my fair share of climate protests, spent many weekends embedded with activists, kept up with the national and international climate movements, and I even made it all the way through “This Changes Everything.” And yet I have no love for Jill Stein.

There’s the obvious not-not-against-vaccinations thing, which is irksome for those of us who have been arguing that conservatives need to take science seriously when it comes to climate change*.

But more recently, and arguably more damning, there’s this: the revelation that she’s almost certainly invested in fossil fuels, among other disreputable industries.

The Daily Beast broke the news Wednesday night:

To learn more about the funds Stein has invested in, The Daily Beast did not have to engage in significant research by any definition. A simple Google search of the name of each of the funds she has invested in returned publicly available marketing documents produced by the investment managers that showed where these funds were investing their capital…

Stein has invested $995,011 to $2.2 million in funds such as the Vanguard 500 fund that maintain significant stakes in Exxon and other energy companies like Chevron, Duke Energy, Conoco Phillips, and Toho Gas, a Japanese company that engages in the sale of natural gas, tar, and coke, a fuel made from coal…

Stein has invested roughly $1.2 to $2.65 million in funds like the TIAA-CREF Equity Index that have big stakes in the financial services industry. Holdings in these funds include big banks like JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank as major parts of their investment portfolios…

she has between $50,001-$100,000 invested in a fund that has the Raytheon Corporation as its fourth largest holding, a $38 million investment. Raytheon, which is the fourth largest defense contractor in the world and derives 90 percent of its revenue from military contracts.

This is, at best, a failure on a symbolic level. She cannot possibly claim that she was both unaware of what her mutual funds might be invested in, and paying attention to the last few years of climate activism which saw some massive victories in the area of divestment…

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, worth $860 million; Stanford University’s endowment of $18.7 billion***; The Church of England’s £9 billion investment fund, and many, many more hard-fought victories, earned by people at the grassroots level.

The Guardian’s outgoing editor-in-chief even made a divestment campaign his last hurrah before retiring.

This is Jill Stein’s #Aleppomoment.

And what would she accomplish if elected, anyway? Sure a lot of** her platform is… pretty ideal, but we can’t ignore reality. Barack Obama faced obstructionism from a Republican-controlled Congress. How would Stein fare against a legislative body all but completely united against her less-than-corporate-friendly agenda?

Executive action? If it mattered, it would almost certainly be repealed by the next president.

These questions didn’t exactly cross my mind when I voted Green four years ago. I didn’t have to think about them. The point wasn’t to actually see her elected, it was to express my distaste for the system.

That kind of thinking doesn’t cut it anymore. The climate movement has to be pragmatic, and it has to be realistic. Tackling these issues is too big for one presidential victory. And it’s foolish to invest any time or resources into a sure-failed presidential campaign built around the idea of being able to smugly say you didn’t vote for the one that turned up the drone strikes.

Consider the argument that Dan Savage made about building a viable alternative party:

You don’t do that by trotting out the reanimated corpse of Ralph fucking Nader every four fucking years. Or his doppelgänger, whoever it is now, Jill Stein and some asshole-to-be-named four years from now. You start by running grassroots, local campaigns. And there’ve been — and I’m sure we’re going hear from lots of people out there listening — there have been a couple of Green Party candidates who’ve run in other races here and there across the country. But no sustained effort to build a Green Party nationally. Just this griping, bullshitty, grandstanding, fault-finding, purity-testing, holier than thou-ing, that we are all subjected to every four fucking years by the Green Party candidate…

If you’re interested in building a third party, a viable third party, you don’t start with president. You don’t start by running someone for fucking president.

(via The Stranger)

As we’re all very aware by now, U.S. elections are democracy theater, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. A Hillary Clinton administration will be shitty and problematic and disappointing, but it’s way more than just marginally better than the alternative.

The way that we have been framing this debate over these last months has been dishonest if it ignores that fact.

It’s also worth considering that we won’t be worse off, necessarily, with a Clinton presidency than we have been under Obama.

Democrats are expected to take a few seats in the House and regain control of the Senate. Then there’s the issue of Supreme Court justices (who just so happen to require approval by the Senate).

One, let alone four or five, Supreme Court justices isn’t just the difference in the future of something like the Clean Power Plan. It could make the difference in a precedent that affects the next wave of badly needed measures to cut back on fossil fuels and everything that comes after.

Most people aren’t concerned about climate change because it takes place over years and decades. Those working to lessen its severity have to think in such time scales as well.

Unless this country sees some relatively massive changes in the distribution of power, we need to remember the lessons we learned this election.

The real-life version of Fascism-wrapped-in-the-flag is going to say some crazy, fucked up shit next time too. And the Democrat is going to be at least almost as disappointing. Let’s not lose sleep (or friends, or pull our hair out) over it though.

Remember, the climate fight is the one the corporate media won’t cover 24/7 (if at all).

In a recent column for the Nation, Bill Mckibben wrote:

The honeymoon won’t last 10 minutes; on November 9 we’ll be organizing for science and human rights and against the timid incrementalism that marks her approach. It’s clear that we need to beat the creepy perv she’s running against. It’s also clear that we then need to press harder than ever for real progress on the biggest crisis the world has ever faced.

*As the link notes, she has said good things about vaccinating children, but the point is that she hasn’t refuted her followers that are anti-vaccers. Climate denialism doesn’t just work if it convinces people there is no problem; it also succeeds when it tricks people into thinking the science isn’t settled…

**She wants to put a moratorium on GMOs.. It’s not a perfect platform.

***from coal, at least…

What if Trump’s supporters turn on him?

Gage Skidmore

Today Donald Trump “finished” the “Birther Movement.” He only devoted about 45 seconds to doing so, despite having obsessed over it for years, riding its wave to prominence among right wing fringe groups. But hey, he’s a busy man these days.

“Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again,” he said ending the speech.

The Donald seemed annoyed—annoyed that the “lamestream media” was forcing him to address such an irrelevant non-issue at such an important time in history.

To be sure, pushing birther conspiracies was one of the biggest contributions to politics he’d made before entering the 2016 race. Today’s announcement was a massive flip-flop in a giant sea of absurdity, inconsistency and outright lies. There’s so much crazy, it’s impossible to sift through.

Donald Trump has been a Republican and a Democrat. More importantly, he’s been a batshit crazy conspiracy theorist that thinks the country has been taken over by a jihadist and a presidential candidate for a mainstream political party.

Donald Trump won the nomination because he promised change. He represented not just an alternative to Hillary Clinton, but an alternative to corrupt career politicians and the dominance of big money special interest groups and everything that’s been holding back the working man.

He’s already walked back his mass deportation plans, adopting a more liberal approach than many mainstream Republicans. And considering that building a 30-ft (and counting) wall across the entire Southern border is basically impossible (and Mexican leaders keep saying there’s no way they’ll pay for it), it’s seems clear that “making America great again” has some flexibility to it.

At some point — after he compromises the “alt right” revolution a few more times, president or not — some contingency of his base is going to turn against him. Then what? What happens when the people steering the Trump movement don’t have to appeal to mainstream voters and don’t care about an election?

His campaign has emboldened a lot of xenophobic, racist, potentially violent groups (see: former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke running for Senate) but it’s also pulled a lot of otherwise uninterested people into the system. People that used to spread their ideas via email forwards are now interviewed by the dozen on national cable news networks.

We all know that Trump says offensive, inflammatory things. But even he’s not as bad as many of the people in his crowds. What will those people do after they’ve tasted some level of media legitimacy and are without a golden-haired god to rally around?

Their guy is on the national stage for once; their beliefs have never been more validated. What will they do when they’ve lost all sense of real political power?

We may very well see a shift in what the broader Republican Party looks like and stands for, like we did with the Tea Party movement. I’m worried, though, that we’ll see stronger, more violent right wing conspiracy groups outside of that.

Two terms of Obama have given us unprecedented growth in militia and “sovereign citizen” groups, including armed stand-offs with federal authorities in Nevada and Oregon. Four to eight years of Hillary Clinton is only going to continue this trend.

In today’s world, only those with real power need be concerned with ideology. The rest of us are divided primarily not by ideas necessarily, but by realities (or lack thereof).

We can’t have dialogue about how to overcome our problems because we don’t even exist in the same world.

I don’t know how to fix political polarization and this “post-factual democracy” we live in, but I am deeply concerned about what it’s going to lead to. Trump and all those who have stoked rabid conspiratorial paranoia on the right for decades have no idea what they’ve created.