Words fail me as I try to come to grips with what happened a week ago today in Washington. Many of the first adjectives that come to mind seem to begin with “D”: Deadly. Demented. Disgusting. Disgraceful. Disastrous.
I could go on. But a week is more than enough time to sit stunned in front of the TV while attempting to come to terms with this horrendous affront to all that is supposed to be American. Now the question becomes: What can we do to eliminate a repeat of this nightmare — or at least make one less likely?
There are two big answers. The first: Abolish the antiquated, ridiculous, trouble-prone Electoral College, and replace it with a direct election in which the candidate who gets the most votes is the one who actually gets to move into the White House. (I mean, duh.)
That, in fact, is what I intended to focus on mostly today. But friend John Dempsey — who teaches American government at Sandhills Community College, besides running the place — did a better job than I could hope to in his excellent Sunday column in this space, headlined “2020 Election Shows Why Electoral College Must Go.” Besides, I already pontificated on that subject a couple of years ago.
Therefore, let’s turn our attention to the second major thing we need to do: Eliminate the crazy, troublesome, unnecessary interim in which we have been drifting for so long at this point. I’m talking about this endless period of 10 or 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, which offers so many opportunities for mischief.
So. Does that mean we can follow the practice observed by the British, who elect their prime minister on one day and install him in office the next? I don’t know. It might take a few days longer than that. But why in the world should we sit around and wait for 2½ months for our decision to be acted upon?
Ironically, anyone reading a complaint like this one back in the 1930s would be puzzled. After all, Americans thought they had made a great leap forward in 1933 with the ratification of the 20th Amendment, which shortened the “lameduck” period from four months by moving the Inauguration from March back to January.
The four-month delay had been in effect since the time of the Founding Fathers. In those days of horse-drawn carriages and massive difficulties and delays in uprooting and moving, it was known that elected presidents and members of Congress needed at least that much time to pull up stakes, get packed, and establish themselves in the distant, still-new national capital.
But at the time of crisis into which the country felt itself tumbling at the beginning of the Great Depression, it seemed like an interminable delay for the nation and its government to sit and listen to the ticking clock as Herbert Hoover’s administration wound down and Franklin Roosevelt impatiently waited to initiate his New Deal programs.
So why did the 20th Amendment stop at 11 weeks or so instead of shortening the wait even more? Because it was thought at that point that Congress still needed at least that much time to take office and address any potential snags or disagreements within the Electoral College over just who should be proclaimed as the presidential victor.
But if there were no Electoral College, and the total popular vote would be known within a few hours or days, we would be living in a different world, wouldn’t we?
I know — you can’t turn the federal government around on a dime. There would still need to be some kind of brief buffer period during which Cabinet members were chosen and the old and new administrations worked together to prepare for the peaceful passing of the torch, etc.
Of course, that assumes that the outgoing president isn’t instead refusing to cooperate at all, that he isn’t moping in the White House about losing his Twitter account — and that all involved aren’t losing sleep over worry that he still might be able to get his finger on the nuclear trigger.
In that case, the sooner he’s out the door and sitting on the curb, the better for us all.
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.