One could almost pity the executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter as they were grilled on Capitol Hill earlier this week by senators upset about Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election, via the posting of cleverly worded propaganda ads and messages on social-media sites.
After all, how do you detect – let alone stop – a small group of determined foreign nationals manipulating and taking advantage of what’s supposed to be open, free-flowing Internet platforms idealistically designed to allow billions of people across the globe to voice their thoughts on everything from world politics to the type off pigeons in Trafalgar Square?
Of course, the Facebook, Google and Twitter executives at the Senate hearing earlier this week bowed their heads, expressed remorse and vowed to do better in combating the threat of foreign interference in our democratic elections.
But the question is: Can they do better? Is it possible? Remember: Facebook alone acknowledges that it received only about $100,000 in paid ads by those it later learned were tied to various Russian groups, but those ads were still seen by about 10 million people, according to media reports.
For those who think it’s mathematically odd that Donald Trump was sworn in this past week as the next president of the United States — even though he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes — I have some news: It could have been even more strange.
Instead of netting only 46.1 percent of the vote compared with Clinton’s 48.2 percent of the popular vote, Trump could have, by my calculations, pulled in a mere 22 percent of the popular vote and still won the election.
How is that possible? Thank our quirky electoral college system, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, that assigns electoral votes to final election outcomes in individual states, not by a nationwide vote tally.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I say “sworn in,” rather than “assume the presidency,” because, under Section I of Article II of the US Constitution, Trump cannot actually become president unless he takes an oath of office, publicly committing himself to uphold the Constitution and perform to the best of his ability while in office. That is, of course, the case for all presidents. But, given how Trump comported himself during the campaign, it is particularly meaningful in his case.
Until now, Trump has made no effort to behave in an honest or reliable way. Technically, he didn’t have to. The US does not require any sworn statements from the men and women who run for president, nor does it have any enforceable code of behavior or constraints on the kind of rhetoric that can be used. Candidates may conduct themselves however they see fit.
This approach is based on the assumption that we can trust the candidates’ judgment. People seeking the country’s highest office should know how to balance the political imperative of winning votes with a sense of responsibility for the feasibility of – and reasoning behind – their policy promises.
By and large, experience has vindicated this view. The US has had the good fortune of choosing largely from among presidential aspirants who adhere to generally accepted norms. With Trump, it seems that fortune has turned into bankruptcy.
The popular vote winner is poised to lose the presidency in the electoral college on Dec. 19, and calls are widespread to replace the college with a national popular vote. That proposal will go nowhere: Amending the Constitution is too difficult, and getting a Supreme Court judgment against the electoral college is almost as fraught. It doesn’t help that a direct presidential election is perceived as benefiting Democrats, and Republicans are ascendant at both the state and federal levels.
A simple reform, however, might go a long way toward reducing objections to the electoral college without introducing a partisan bias.
Our alternative would preserve the current arrangements for assigning electoral votes to individual states. As required by the Constitution, each state’s total electoral vote would be based on the size of its delegation in the House of Representatives (determined by population) and in the Senate (every state gets two). In most states, electoral votes are finally awarded on a winner-takes-all basis. We propose instead that electoral votes be awarded in direct proportion to each candidate’s share of the states’ popular vote.
We have entered a watershed moment not only here in America, but also globally. It’s a moment that could help us wake up to a deeper level of collective awareness and renewal—or a moment when we could spiral down into chaos, violence, and fascism-like conditions. Whether it’s one or the other depends on our capacity to become aware of our collective blind spot.
Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States has sent shock waves across the planet. In a replay of Brexit, a coalition of white, working- (and middle-) class men (and women) from mostly rural areas swept an anti-establishment candidate into office. But the election of Trump is hardly an outlier: just look at the global rise of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan, Viktor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte and the surge of other right-wing populists.
Why has the richest and most prosperous country in the world now elected a climate denier who used racist, sexist, misogynistic, and xenophobic language throughout his campaign? What makes us put someone like him in the White House? Why did we create a presidential election between two of the most disliked candidates of all time, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Why did Trump, who lied and attacked minorities, journalists, women, and the disabled, only become stronger and stronger throughout his campaign? What is the blind spot that has kept us from seeing and shifting the deeper forces at play? Why, again and again, do wecollectively create results that most people don’t want?