Oh, that Electoral College

A Facebook friend posted today:
Question (answer with rationale invited):
Should the Electoral College elect Clinton or Trump?”
The question is significant right now because, while Trump apparently won an Electoral College majority, Clinton won a solid majority of the popular vote (a little more than 51%). I say Trump“apparently”won an Electoral College majority because the Electors, when they vote next week, are not necessarily required to vote for the candidate whom they previously said they would vote for. Theoretically the Electoral College could still give the victory to Clinton without violating any law or the Constitution.

Rather than answering the direct question – whom they should elect – I commented with some thoughts about how to develop the rationale. It ended up being one of those annoying five-paragraph Facebook comments that draws from history, philosophy, civics, and politics, using obscure polysyllabic words and long, complex sentences to showcase the writer’s erudition. That was obviously inappropriate for a Facebook comment; if you want to show off your erudition, you’re supposed to write a blog post. So here’s mine.
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At the outset, let me say that I understand the question to be: what should today’s Electoral College do? The question is not how we wish a redesigned Electoral College might work; that’s a separate issue – one worth discussing – but it’s not the question at hand.
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My starting point is that the answer to a “should” question depends on one’s assumptions. Here, the dueling assumptions are:
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  • The United States is primarily a federation of sovereign states. This is most obviously represented by the Senate, where each state has an equal vote. This assumption was widely, though not universally, held when the Constitution was written and ratified.
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  • The United States is primarily a democracy. This is most obviously represented in the House of Representatives, where each state’s voting power is proportional to its population. This assumption is widely, though not universally, held today.
If the US is a federation, then a strong case can be made for election of the President by the states rather than by the national populace. Just the existence of the Electoral College system suggests that this is the assumption of the Constitution.
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If the US is a democracy, then a strong case can be made for election of the President by the national populace. The structure of the Electoral College suggests that this is the assumption of the Constitution — electoral votes are allocated to states roughly by population.
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(A finer point about the democracy assumption: The US is not a direct democracy, it is a democratic republic; that is, the voice of the populace is expressed through democratically elected representatives. Both Congress and the electoral college system are consistent with the assumption that the US is a democratic republic.)
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There are three flies in the ointment, so to speak, three issues that are not cleanly addressed by the assumptions above. One is intentionally embedded in the Constitution, and the other two reflect common practices that may not have been anticipated by the writers of the Constitution:
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  • First, the electors, unlike US Representatives, are not allocated strictly by population: smaller states get proportionally more representation, therefore larger states get proportionally less, because the number of a state’s electors is the number of its (population-proportional) Representatives, PLUS TWO. This triples Delaware’s voting power in the Electoral College, for example, but only increases California’s by 4%. This adds an element of federalism to an otherwise democratic process.
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  • Second, in all but two states, a state’s electors represent only the majority of the state’s populace; the minority has no representation in the Electoral College. This strongly pushes the Electoral College system in the direction of federalism rather than democracy. But the Constitution doesn’t require this system; nor does it prohibit it. In fact, in the US’s earliest elections, Electors were chosen in most states by the legislature, not by the people. Moreover, the Constitution contains no assumptions about the existence of political parties, which is important because states that adopted the “winner take all” system of choosing electors were motivated by partisan considerations — the winner-take-all system gives the majority party in the state more power in choosing the President than would a proportional system (like Maine’s or Nebraska’s).
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  • Third, the Constitution does not assume that Electors are legally required to vote for the candidate they stood for during the election. Yet many states do have laws that say that Electors must vote for the candidate for whom they stood during the election. The constitutionality of these laws has never been sustained or rejected in the courts.
So when we ask “should” the Electors choose Clinton or Trump, we need to be clear which question we’re asking.
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Should the Electors follow historical precedent?
If so, should that be the recent history, the early history, or the overall history of the US?
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Should the Electors follow the Constitution?
If so, follow only the specific articles written in the Constitution? or follow an interpretation that accounts for the authors’ assumptions and intentions, as far as we can know them? or follow an interpretation that accounts for current generally-held assumptions? or should each Elector follow her/his own interpretation of the Constitution?
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Should the Electors follow the law of the state they represent?
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Should the Electors follow their own moral conscience?
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I personally don’t think there’s an obvious answer to my Facebook friend’s question: Should they elect Clinton or Trump? It depends on what assumptions one makes. I do think it would be helpful to the discussion of the question if we were each to clarify what assumptions we’re making, because, as we see, there are so many assumptions to make.
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Who do you call at 3 a.m.

 

Who do you call at 3 a.m. when the tears won’t stop

When you hear the sweet song of the razor blade in the bathroom drawer

When you’re hurting inside but don’t know why or how long it’ll last

In the empty apartment alone by yourself with no one else there

 

Who do you call at 3 a.m. to tell you the words

That’ll give you a little bit of hope to balance the pain

A reason to sleep, and more important, one to wake up

When it really sounds better to close your eyes that final time

 

Who do you call at 3 a.m. to hold your hand

And kiss your tears, to hug you tight and never let go

When all of your lovers are far in the past and even your family

Can not understand why you’re crying or where you’re lost

 

What do you do at 3 a.m. when there’s no one to call

Is all that’s left to stay awake and look outside

And wait for the sun to brighten the sky and start the day

Then go to work and try again to stay alive

To you

i fell for you
adore your
heart
mind
body and
soul

well not body
i’ve never seen your body
you don’t post photos of it
but then nor do i
really does anyone

so
heart
mind
face and
soul

of course all seen
through the filter
of that blessed curse
cursed blessing
that is facebook

you’re not the first
array of flick’ring pixels
I have fallen for
here

but you’re the one
i can’t kick

facebook “friends”
we always want to put
that “friends” in quotes
then how much more ridiculous
facebook “lovers” or
as here
facebook “beloved”
yet it’s true

this feels like being trapped
in a minnelied
not surprising
facebook works quite well
to confine love
to the minnesang conventions

returning then
to where i started
i sing your praises
heart mind face soul

a heart of courage
and caring
and passion for
the soul work
that is who you are

a mind that leaves me feeling
ignorant and clumsy
by comparison
yet that mind finds pleasure
in our interplay of words
i’m grateful for
noblesse oblige

your face so lovely
so beautiful
so perfect
not by any other’s standard
any other standard
than that it radiates
perfectly
who you are
i would gaze upon your face forever
to bask in who you are

your soul the flames
deep inside
the forge where beauty is created
from raw ore of words
and raw sweat of your mind’s effort
and raw blood of your heart
and raw tears on your face
alloyed and hammered and tempered
to create that beauty
your gift to the world

i dream of being at your side
of touching once your hand
but the oil on my fingertips
would surely tarnish
the brilliant gleam
that i so cherish

so i shall take my leave
delighting in the ache
of the lump in my throat

may you be well
object of my limerence
and radiate forever
your perfect shining self

A sonnet: “Attempt”

Attempt

No safety blade; the razor must be straight.
It cuts the best, the fastest: so, most sure.
They say. A kitchen knife cannot be made
to take enough an edge. They say. And more —

The sequence of events important too:
The weaker hand cuts first the stronger one,
That second might the stronger one cut through –
though cut itself – the weaker one. Thus done.

And after that is just to wait while pain,
unbearable at first, diminishes
as it flows out along with crimson stain
until, with all that is, it finishes.

It’s just a gesture, not attempt. They say.
Unless it happens to complete today.

In which I rip a supposedly “Christian” meme a new one

This is such an insidious, disingenuous attack on LGBTQ people that I can hardly control my anger. The statement is all about self-justification and self-defense and self-righteousness; it is not at all about being compassionate or even holy.

Evil meme

It sneaks in the assumption that being gay, or being trans, is an action that people choose. That’s bullshit, and everybody knows it. There is no scientific, medical, or psychological support for such a contention.

This mendacious assertion withholds support for who people ARE, under the intentionally duplicitous guise of withholding support for what people DO.

This is no different from faith-healing quacks who say that God is morally opposed to chemotherapy for cancer, or antibiotics for infections, or analgesics for arthritis. There is no known way to relieve the suffering of being trans other than transitioning to the gender one knows oneself to be. There is no known way to change someone from a gay orientation to a straight one, and the only way to relieve the suffering of being cut off from love is to accept and affirm intimate relationships between people of the same sex.

This is nothing more than the discredited “love the sinner, hate the sin” rejection of LGBTQ people, and it stinks, all the more so because it tries to put a sheen of high-mindedness on that judgmental, punitive belief. But it succeeds no better at dressing up the hatred than lipstick succeeds in hiding the filth of a pig.

Computers hate me

Computers hate me. *sigh*

Well, not all computers. My personal laptop doesn’t hate me really — it loves me as much as its little brain allows it to.

But the computers that I’m surrounded by at work, the ones I’m inundated by at work, the ones that are an ocean of computers on which I am adrift like a sailor clinging to a piece of driftwood in the midst of a Category 5 hurricane — those are the ones that truly hate…. Oh that’s not really fair either. Part of the problem is our co-dependent relationship — they need me to help them think straight, and I need them to help put food on the table — and codependency is just not healthy in any relationship.

And really, I owe them at least a smidgen of compassion, knowing how they’ve been abused and neglected in their previous relationships — just used by whoever showed up, nobody giving them the tender loving care they deserve, all of them walking away chasing the next piece of shiny hardware without so much as a fare-thee-well.

But still.  They’re old enough to know better. They know that it’s wrong to take out their anger about the past on the one who’s trying her best to love and care for them now.

It’s not really hatred, I guess. More like a temper tantrum. Or rather, make that 10 simultaneous temper tantrums today. I’m confident I can get them to settle down and behave in fairly short order. It’s just wearying.

Who knows? Maybe it’s all projection. Maybe what’s going on is that I’m the one who hates them.

Anyone know any good counselors?

Imago Dei, Imago Dust

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen.1:27

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Gen.2:7

Genesis wastes no time: right there in the first chapter, it tells us what it means to be human. We are the very image of the Holy One, the Creator’s ultimate creation. Surprisingly, though, in the very next chapter Genesis apparently tells us just the opposite: we are dirt.

Which is it?

“In the beginning” and “Adam and Eve” are both part of the popular imagination, but it’s when you first get serious and start actually reading the Bible for yourself that you find that these are not the same story, but two different stories of Creation.

We can thank 19th-century German theologians for rigorously examining, then proclaiming, what many had suspected for a long time: there are two stories because there are two authors.

One author’s view of human nature soars to the heavens: we are holy, almost divine, the image of God; the Creator’s final and highest accomplishment; so filled with goodness that God entrusts to us the caretaking responsibility of everything that God has just created.

In contrast, the other author has a very earthy view of human nature: we’re made of dust; we eat things that aren’t good for us; we are so evil that we blame our wives for our own misbehavior, and even kill our brothers when we feel unloved.

Whether we believe that being human means being high and holy, or that being human means being low and dirty, we have a Bible story to support our conviction. We can argue endlessly over which is the “true” or “correct” understanding of human nature. And many of us do, because many of us hold to one belief or the other when it comes to essential human nature.

But it doesn’t have to be a dichotomy, a choice, an “either-or”. Perhaps the final editors of Genesis intentionally included both stories, believing that sometimes one is true, and sometimes the other. In this view, to be human is to see our nature as dual, a blend, a “both-and”. Sometimes we’re the image of God; sometimes we’re just dust that has learned to breathe. Part of each of us is good; part of each of us is evil.

While this approach allows us to account for both Biblical stories, it is ultimately unsatisfying as an answer to, “What does it mean to be human?” because it is not an answer; it is two separate answers, connected by a decision to choose neither.

I would propose taking yet another step beyond “both-and”: our nature lies in the tension between “image of God” and “image of dust”. Both Creation stories – both images – are necessary to understanding our essential nature. But, instead of elements of a mixture, the two stand as separate, independent poles, and we exist in the space between them. A physical analogy: if the two are weights, we exist in the balance between them. A balance is not either weight, nor is it both one weight and the other. And it is certainly not neither weight. The balance’s existence derives from the weights, yet it is not itself composed of the weights.

In other words, we need both Creation stories to understand what it means to be human, because we need the space between them. We were made, and we live, in the dynamic equilibrium that exists between sacred and profane, good and evil, God and dust.


(Adapted from a paper written for an assignment in my Old Testament course at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, in the fall of 2008.)