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January 17, 2017

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Electoral College holds the future of the United States in its hands

Today, the United States’ “democratic republic” system moves into its final stage of electing the next American president when the “electors” cast their votes. While most were given or voted into their positions based on their party affiliations with the intent to vote the way of their state, no constitutional provision or federal law requires electors to vote according to the popular vote in their states.

As of Dec. 12, 10 electors had asked for an intelligence briefing regarding Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. One Republican elector, Christopher Suprun, a paramedic from Texas, has said he will not vote for Trump when the Electoral College meets because Trump is unfit for office. Suprun cites Trump’s calls for violence against protestors at his rallies, his encouragement of Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and his misunderstanding of the Constitution that expressly forbids a president from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments. Suprun writes that Trump’s financial conflicts of interest could get him impeached in his first year and cites Trump’s calls for retribution against his critics.

The tenor of the nation has changed. What happened? The president-elect still refuses to release his tax returns. He continues to do what he wants, currently enjoying a “victory” tour while claiming he does not have time for daily presidential security briefings. Trump will not listen to or respect the findings of the CIA that recently released findings that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in order to influence the election. Trump dismissed the CIA’s findings as “ridiculous,” although he sent out a tweet storm in reaction. The intelligence community finds his disrespect for national security officials shameful.

Trump announced Dec. 12 that he would postpone a news conference detailing how he will handle his business Conflicts of Interest from Thursday, before the Electoral College meets, until sometime in January, after the electors vote. Throughout the campaign, Trump praised Vladimir Putin and even hired a campaign manager who got rich working for a Putin ally in Ukraine. The Republican platform was subtly rewritten to remove pro-Ukrainian language, and Trump selected as his foreign-policy advisor a retired general who has been paid by the Russian English-language network, RT. Throughout the campaign, Trump spoke positively about Putin’s strategy in Syria and suggested he may not honor NATO commitments. He even excused Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Most recently, Trump selected as his secretary of state a Putin-friendly oil executive businessman, chief executive of Exxon Mobil. On Dec. 11, Republican Sen. John McCain from Arizona called for a special panel to investigate Russian election interference; now there is deep bipartisan support.

All this follows the announcement of an investigation into FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented and irresponsible actions in failing to condemn Russian hacking as well as mishandling the investigation into Clinton’s email server. This worrisome Russian “story” follows Trump’s other Cabinet picks of a fast-food executive, who advocates replacing some human workers with machines as a way to reduce business costs and is an outspoken foe of the livable wage movement for labor secretary; a climate change denier and fossil fuel advocate for the Environmental Protection Agency; a general who said it is “fun to shoot people” for secretary of defense; and a woman with no education degree or teaching experience, who has never attended a public school as secretary of education. These picks came after Trump’s selection of Jeff Sessions, whom was called racist by his own party, and Stephen Bannon, someone white nationalists see as an advocate. Add to that the fact that Trump has lost the popular vote by the largest margin ever recorded for any “winner” of the Electoral College.

According to the Federalist Papers, the role of the Electoral College is to prevent a foreign power from gaining control of the union. Suprun, the Texan elector who has already pledged not to vote for Trump, said, “Electors can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On Dec. 19, I will do it again.” We will have to wait and see what the other electors do. If the electors cannot prevent this American tragedy, who can?

Ellen Lindeen, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an associate professor of English at Waubonsee Community College, where she teaches peace studies & conflict resolution and human rights & social justice.

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