Perspective


  • October 7, 2020
  • Chuck Osborne

Civics 101

Over the weekend we learned that President Trump has COVID-19, and fortunately it looks like is recovering. On Saturday a friend asked my opinion on what Trump’s illness would mean for our economy, especially if he did not get better. My answer surprised her. I said, “Not a thing.”

We are a nation of laws and our elected officials are public servants, not rulers. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. Politicians have often forgotten this over the years, but shockingly, the general public seems to have forgotten as well, or has never been taught. If Trump died of COVID-19, or any other cause, then Pence becomes President and we, as a nation, move on. If Trump and Pence die, then Pelosi becomes President. Our Founding Fathers thought of this.

They also thought about what would happen if we had a contested election. Congress would decide, those are the rules. There is no constitutional crisis; the Constitution is clear. There is, unfortunately, is a significant element in our society today that believes that if the outcome of our system is not to their liking, then they will just change the rules. This is not to be taken lightly, or quickly dismissed. Our system has given us the longest lasting democracy in history. We should not fall victim to hysterics, but neither should we dismiss the threat.

My 10-year-old daughter, who is in fourth grade, asked me the other night whether what happened to Rome was going to happen to us. I won’t lie, I was proud of her for asking the question. It shows that she knows more about the history of Western Civilization then the so-called college-educated rioters who wish to burn it all down. The answer is, of course, that it is possible; for most of our history, a common societal knowledge of what happen to Rome and that it could happen here has kept our system in check.

It seems that common knowledge was not passed along to this generation. This weekend, not long after being asked about the potential economic consequences should a President die in office, I saw a commercial supporting the abolishment of the Electoral College, the filibuster, and making the District of Columbia a state. This is truly frightening, and we need to wake up to it.

Why does the Electoral College exist? The answer is in understanding who the United States of America is. We were formed as a federation of 13 independent states, and we remain a federation of 50 states today. We are not a pure democracy; we are a republic. Each state holds an election for who they wish to be president, and the state’s electors vote on behalf of their state. Each state has the same number of electors as their representation in Congress. This was the Great Compromise of 1787 that made the making of a nation possible. Pure democracy would subjugate small states to large ones, while equal representation of each state would unfairly under-represent the large states and give small states undue power. The brilliant compromise was that each state would be equal in the Senate and represented by a number of congressmen based on population. Their vote towards who gets to be President would be based on the same calculation.

So why aren’t we a pure democracy? Because our founders knew the history of ancient Greece. Our founders, who had just freed themselves from the tyranny of a monarch, also realized the threat of the mob. So we became a republic, like Rome. We elect representatives to go to Congress to argue and vote on our behalf. The filibuster, which was first used in the U.S. Senate in 1837, is as old as representative government. As long as there have been politicians, there have been people skilled in the art of stalling. This tool, although annoying, is very useful as it requires the majority to account for the views of the minority. It benefits persuasion and compromise over the brute force of the mob. Like any tool, it can be used for causes later judged good or evil, but it is a sword that cuts both ways. Those in the majority who wish to dismiss it would be wise to think of a day when they become the minority, because it will happen.

The District of Columbia is the home of our federal government. It is a city with a population of 705,749 people as of 2019. The idea that it should be a state with the same voting power in the Senate as New York or California is quite frankly absurd. It already has the full attention of our federal government. If one were truly concerned about the 705,749 people not having representation, then a far more logical step would be to have Maryland and Virginia annex the District, although I suspect neither state wants it.

At the end of the advertisement, the young lady speaking said these things had to be done to protect our democracy. One does not protect our democracy by breaking its rules and traditions. The thing that has kept it working for almost two and a half centuries is that no one is above its rules. We live under the rule of law, not the rule of politicians. The real threat to our democracy is not Donald Trump, Joe Biden, COVID-19, or this upcoming election. People and events are not nearly as dangerous as ideas. Ideas like the ones in that advertisement are the real threat, and we had better wake up to that threat. At least that is my perspective.

Warm regards,

Chuck Osborne, CFA
Managing Director