As I write this column, nearly 2.5 million people have signed a petition seeking to overturn the outcome of the November 8 national vote and make Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump, the next president of the United States.
The petitioners are asking presidential electors, chosen by the voters of their states to support Trump, to instead “faithlessly” cast their votes for Clinton on December 19.
“Faithless” electors are nothing new. The only electoral vote ever won by a Libertarian presidential slate came from a Virginia elector who couldn’t bring himself to support Nixon in 1972 and instead cast his vote for John Hospers. But they’ve historically been few and far between and have never changed the outcome of a presidential election.
The American political system can stand a few faithless electors casting protest votes now and again. They’re a burp in that system, a noise in the machinery that lets us know it is actually running.
But the American political system cannot survive electors defecting en masse from the clear winner to the clear loser of a national election. That’s not a protest or an act of civil disobedience. It’s an insurrection.
So let’s be clear on what the petitioners are asking for here:
They want a coup d’etat.
Their candidate lost an election, so they want a mutinous electoral college to set aside the results and transfer executive power to the loser instead of to the winner.
Emerging from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall at the end of the 1787 constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of political system the convention had chosen. “A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”
The pro-Clinton petitioners don’t want to keep it. They would gladly throw out nearly 230 years of imperfect but working method in favor of getting their way just this one time.
In 1860, the presidential election didn’t go the way the southern slave states wanted it to go. But even those states didn’t demand that the result be overturned; they merely chose to show themselves to the door, and only went to war when they found that door barred.
With their appeal for a presidential coup, the pro-Clinton petitioners are flirting with same outcome: Major riots and social dislocations at least, quite possibly outright civil war. Even as a radical libertarian who believes the United States is past, or at least approaching, its “best used by” date, I don’t relish the prospect.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.