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The Constitution's 3 Ways to Stop a Demagogue Like Trump Haven't Worked. Now What?

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From Philadelphia Inquirer

Weird Donald Trump
Weird Donald Trump
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Alexander Hamilton didn't burst into hip-hop rhymes in real life, but he did anticipate something else about the complicated rhythms of 21st century America. He had a plan to stop a dangerous demagogue like Donald Trump from becoming president.

His idea was the Electoral College. During the debates that led to the U.S. Constitution in 1787, Hamilton was one of the Founders who argued allowing the masses of new Americans to directly elect their president was a recipe for the eventual rise of a popular despot. The people, he argued, should instead elect a slate of wise men (because they were all men in 1787), or elites, who would use their accumulated wisdom to funnel the popular will into a beneficent president of the United States.

Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68 in support of choosing the American president through this Electoral College that "[a] small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation."

I'll take Donald Trump for $200, Alex.

Needless to say, there was virtually no "investigation," let alone "discernment," in December of 2016 when members of the Electoral College gathered in the 50 state capitals (and D.C) and 304 of the 306 electors presumed to be pledged for Trump cast the ballots that officially made him our 45th president. To borrow Hamilton's phrasing, these electors possessed the information that the New York developer was then accused of sexual misconduct by nearly 20 women (a list that's continued to grow) and had even bragged about his assaults on an audiotape, that he'd openly asked Russia to hack his opponent's emails and that he'd called for a ban on members of the Muslim religion from entering the United States, among many problematic things. They elected him anyway.

Nor should that be any surprise. After more than two centuries of marketing ourselves as "the world's greatest democracy," the idea that the presidential ballots cast by everyday citizens in November could be tossed in the trash a month later by a member of the nation's political elite is just something that maybe made sense from a 1787 quill pen but doesn't compute today. Alexander Hamilton's plan to save America from demagoguery didn't work. Can anything?

This month, in the supposed dog days of August, the question of how to handle an unfit president has taken on a powerful new urgency, as President Trump has unraveled right in front of us. The public meltdowns and beyond-oddities from embracing a crackpot scheme to buy Greenland from Denmark to the point of canceling an official visit to Copenhagen, to lashing out at American Jews who vote Democratic as "disloyal" and "hereby order"-ing private firms not to do business with China, to looking skyward and proclaiming himself "the Chosen One" (on China trade, but still...) are getting worse and worse by that day. And that's only what we see.

The recent Axios report that Trump has asked on two or more occasions about using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from striking the continental United States stands as a stark reminder that the American president can, on any whim, issue a 5-second order that (if obeyed) could seriously harm and maybe destroy life on this planet. Suddenly, a topic that was only discussed by the unfiltered internet masses is Trump mentally ill, or at age 73 suffering a steep decline in mental acuity has gone mainstream, discussed openly by pundits like CNN's Brian Stelter ("It's getting worse we all can see it") or with presidential candidates like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker calling him "a dangerous president."

But here's the thing: Over these last 232 years, the authors of the Constitution and its later editors gave us not one but three count 'em, three! tools to prevent someone who was mentally, physically or morally unfit from occupying the White House. None of these tools seem to really work now that we really need them. Let's look briefly at why:

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Will Bunch is author of the new "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future", published by Free Press, which examines the calculated effort by the modern right wing to canonize the 40th president, (more...)
 

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