The Electoral College is now a national security threat? No, but here’s why we still need it.

How bad is it to want to use “lol” when talking about a commentary on a major media website? Bad. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what comes to mind when reading Politico’s recent absurd attack on the Electoral College.

As usual, when an election doesn’t go their way, the left wants to change things so it will the next time. I’ll distill their argument down for you: the Electoral College needs to finally be done away with because the Russians were able to purchase $100,000 in illegal ads in Wisconsin, which might possibly have persuaded enough voters to give Donald Trump the victory.

Never mind the $200 million spent by the two candidates on advertising. No, it’s the election of Donald Trump, apparently brought to you by the Russians via Facebook that is the latest ax being used to chip away at the Electoral College. Also … wait for it … yes, it’s racist.

As we all know, since Rahm Emmanuel spilled the beans, the left never lets a crisis go to waste. And, knowing that removing the way our Constitution mandates how presidents are elected is a long, uphill battle, they take every opportunity they can to create suspicion and disdain for it in the minds of Americans.

So let’s take a step back and talk about the purpose and necessity of the Electoral College – and why it matters to you – shall we?

A friend recently reminded me that Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” That might be a true statement were it not for the republican form of government.

No system of government will ever be perfect – because people are in charge and people aren’t perfect. But our founders knew, as John Adams pointed out: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That is why we are a republic and not a democracy.

The Electoral College is an integral part of our form of government. The desire to abolish and replace it with a National Popular Vote is the desire to move us ever closer to direct democracy.

Shouldn’t we have a National Popular Vote, you ask? One person, one vote, after all. We elect everyone else, so it’s only “fair” to directly elect the president, too.

What would elections look like, and how would they change if we switched to a National Popular Vote? Campaigning would immediately and nearly exclusively be relegated to the coasts where the largest population centers are. Nearly all the states within the coastal states would largely be ignored. Many might think, “Good! Keep those filthy politicians away from here.”

But would elections like that be truly representative of the population? Should all subsequent elections be decided by New York, L.A., and a few other cities? And what would politicians do to win votes there? Democrats and too many Republicans already buy votes with giveaways. All politicians would have to outdo one another – by being generous with your money – with promises made for greater and greater largesse to the voters.

And what about recounts? If it’s a close election, how does a nationwide recount sound? Fun, eh? Voter fraud? Scratch that. We definitely have no problem with that whatsoever, and I’m sure it would never, ever occur under a system where only a handful of localities need to be targeted.

In this, as with so many things, the Founders demonstrated their brilliance by giving us the Electoral College. They wanted to ensure that the smaller states would not be ignored and that cities were not given undue attention.

In speaking of government generally, James Madison said it well:  “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

We should tread lightly and be very circumspect when contemplating removing sections of the foundation of our form of government. Incidentally, this is precisely why the Founders mistrusted democracy: because the emotions of the masses could be whipped up and they could make a snap decision – one they might later regret.

Our form of government was intended to cause things to move slowly: to allow passions to cool and level heads to prevail (that was the idea, anyway – it doesn’t happen so much anymore).

As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask yourself, ‘Why was it put there in the first place?'”

Perhaps we ought to do the same with the Electoral College.

We Need Retired Military Leaders to Participate in the Political Debate

A common theme has been developing this election season as numerous retired flag officers – generals and admirals – have weighed in on partisan political debates and even backed political candidates. There is a rising sense among a number of respected individuals in the defense community that such partisan civic involvement by retired senior military leaders somehow tarnishes the military’s impartial, non-partisan standing in American life and Constitutional structure.

Writing Tuesday at War On The Rocks, a widely read national security blog, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel, two national security experts, argue that so-called flag officers (one star officers and above) should avoid any display of partisan tendencies even in retirement. They assert:

“Retired generals and admirals publicly endorsing candidates for president is not just more politics as usual. It deeply affects the profession of arms by putting at risk the apolitical reputation of the U.S. military and by eroding civilian leaders’ trust in the non-political nature of our senior uniformed military leadership.”

As Barno and Bensahel note, both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have received high profile endorsements from retired senior military officers. The topic even came up at Monday night’s presidential debate where Trump declared, “I’ll take the admirals, and I’ll take the generals any day over the political hacks that I see that have led our country so brilliantly over the last 10 years”.

Trump has secured the endorsement of 88 retired generals and admirals, and during the debate he suggested that he may yet hit 200 retired senior officer endorsements. We’ll see.

For her part, Clinton, a former Secretary of State, has the backing of 95 retired flag officers.

While Barno and Bensahel note that political candidates are eager to burnish their foreign policy credentials by securing high profile military (retired) endorsements, they worry that the gesture tarnishes the military as a whole and the public image of each service. “If U.S. elected leaders are to maintain trust in an apolitical military whose uniformed leaders aren’t seen as simply waiting in the wings for their opening to a future political role, the current norms that tolerate endorsing political candidates must change,” they claim.

Those are valid concerns, but they also miss a few key points.

Already there is a prohibition on military members lending their official endorsement to political candidates. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, USMC, has repeatedly reminded senior leaders and other service members this year of their obligation to not endorse partisan candidates. “They [the next administration] have to look at us as an apolitical organization that swears an oath to the Constitution of the United States — not an individual, not a party, not a branch of government — the Constitution of the United States,” the top general said in August.

But Dunford has been careful to point out that his remarks apply only to those currently serving, not to retired officers that others feel should still remain silent as the sphinx on political matters.

Certainly, currently serving senior leaders who spend all of their time in uniform lose the autonomy that other citizens’ posses when it comes to free speech and political activity. It is a unique paradox that all service members face: while wearing the uniform of the United States, the world’s greatest defender and protector of freedom and self-government, they cannot engage in some of the freedoms enjoyed by their fellow citizens. It doesn’t mean service members are second class citizens, only that in raising their right hand to swear an oath to defend the Constitution they must, by nature of military service and the proud tradition of military subordination to elected civilian leadership, abstain from partisan politics.

That doesn’t mean service members don’t go on to run for public office either after they retire or as reserve component members (not full-time on active duty). Routinely veterans run for office as Democrats and Republicans, and that’s a good thing that could be jeopardized if the national security community adopts an unwritten and unofficial rule that senior leaders should not weigh in on partisan politics.

Distinguishing senior leaders from other service members, and urging them to voluntarily muzzle themselves on partisan political matters has a range of unwanted and unacceptable consequences.

If the political activity of retired or non-active duty senior military leaders is challenged, it contributes to both a diminished perspective of citizenship and further widens the already wide gap between today’s military and the civilian public. Last October the Economist ran a lengthy piece that examined the yawning cultural divide that separates the military from civilians. “In 1990, 40% of young Americans had at least one parent who had served in the forces; by 2014, only 16% had, and the measure continues to fall,” the publication reported while also noting that only 1% of Americans currently serve in uniform.

Gen. James Mattis, a now-retired respected four-star Marine officer, recently worked on a report that examines the civilian-military divide. “Most people know nobody in the military,” Mattis said in an early-September interview. He went on to worry about “policy makers who have never served in the military” making decisions that shape the military and its use in national security. The current gap will only widen if military leaders recuse themselves from civic and political engagement.

Being a citizen means, among other things, taking your voting and electoral duties seriously. Once their time in active duty passes, members of the military should be free to return to or enter an arena of citizenship that was off limits to them while in uniform.

If the profession of arms voluntarily deprives itself of political involvement once its members are out of uniform, it sends a worrisome signal about the military’s perception of democracy. Self-government is messy, it involves partisan politics, it means building electoral coalitions, it means making your case to voters and, above all, it erases the difference between the governor and the governed. That last bit is unfamiliar to a military culture that rightly requires a strict demarcation of rank and responsibility between leaders and subordinates. But that culture, unique to a military that defends self-government, isn’t a part of good self-government in a democratic republic.

The military spends billions each year training men and women in both enlisted and officer roles, and while not all training has a direct civilian correlation, the training and wartime experiences learned in the military provide valuable lessons that can apply to public service.

If retired military leaders always sequestered themselves in ivory castles and removed themselves from vigorous and important debates, the nation would have been deprived of the post-WWII leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower, or the Gen. George C. Marshall who served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army during WWII and went on to serve as secretary of defense and secretary of state in the Democratic administration of President Harry Truman. In a more vulnerable time, Gen. George Washington left his post-war retirement to assume the presidency of the young United States.

Today leaders such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Tom Cotton represent different eras of service to the country yet serve as equals in the U.S. Senate. The antidote for a political discourse that has of late appeared to descend to near-frivolity and absurdity is not for serious men and women to retreat from the debate, but to humbly weigh in on matters and at times seek public office with their fellow citizens.

The way to overcome the gap between civilian and military leaders and between citizens who serve in the military and those who find their service in other avenues is not to erect a high barrier between the two groups, but to encourage post-active duty interaction and participation in this great experiment called democracy.

The Elephant In The Room

Stop what you’re doing right now and read this.

As [Peggy] Noonan puts it, over the last generation there has been “a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.” Those at the top of society no longer share the interests of those less fortunate. “At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signaling.”

In other words, worldwide, democracy (small “d”) is failing. The consequences and implications are truly chilling.

Read it now, at First Things.