by Naomi Rosenblatt
“We, sir—we—are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”
—Brandon Victor Dixon, actor in Hamilton, to Mike Pence
Last year around this time, my diaries changed. Instead of writing mostly about personal concerns and relationships, I became obsessed—as many did—with the uncharted political waters into which the U.S. was embarking.
The pending presidency of Donald Trump seemed too hideous and creepy to really be happening.
December 10, 2016: “This election is a fraud. It can’t be permitted!”
December 13, 2016: “Trump’s putrid, heartless cabinet picks proceed apace. ‘Plunder monkeys,’ Stephen King calls them. It’s like watching divers drill into the hull of the Titanic before it hits an iceberg. And all everyone says is ‘What can we do?’”
What could we do? I felt convinced that we had to prevent the inauguration of an unfit and illegally elected president. If he got sworn in he would do irreparable damage, and we would be stuck with him for a while.
At that point, many of us placed some desperate faith in the power of state electors. The Constitution tasks this temporary electoral body with final confirmation of the candidate. As Michael Singer explains in November 2016: “Consider what Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper Number 68. The Electors were supposed to stop a candidate with ‘Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity’ from becoming President.”
Thus began a time of contacting electors in “unbound” Republican states like Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas. I met friends over pizza down the street and gathered thirty signatures to my petition, which began: “As a concerned citizen, I’m appealing to you, an unbound Elector, to perform a particularly great service: to withdraw your votes from Donald J. Trump and cast them for another candidate.”
“You, Electors, possess the power to prevent this outcome. You are not bound to cast your vote for the candidate of your party—and, as he won neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote, there can be no question of undermining the will of The People.”
December 14, 2016: “I read that 20 Republican electors are ready to flip…If we the people can influence (the electors), this may yet be a democracy.”
Here is where keeping, and re-reading, a diary comes in handy. I have forgotten how fervently we had pinned our hopes on the state electors. I also forgot that some of them, who had remained anonymous, claimed to have received threats from the Trump camp about their careers if they dared cast their vote for another candidate. But that was all noted in my diary. I do remember a group of electors requesting intel about Russian interference—a fair request that was denied by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
December 17, 2016: “The electors have been swamped with correspondence—calls, emails, letters … I would think that many of them are wavering. 155 are ‘unbound.’ 29 have expressed to Lawrence Lessig that they’re down for the count.”
December 18, 2016: “Even if the electors still vote barfwad in, by less of a majority than 306 votes, other electors are initiating legal action against Trump for threatening them. This could be brought before the Supreme Court.”
Yet, what happened with the electors foretold the scathing year that followed:
December 19, 2016: “The electors let us down. Party hacks. No safety valve for democracy!”
We have been repeatedly shocked and upset by this pattern of broken democracy in 2017. At this point we could write: “You, Senators, possess the power to prevent this outcome. You are not bound to cast your vote for this misery of a partisan tax bill that undermines the very life of The People.”
Even as the the treasured foundations of American democracy reel, I remain resilient. Tempered optimism doesn’t count on winning all battles. Resilience acknowledges steep challenges, and commits to walking forward anyway. Where else is there to go?