Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Forget about faithless electors for a moment; it's the faithful we might need to watch.

I have extremely mixed emotions about "faithless elector" push. I see it as a distraction, it is very probably doomed to fail, and there is a "two wrongs make a right" feeling about the whole thing (just imagine how we would react if the situation were reversed).

My take on this (which has, if anything, been sharpened by recent events) is that we have been negligent about both maintaining the democratic process and protecting it from its opponents. I am more interested in fixing that process for the long-term than in changing the immediate outcome. As of next year, two of our last three presidents will have come into office losing the popular vote. Thanks to gerrymandering, the House has not represented the democratic will of the people for years. The Republicans decision to trash Constitutional norms and long-standing traditions has had a analogous affect on the judiciary. And none of this takes into account the blatant voter suppression efforts of the past few years.

At best, the faithless elector talk might serve as an effective protest against these anti-democratic efforts; at worst, it will simply drain the oxygen from the debate.

On a more personal note there are damned few people out there who are looking to me for normative statements. I've been doing a lot of reflecting as the election, thinking about the role of a statistics blogger in this whole mess. How do we make sure that we are adding value and not simply increasing the noise? One way is for each of us to ask him or herself what unique contributions we bring to the table. If we are all just trying to get our opinions on the record, we might as well all go over to Twitter.

Particularly for a statistics blogger, I believe personal experience and special knowledge can be extraordinarily useful. The combination of an analytic background and an informed perspective can go a long way toward bringing fresh insights and spotting potential problems in conventional arguments. There are few things more valuable for a statistician than having a good sense of what groups should or should not be aggregated and what relationships should or should not be treated as stable.

In my case, that experience includes growing up in the Bible Belt and spending pretty much all of my formative years arguing with fundamentalists. That has given me a strong feel for how evangelicals think. It has also made me more alert to the tremendous, in some cases cataclysmic, changes that have taken place in the movement over the past few years.

The current configuration of the evangelical movement is unstable. Just to be clear, I am not saying that we are about to see a radical shift toward either liberalism or toward the distrust of politics historically associated with groups like the Southern Baptists. When I am saying is that there are great tensions in the movement, that Trump has heightened those tensions, and that while we may not see huge changes in the way we think about religion and politics over the next few years, it would be foolish to rule out the possibility.

Steven Porter writing for the Christian Science Monitor:

A Texas Republican announced over the weekend that he plans to resign his post as a member of the Electoral College rather than cast a ballot for US President-elect Donald Trump, a man he deems "not biblically qualified for office."

Citing his Christian religion and his understanding of representative democracy, Art Sisneros wrote in a blog post that he could neither vote for Mr. Trump nor break his promise to do so by voting for anyone else. Texas does not require its 38 electors to vote in accordance with the state's presidential election results, but Mr. Sisneros says he made a pledge to the Texas GOP that his vote next month in Austin would follow the will of the general public.

"The reality is Trump will be our President, no matter what my decision is," Sisneros wrote. "Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector."

Sisneros spells out his position in more detail here and here.

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