The year our Constitution failed us

The 2016 presidential election yanked back the curtains on a couple of substantial flaws in the U.S. legal code and Constitution.

Prior to the ascension of Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the world, who knew that our laws give the president a free pass on conflicts of interest?

We all know now, because Trump’s been upfront about maintaining his involvement in his vast — and largely invisible — array of international enterprises and financial relationships after taking office. Everyone knows that such activities on the part of elected officials are unethical. We also assumed they’re illegal.

But Trump has brought to light the fact that the president and vice president are immune from being charged with conflicts of interest. So the Trump administration will pursue a path that gives the appearance — at the very least — that his ability to make decisions on behalf of the people rather than his financial interests is compromised.

The Republican Party has indicated that it will not investigate any of Trump’s many potential conflicts. As House Speaker Paul Ryan has said, Trump should handle his conflicts “however he wants to.” We wonder whether that attitude also applies to the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 9, which bans the president’s acceptance of money from foreign governments.

Trump International Hotel, D.C., anyone?

The Republican Party has not always been so cavalier about the business dealings of presidents. Jimmy Carter gave up his peanut farm after being elected president, only to be subjected to a six-month investigation by a GOP-appointed special prosecutor.

Americans look down on nations where political leaders exploit their positions to amass fortunes at the expense of their citizens — nations such as Russia, a country idealized by Trump and led by a man who has skimmed billions. We think that the United States is better than that. But now we’re being asked to look up to an American president almost as financially non-transparent as Putin.

Trump made his intentions to flout ethical standards known during his campaign. So how did he win the presidency?

The answer to that question points to another major flaw in the Constitution: the Electoral College.

The Electoral College shreds the principle of one person, one vote in three ways. First, voters in more-populated states have less Electoral College clout than those in sparsely populated states, as measured by a voter per electoral vote ratio. Second, almost all states are winner-take-all, meaning that even a losing candidate’s significant showing in a given state has no Electoral College value. Third, campaigns need only “competitive” states to win in the Electoral College, thus rendering the voters in most states not worth campaigning for or listening to.

As a result this year, though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots, she was not elected president because of slim losses in several states, including Wisconsin, which gave the Electoral College win to Trump.

Ironically, the Electoral College was established in part to stop shady, unqualified candidates like Trump from winning the White House by fooling the masses with phony populist demagoguery. Of course it was also intended to preserve the “institution” of slavery; southerners feared that northerners who opposed it would prevail in a popular election, due to that north’s larger population.

In the past, two efforts to pass Constitutional amendments eliminating the Electoral College lost by tiny margins in the Senate. Due to vast Republican majorities in the House as well as state legislatures, there’s virtually no chance of enacting such an amendment now.

For the foreseeable future, the presidential vote of a Wyoming citizen will continue to be worth 3.6 times the vote of a Californian. American democracy will remain an illusion.