He is “willfully ignorant about the rest of the world … he disdains experience and expertise while touting his own … he has no clue about the difference between negotiating a business deal and negotiating with sovereign nations.” He is, of course, Donald Trump: “a thin-skinned, temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip and lip” type, “beyond repair, stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government.”

And that’s Robert Gates talking about him, a Republican, one of the most experienced and accomplished of his generation, a former head of the CIA under George H.W. Bush, secretary of defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Kathleen Parker, the well-respected conservative columnist with the Washington Post, is more succinct: he’s “a con-man,’’ she headlined one of her pieces.

The new NYT/CBS poll, released Monday, projects a tie in the popular vote. But the Washington Post has good news for Hillary — and the country: “Sure, Trump has the momentum. But his prospects for 270 electoral votes are still dim.”

So with the threat that Trump could win the popular vote hanging over us, it’s time, once again, to tip our hats to our Founding Fathers. Oh, they had their psychological hang-ups, one of which was an inordinate fear of our eventually reverting to a monarchy. Indeed, during George Washington’s first term as president, Thomas Jefferson was warning him of Alexander Hamilton’s monarchist designs: his “ultimate object … is to prepare the way for a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy.”

That perceived threat had created a split-rule system that — especially in today’s world where party extremists call the shots — is increasingly dysfunctional. When Congress is controlled by one party and the White House by another, nothing gets done. It wasn’t always thus, but the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill compromising over a drink in the White House are long gone. While the Republicans, whose Tea Party members see obstructionism as a virtue, are the main problem, the left-wing elements of the Democrats, though hardly the destructive equal of Ted Cruz and his ilk, don’t make compromise any easier.

The solution, obviously, is to move from our antiquated system, designed as a firewall against dictatorship, to a parliamentary one: the prime minister has by definition the power to get her policies enacted. Even more relevantly, she has been chosen by her peers to head the party and the government, after decades of apprenticeship in a variety of leadership roles where she has honed the domestic and foreign policy skills necessary to lead the country. Late-comer real estate emperors need not apply.

Dysfunctional as our current system is, our Founding Fathers’ fear of one-man rule at least gave us the Electoral College. Democracy was untried back then; a few safeguards against its failure were in order. The voters — meaning, in those days, the white male landowners who were the only ones privileged to vote — chose the electors, who would then choose the president, thus providing a double shield against the rise of a populist “con man.”

 


And that’s why it is that, despite the democratic refrain of “one man, one vote,’’ the Electoral College can pick a president who has lost the popular vote.

How totally undemocratic. But how fortuitous. At least for 2016 — if not for 2000, and George W. and his Iraq War.  

The problem is not just Trump’s populist appeal: imagine if Hillary has another coughing spell. Even if she stays so healthy she’s out jogging five miles every morning, Trump has a donated freebie: Hillary has denounced a good portion of the electorate as irredeemable deplorables. She’s low on the popularity chart as is; her public dissing of the rapidly disappearing white middle class will surely steer more of the undecideds Trump’s way.

So November 8th rolls around — it’s barely six weeks away — and Trump edges her out in the popular vote by half a percentage point. 

Trump? Our next president? Relax. It’s 2000 all over again. Gore beat Bush by exactly that margin, but lost the Electoral College vote (with, to be sure, a little help from the Supreme Court’s Republican majority). Gore was gracious and his supporters agreed with his graciousness. And everyone moved on.

So this time, it’s the Democratic candidate who loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College. And Trump and his supporters — the ones shouting “hang the bitch’’ at his rallies — graciously congratulate her. Sure. And everyone moves on. 

To where?  Could Hillary picking off Trump in the electoral vote lead to large-scale riots? If you look at the signs his crowds hold aloft, not to mention their rough behavior — and Trump’s encouragement of their antics — maybe their reaction would be more than a couple of minor-league demonstrations in a few old dying industrial towns of the Midwest. Maybe you’d have to call in the National Guard. 

But, one way or the other, Hillary would be sworn in on schedule. The lasting problem would not be Trump-inspired riots but that Hillary would be taking office as the most unpopular president in modern history. Only a minority of the population would be supporting her, and many of them half-heartedly. The dispossessed and frustrated voters who saw Trump as the hope for a sea change in our economic malaise would be more frustrated than ever. Congress would remain Republican — more obstructionist than ever.

And we’ll face four years of a totally dysfunctional Washington. Four years with half the population rooting for the president to fail. At a time when the international scene is an exploding hornet’s nest: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS. At a time when the country sorely needs someone it can unite behind, Hillary’s presidency would be a failure even before husband Bill got back on the speakers circuit.

Sounds bleak. But look on the bright side (not to mention that other cliche about being thankful for small favors): a failed Hillary presidency would still be better than the disastrous one that Trump would give us.

So, once again, let’s hear it for our Founding Fathers and their wisdom in creating the decidedly undemocratic Electoral College. 

Just too bad they didn’t go for a parliamentary system.