Tuesday, September 19, 2023

#262 / Has The Founders' Remedy Been Forsaken?


Back in early August, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Jeffrey Rosen that made this claim: "The Founders Anticipated The Threat of Trump." 

Since the charges against our former president are "unprecedented," I imagine that many Americans would not, really, think that Trump's actions were the kind of actions that the so-called "Founding Fathers" anticipated - and that the "Founding Fathers" hoped they could defend against by the way they wrote our Constitution. 

Rosen is "an American lawyer who served as the acting United States attorney general from December 2020 to January 2021 and as the United States deputy attorney general from 2019 to 2020." Rosen, in other words, was a member of the Trump Administration during the period in which, allegedly, our former president was seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. During his time as the acting Attorney General, Rosen refused to advance the former president's unsupported claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

It seems significant to me that Rosen, as a former member of the Trump Administration, has made clear that he thinks that Trump's actions, as outined in the indictment against him brought by a Grand Jury impaneled in the District of Columbia, raise issues that the Constitution anticipated. Rosen's analysis, in other words, considering the source, seems to suggest that our former president might well be "guilty as charged." 

Here is what Rosen claims in his August 5-6 article in The Wall Street Journal

The allegations in the indictment of Donald Trump for conspiring to overturn the election of 2020 represent the American Founders’ nightmare. A key concern of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was that demagogues would incite mobs and factions to defy the rule of law, overturn free and fair elections and undermine American democracy. “The only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1790. “When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper…is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity,” Hamilton warned, “he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”

The Founders designed a constitutional system to prevent demagogues from sowing confusion and mob violence in precisely this way. The vast extent of the country, Madison said, would make it hard for local factions to coordinate any kind of mass mobilization. The horizontal separation of powers among the three branches of government would ensure that the House impeached and the Senate convicted corrupt presidents. The vertical division of powers between the states and the federal government would ensure that local officials ensured election integrity (emphasis added).

It is comforting - if we choose to look at it that way - that it took so long (almost 250 years) for the nation to have to deal with a demagogue who would "incite mobs and factions to defy the rule of law, overturn free and fair elections and undermine American democracy." Looking at what Rosen says, in the excerpt from his article that I have copied above, I am most interested in what Rosen identifies at the "remedy" for the concerns about what a demagogue might do. 

In essence, Rosen says, the division of power among the separate branches of the federal government is one layer of protection. The second layer of protection is the independent governmental powers of the states (and their local governmental subdivisions).

In fact, what Rosen says, in the excerpt of his article that I have quoted, is exactly what Hannah Arendt contends in her wonderful book, On Revolution. The multiplication of many different sources of political power, and the division of power within our governments, so that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all "check and balance" each other, is the reason that it has taken so long for the long-feared demogogue to appear. 

For those who accept my argument that we live in a "Political World," and that, therefore, we need to become engaged in government, ourselves, if we want to maintain our system of "self-government," it makes lots of sense for each one of us to engage ourselves in governmental actions at the "local" level, the level of government that is closest to us.

If we care about the future of the Republic, in other words, we ought to be personally engaged in who gets elected to our local City Council, or Board of Supervisors (and to our State Legislature, too, of course). We ought to become personally engaged in the governmental decisions that are made by those governmental bodies. You don't need to run for president, or Congress, to help preserve democracy. Get engaged locally!

Are you, perhaps, already "engaged locally"?

Most of us are not - or not enough! Let's just hope that events during the upcoming year don't demonstrate that the Founders' Remedy has been forsaken.

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