Note: This article uses a small (r) to differentiate between the Republican Party and (r)epublican representative government.
I wasn’t surprised four months ago when Chris Collins became the first Republican in Congress to endorse Donald Trump. As a longtime resident of Collins’s district, I can confirm the oddly rural redneck attitudes that encapsulate the Western New York suburbs.
Less than a mile from my house, pickup trucks line the local gun range and Confederate flags are still a frequent sight 350 miles from the Mason-Dixon Line. In the small town where I grew up, a bitter three year battle rages over a “Redskin” high school mascot. We’re also the small corner of New York that manifested gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.
To put it bluntly, I’m in liberal hell. Lucky for me, I’m more of a libertarian than a true-dyed-blue bleeding heart.
So yeah, Collins’s endorsement was more of a “Go figure,” than it was an, “Are you serious?” A business man himself, Collins managed to benefit from the idea that successful entrepreneurs somehow make great statesmen.
Because you know, when I need my roof replaced, I usually call a plumber.
Anyway, given the logic that put him to office, it seemed to fit that Collins would endorse Trump. I made the obligatory phone call to express my displeasure, promised his secretary that he lost my vote, and tried to move on.
Collins was an anomaly. Surely, the more experienced members of the Republican Party knew better. Supporting Trump would be electoral suicide.
That’s what I thought.
Even when Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich promised to back a possible Trump nomination, I still believed that it was lip service to the primary process. They were saying what they needed to say in a mirage of party unity.
Now that Trump has amassed the necessary delegates, it’s become clear this is no longer lip service. It’s a disturbing development that warrants a serious discussion. I won’t waste your time enumerating the Republican politicians that have made an about face over the past few weeks, but Rolling Stone identified eight so far. More are sure to follow, and according to a recent poll by the New York Times and CBS, eight out of ten registered Republican voters believe the party should unite behind Trump.
My Cassandra Complex is reaching critical mass. What the hell is happening to our country?
I try not to engage in hyperbole if at all possible, but it’s looking more and more like the, “end of the republic,” Obama joked about at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last month.
Donald Trump could actually become president of the United States.
When it comes to voters, I get it. You’re fed up, mad as hell, and you’re looking to make a point. You’ll have to ask yourselves if this is worth it? Will putting an erratic, off the cuff lunatic in the Oval Office really bring about the changes in government you’re seeking?
The truth is, it won’t. A Donald Trump presidency will only throw the country into an unpredictable era of volatility. Deep down, I think you know this. I think everyone knows this, because Trump doesn’t hide the fact that he has all the equilibrium of a Tilt-a-Whirl. He’s turned his impulsivity into a stump speech.
Which makes the parade of fools marching down this road that much more infuriating.
Nevertheless, I expect the electorate to make bad choices. If democracy has one disadvantage, it’s in its ability to cultivate chaos. James Madison knew this when he wrote Federalist 10.
For those that don’t know, the Federalist Papers were a series of documents written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay defending the newly written Constitution in 1787-1788. The most famous of these is Federalist 10.
Federalist 10 has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but at its heart is Madison’s argument of why a republic works better than a democracy. Madison and the framers believed democracy’s main weakness lied in its ability to allow majority opinions to throw governments into disarray.
“A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
In short, people are the problem, and the more people, the bigger the problem.
Instead, it’s up to our elected representatives to do what’s right rather than following the popular will at any given moment. Their purpose is to provide the necessary stability in times of temporary political turmoil. Madison again provided insight. This time by showing us the key difference between democracy and (r)epublican government.
“The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”
Madison knew that disaffected citizens could easily be manipulated; their problems scapegoated; their anger and frustration harnessed; their “common passion” exploited by the “obnoxious individual” into populist movements that cater to civil unrest. He argued that representatives would safeguard against these fleeting emotions by being the steady hands of justice, allowing the measure of their judgement to cautiously steer the country back on track.
Unfortunately, the party that claims to be the standard-bearer of what the founders intended has decided to ignore Madison’s 18th Century guideline to (r)epublican government. Instead of putting the good of the country over their own interests, Republicans are lining up behind Trump to save their political futures. They’ve chosen populist democracy over (r)epublican government in an effort to maximize their chances of winning their own elections in November.
Presidential elections cycles bring out more than the average number of voters. The difference between turnout in midterm elections and presidential elections has been about 40 million votes since 2000. Republican incumbents stand to lose millions of possible voters if they refuse to back their democratically elected nominee.
A nominee that debates his political opponents by calling them names and spreading rumors like some deranged high school bully.
A nominee that objectifies women and engages in misogyny.
A nominee that threatens and criticizes the media while disseminating factually inaccurate information to his misguided supporters.
A nominee that has advocated for the deportation of millions, a government-sponsored religious test, and the torture and killing of suspected terrorists and their families.
These aren’t “suggestions” or “negotiations” as Trump claims. This is what he’s selling to voters. These are his policies and plans for America, and it should concern every single elected representative in Congress. The purpose of our representatives, as Madison defined it, is to protect the republic from a phenomenon like Donald Trump.
For anyone assuming it’s all bluster, I’d direct you to a New York Times article from 1922, courtesy of the Daily Kos:
“But, several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as bait to catch messes of followers, and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: ‘You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.’”
Our own sophisticated politicians are trying to downplay Trump’s rhetoric. They’re “coming around” or “warming up,” to Donald Trump by making the same arguments that were made for Hitler in 1922 Germany. By doing so, they’re putting the entire country at risk. They’re choosing the same type of populist democracy that brought us the nationalist rise of fascist dictators in early 20th Century Europe.
The only way to stop Donald Trump is for Republicans to start acting (r)epublican. They need to put America ahead of their electoral battles in November. Years of using coded language for all the things Trump flagrantly says without so much as a blush have brought us to this moment. They’ve catered to the worst fears and prejudices of their electorate, and their presumptive nominee is their reward.
What happens next is up to the Republican Party. In Federalist 10, Madison warned that the impulse of faction is, “sown in the nature of man.” He went on to say, “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
So, instead of trying to change human nature, Madison and the framers of the Constitution built a (r)epublican government designed to protect against the people’s proclivity to unite behind bad ideas, risky policies, and volatile politicians. They envisioned a body of enlightened representatives courageous enough to stand against a cataclysmic popular will.
Republicans need to start acting (r)epublican and withdraw their support for Donald Trump. They need to summon their “patriotism and love of justice” to speak out against the hateful, scapegoat rhetoric of a demagogue manipulating the populace. Nothing less is expected of our elected officials. It’s what Madison and the founders intended and it’s the right thing to do.