By Ronald Fraser
Let’s count the ways in which the Republican Party’s nominee for president, Donald Trump, runs afoul of the expectations of our 18th century Founders.
To work well, the architects of America’s new republican-style government counted on three key ingredients.
First, elected and appointed players must be drawn from the wise, upper-class slice of the population, and, until Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828, aristocrats did run the country.
Echoing the Founders, the New York Times recently reported that 50 former senior Republican officials signed a letter claiming Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history,” that “he is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood,” that he “lacks self-control and acts impetuously” and that he “cannot tolerate personal criticism.”
The second ingredient calls for elected and appointed players to possess a large dose of civic virtue – that is, self-restraint and the ability to place the public interest above selfish, personal interests.
In Federalist Paper 55, published on Feb. 15, 1788, James Madison wondered if the American people would, in fact, develop a sufficient level of civic virtue to make the new government work. He wrote: “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.” But, he added, if there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government one might infer that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.
Third, since the Founders understood widespread participation in the political process to be a form of mob rule, they insisted that the common man must not be given an active part in the operation of the government. They feared that direct involvement of the people in the governing process would only lead to conflict and instability.
How did Trump gain the Republican Party’s nomination for president? Was he the choice of the party’s elite? Did he work his way up the party ladder? Did he gain valuable public experience through extensive prior government service?
Not at all. He simply swept the established Republican Party primary process with his bombastic call to make America great again. And who fell under his spell? Grass-roots registered Republican voters – the very segment of society the Founders feared as fickle and prone to fall for the call of a despot.
For the Founders, grass-roots party primaries to select a presidential candidate would have been a ridiculous, risky idea. They knew full well how poorly such a process might turn out and how a candidate might co-opt the process.
Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., is a Buffalo-area writer and the author of a new book, “America, Democracy & YOU: Where Have All the Citizens Gone?”