A Federalist, Christian Historian’s Political Musings

trumoMy political affiliation on Facebook has been listed as “Federalist Party” since junior year of high school, when I had the privilege of arguing for that position (against the demented Jeffersonians) in AP US History. Happily, it is now much more than an extension of a role I once played, it now represents a burgeoning historian’s conviction: It’s time for a retrieval of Hamiltonian Federalism.

The prospect of President Trump is alarming. As for his supporters, pinches of xenophobia, violent tendencies, and an ethic of vengeance combine with a base of rage to perfect a truly diabolical stew of political brouhaha. Oxford English’s notion of “mob” fits well: “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” Mr. Trump’s barrage of insults and dehumanizing language have been inflicted on many groups, including women, muslims, and immigrants (particularly non-Europeans). When asked about foreign policy and who his primary advisors are, Mr. Trump replied: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. I know what I’m doing, and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people, and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself and I have, you know, a good instinct for this stuff.”(March 8, Morning Joe). Mr. Trump has encouraged violence against protestors at his rallies: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” Mr. Trump has, on several occasions, endorsed war crimes and killing civilians as a proper course of action for combating terrorism: “We’re fighting a very politically correct war, and the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” Mr. Trump was slow to disavow the support of the former Grand Wizard of the KKK. Although that’s Unsurprising, given Trump is an opportunist who will accept the support of any group, regardless of the level of evil they’ve achieved and continue to propagate.

Trump is a morally deplorable figure, but furthermore he is incapable of holding the office of POTUS. Keep in mind that Mr. Trump is a businessman, a company executive. He is used to getting his way and saying “you’re fired” to anyone who opposes him. But the American system of government assumes a certain amount of opposition amongst its members. We all remember the key phrases “checks and balances” and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Upon admittance to the White House, Mr. Trump is going to have to learn an entirely foreign language: compromise. Congress will not, and should not, bow to the executive branch of government just because he says “I say so.” When asked whether he would be able to work with Congress and specifically speaker Paul Ryan, Mr. Trump responded: “I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him.. And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price, okay?” When asked about the potential for him to fail to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination and a brokered convention, Mr. Trump could hardly contain himself and suggested there “would be riots.” Perhaps there are CEOs that would make good governing executives. But the strong arming and bullying which Mr. Trump has exhibited don’t get you very far in Washington, or frankly in many spheres at all besides the company with your name on it.

The genius of the Trump machine is that the more you expose his faults, his immoralities, his lack of qualifications and his unfitness for office, the more his mob of supporters believe in him. Trump’s mob have fallen prey to the illusion that this tough business man is the anecdote needed to cure the disease of the “Washington establishment.” Ironically, Trump is as much to blame for the corruption and corporate big money dominance in DC as anyone else, and his donations to both parties, including likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, are well documented.

If ever there was a time for historians to step out of their studies and classrooms and into the public sphere, it is now! Mr. Trump is a problem, but the head of the snake doesn’t make it to the White House in the American republic without an effective slithering body! Donald Trump is a populist. He is his supporters. It wouldn’t be difficult for you to go and read the many appalling things reporters have learned from interviewing those who attend Trump’s rallies. Jordan Ray Correll’s account of his first hand Trump rally experience is particularly disturbing: “I have never seen more hateful people in my life. Everyone was just filled with so much hatred. If a protester had a sign, even the peaceful ones, they would take the sign from them, rip it up, and throw it back at the protesters. Whenever a protester would get removed, the crowd would yell horrible things. Once, after a protester was removed, Trump said, “Where are these people coming from? Who are they?” A lady, sitting not 5 feet from me, said, “Well hopefully when you’re president, you’ll get rid of em all!” Get rid of them? Get rid of anyone who opposes Trump?” Mr. Trump should be defeated, and I actually think he will in the end. But this election cycle has given America the opportunity to be reminded of the differences between a republic and mob-rule democracy.

Fearing exactly this sort of person would make a run for the presidency, the founders brilliantly provided for checks and balances not just for the settled elected government itself, but the in the very process of electing. The electoral college has historically resulted in four elections where a candidate won the necessary electoral college votes but did not win the popular vote (1824, 76, 88, 2000). 1824 is a particularly good example of a moment when the winner of the largest fraction of popular votes (Jackson) was not elected president (Adams won). All of the scenarios demonstrating how the popular vote is secondary to deciding presidents can get a bit technical, but I am mainly interested in the ideology behind it: Sometimes people shouldn’t be allowed to decide their leaders.

Federalist government in early America was anything but democratic. A very particular class ruled and regulated the young nation. Education, political experience, demonstrated moral standing, and being a white male were the key ingredients. Since then, America has done well to to dissolve the least important and most prejudice of these. There was a moral obligation to do so, and Americans of both genders and all races can continue to be thankful for those changes. I am concerned about the erosion of the other three ingredients, and perhaps the reinstatement of the fourth. A friend recently shared with me some data from CNN’s voter data research. Statistically, the number 1,2, and 3 things to ensure you’ll vote for trump are: 1.) Drop out of college or High School 2.) Be White and 3.) Be Male. American moral decay should be cause enough for a proposal of government by fewer of the people. A well known aspect of federalist politics was limitations on who could vote. As mentioned, franchisement regardless of race and gender have been much needed and long overdue instances of change. But the expansion of the right to vote is partially to blame for our present problem of Mr. Trump. Perhaps America should reconsider who is allowed to cast ballots. I don’t buy that it has to be everyone or else it once again becomes oligarchic. There’s a balance, and it removes those too uninformed from wielding power in the name of idiocy. Though as I mentioned, there is already built into this republic a provision for leading against idiocy: the electoral college.

Consider also what tyranny is: cruel and oppressive government or rule. Note that tyranny does not necessarily imply a one man dictatorship. Every form of government, including a government where 51% controls 49% (and sometimes the margin is even smaller) can constitute tyranny. What matters is not who rules, but how. Monarchy is not inherently tyrannical. Do not be fooled into thinking that tyranny cannot exist where people vote. It will be for you to decide whether Mr. Trump’s dehumanizing insults, prejudice, xenophobia, and sexism are cruel and oppressive.

I make no apologies about being a theocrat, and I don’t think that “Jesus is Lord” is just my opinion: it’s reality. There is a division between the Christian “we” and the American “we,” no doubt. How Christians should interact with American politics is an ongoing question, but I am thankful especially for the influence of Stanley Hauerwas, N.T. Wright, and Carl Trueman. Never forget, Christians, we are a people set apart. At the moment I’m thinking through what the implication of that might be for my field of interest particularly.

For Christian historians, our task is to help America confess its national sins, recognizing the limitations of American society and government to make right those sins, both past and present . Particularly we should be helping Americans to recognize their thirst for justice cannot be satisfied by temporal political or national powers. Native American genocide, slavery, and the atomic bombings are, to quote Hauerwas, “wrongs so wrong, there is nothing you can do to make them right.” No amount of policy, political jockeying, or any candidate, can enact the justice our world needs. Meanwhile the Church as the people of God are tasked with bearing God’s good rule on the earth by overcoming injustice by love with humility, but never coercion. So our task is to help Americans to be truthful about themselves and their history, their shortcomings and their moments of virtue. I often find that telling the truth about myself in prayer and confession makes the truth of Christ all the more remarkable and enjoyable. Were this to be instituted on a national scale, in large part through the diligent work of Christian historians who will tell the truth and write about the past for the sake of improving the collective American memory and moral conscience, then perhaps Americans would see the futility of revenge and violence, recognizing that their political justice is a mere shadow of what’s necessary and what’s possible. Then the Church might have the opportunity to show itself to constitute an alternative politics, or the world as it can and will be.


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