Remember when, in the good old days, politicians would speak or debate, and there was no violence? Remember when the press would demand incessantly, from one candidate from one party, to disavow, and condemn the violence?
Neither do I.
In fact, things have been worse, much worse.
During the Lincoln -Douglass debates, people were known to engage in fist fights. One pro-Lincoln supporter, smeared human excrement on Douglass’ carriage. This was no anomaly. The crowds were raucous and could be violent. The crowds would even legally assault the speakers, especially Douglass.
In fact, we have been here before. In a letter from Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, Hamiton encouraged Jay to so craft the NY delegation to thwart the will of the people who were breaking for Jefferson and the Republican party. Hamilton believed that the upstart movement and Jefferson represented a distinct rejection of the Founding, and that a “crisis” was upon us. He believed that the ascent of Jefferson would end in a military despotism. In the end, Jay refused.
What is so astonishing is that so many people forget these facts of history. Many conservatives who previously longed for the return of a politics that resembled the first 100 years of the Republic, now call for an astonishingly specific thing about candidates: now they must all have advisors, plans, policies, more policies and plans, and call for a specific detailed way any given issue will be handled. This is not only a reflection of modernism, but a rejection of prudence. Washington could never be elected today because these same conservatives would be clamoring for policy specificity. Trump presents us with the opportunity to elect someone based on character generally speaking, and broad policy statements instead of specific details on policy that appeals to small groups in the electoral coalition. But that’s the way to secure an electoral coalition, not a governing coalition. Trump wants both. That is scary to people like David Brooks, who cannot stand Trump and looks askance at all of his supporters, and Glenn Reynolds was right to point out his pomposity. If the elites and the anti-Trump forces wonder why Trump is so popular and gaining steam, it is because people like Brooks and the Republican party donors and establishment have sold their fellow citizens down the road to serfdom.
The difference between then and now is that for the most part, Federalists and Jeffersonians actually believed in the Declaration and its aims. Today neither party does. Republicans are just happy to lose the election, and pick up their toys from the sandbox, whimper, and go home. Yet these are the same pundits that proclaimed Trump would drop out, not win, be defeated by Bush, Rubio, or anyone. Now, these soothsayers claim he is sure to lose against Clinton. They were wrong the first time, and wrong so wildly their opinions about what will happen in the general should be discarded. But rest assured, if Trump does become the nominee and lose to Hillary they’ll say, “well, you heard the prophesy!”
This is all rubbish. Elections are between two people (usually) and any predictions, even after consulting the Oracle at Delphi, are not thoughtful responses to the fact that elections ebb and flow when the nominees are chosen, and not one minute before. Events, debates, and a reorienting of the electorate that always takes place after the conventions, are more reliable predictors. There’s also the fact that the Democrat crack-up is ongoing, and I would not be surprised to see a bit of internecine skirmish at their convention as things crystalize on the left and Bernie supporters (the most violent of the bunch) realize the fix was in for Hillary long ago.
None of this matters really. Anti-Trump folks keep trying to pull Trump supporters (and the anti-anti Trump people) into a discussion of specific policy choices, how Trump is too general in his speeches (like they all aren’t general and spouting “facts” that have no relevance to the actual governing problem of governing), how he is not a conservative (he is in several respects) how his campaign is violent (he was blamed for going into Chicago on Morning Joe and causing the violence because, you know, it was a minority neighborhood and what would you expect?). Excusing leftist violence on the one hand, and condemning Trump on the other for causing it is shameful. Reason absent passion is not to be found on TV or in mainstream print anymore these days as the reality sets in that Trump is not going away. Ignored are all the legal assaults that the agitators commit first before a punch by one fed up Trump supporter is thrown. Ignored is the fact that anti-Trump agitators have now twice pulled guns on Trump supporters.
And then there is the charge that Trump is a demagogue. This allegation is particularly humorous given the fact that many who lay the charge are also admirers of Cicero, who, laid out the most vitrolic speeches at his enemies including Cataline, and Antony. But, those historical facts are all forgotten. Trump is unlike anyone ever, don’t you see, unless you want to compare him to Hitler, or Caesar, but we digress into redundancy.
All of this is a distraction from the more serious question: the regime question, as a friend of mine noted to me this week. And with all of this comes the deliciously snarky and largely correct Journal of American Greatness—which exists as a send up of the Republican Party and the national “conservative” embarrassment, National Review.
In Book 1, Aristotle contends that the πολις exists for the sake of living well, but in that further states that a polis is a “community.” In a discussion about ends for which the community ought to aim, Harry V. Jaffa wrote in his essay on Aristotle that “peace and freedom are ends more final than victory” (70). Trump’s victory is not a final end–an end for its own sake. His raises several fundamental considerations between the city and the citizens or the community that make up the city. At the end of book 1 he notes that Aristotle that the entire aim of the city is preservation, with the ultimate the aim of the good life.
Democratic regimes are noted in partaking in the sharing of the ruling. It also means a participation in the “deliberative and judicial functions of the polis” (97). But Jaffa writes something provocative in relation to our current political climate:
The ‘decision-makers’ in the true political sense, as Aristotle would understand that term, combine what we normally understand by legal authority of the ‘establishment,’ in the currently fashionable sense of that term. They are both legal sovereigns and ruling class in the traditional meaning. In a democracy the people are supreme, and in an oligarchy the few.
As noted by Ken Masugi, the Trump phenomena is a recovery of a constitutional people reasonably reclaiming their consent. Trump’s supporters are reclaiming their authority by saying to the “establishment” of the “ruling class” that they have lost confidence in their ability to provide for the “safety and Happiness” of the regime.
It should be no surprise that many of these same voters believe that if they do not act now against the ruling class, the regime will be fundamentally changed into an “oligarchy” of the few. This change would be dire for the citizens of a democracy because as Aristotle notes, that would have the effect of changing the membership of the citizenry–in other words, in Book 3 Aristotle notes that the citizens of one regime are not identical to the citizens of another (1276b1+).
If we add Aristotle’s contention that the preservation of the regime is “the work of all of them [citizens]” (1276b25) we might be able to understand that from the Republicans, the attempts to thwart their will to install their own “legal sovereign” is just as bad as the Democrat attempts to allow non-citizens citizens vote. On both sides, citizens are under political attack, and in the middle there is a the vast swath forgotten, abused, people who do not share in the benefits of citizenry or the regime. The “establishment” is making a concerted effort to malign and marginalize citizens of this Republic, and if Aristotle is right, their ability to do that, means the end of the regime as we know it.
As Aristotle notes, the people in a democratic regime possess all the authority (1278b10). It is easily forgotten when after decades the people and their authority have been taken for granted. Behind the opposition to Trump is a deep contempt for the people that knows no party boundary. Aristotle notes that all human beings are political animals. So in the face of a ruling/elite/established class that has contempt for them, why would they not politically support the one person who speaks to their concerns and lives? Why would they not rationally conclude they are under siege by their “betters?” Theirs is the new Toryism; theirs is the old regime overthrown in 1776.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote:
the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god.
Trump supporters, and Trump himself, seems to understand this even if he and they cannot articulate it very well: they are being forced into a submissive position by people who have no problem telling them they are better than you. Both parties, and their useful apologists, seem to be saying to the Trump voters, “you don’t understand things like we do, so keep your place.”
In response, the citizens are reasserting their authority and taking back their consent.