One rare nugget of good news from the roiling, boiling cauldron of controversy about everything is that there’s a new recognition of the Constitution. Many Americans, ignorant of the how and why of the founding document, have learned, sometimes to their frustration, that it’s relevant, after all.
Among the mature and thoughtful there’s new appreciation of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. Not only did they design and implement the most representative government the world had ever seen, but they drew on their knowledge of the best of the ancient Greeks and Romans to put everything together. Then they had to sell it to the contentious representatives of 13 querulous colonies. These were “the many” from whom became “one.”
In their understanding of the nature of men, they knew that the Constitution which established the nation’s fundamental law and guaranteed certain basic rights to its citizens would eventually be at the mercy of impulse and fads. When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington, finally signed it on Sept. 17, 1787, they had to deal with well-founded suspicions that the smaller former colonies would be dominated by the numbers and wealth of the larger states, such as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Vermont, for one example, had only 85,539 free whites and slaves in 1787. Its neighbor, Massachusetts, counted 378,787. Violations of Vermont’s anti-slavery law, a part of its 1777 constitution when it broke away from New York, were not unusual.
In Federalist No. 10, James Madison argued against “an interested and overbearing majority” and the “mischiefs of faction” in an electoral system. He defined a faction as “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Indeed, this sounds like a definition of modern political parties, of which some of the Founders were profoundly suspicious.
Madison and others planned a republican government — federalism, or representative government, as opposed to direct democracy — and thought that a distribution of voter rights and powers would prevail against factions. Although the Constitution refers to “Electors” and “electors,” the term “Electoral College” appears in the Constitution as “college of electors” and first appeared in federal law only in 1845.
What the Founders feared has come to pass with the creation of a privileged political class, the so-called Establishment, in both parties. This class has come to dominate the federal government through expert knowledge of its intricate operations and skill in maneuvering its constantly growing bureaucracy. But in an unanticipated reaction, a general popular reaction took place in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump as president. His election stunned even the most astute political observers, particularly those of the mainstream media, so called, who are smarting still from their humiliation.
Mr. Trump’s governance has further confounded the leaders of both Republican and Democratic parties. His unpredictability has led not only to an inability to anticipate him, but to a governing originality not equaled in decades. Though he received a smaller popular vote than the Establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, he has become, like it or not — and millions don’t like it — the candidate of the “vox populi,” the voice of the people, or indeed, from the original Latin, “vox populi, vox dei,” or “the voice of the people as the voice of God.”
The continued struggle between Mr. Trump and his following against the Establishment will continue to dominate the American political scene for months and perhaps years to come. The ultimate victor is not now predictable, but there’s small doubt that Madison and the Founders would not have been surprised to see it.
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