Tags: 2020 Elections | Donald Trump | Joe Biden | Media Bias | adams | hamilton | jefferson

Trump Can Learn From 1800 to Score 2020 Win

us president donald trump at mount rushmore

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for Independence Day events at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota, July 3, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

By Sunday, 19 July 2020 07:11 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Earlier this week, during a Rose Garden news conference ostensibly to announce measures taken against China, President Trump launched into a one hour free-association exercise in which he laid out the choice before Americans this November.

Given that these kind of presidential talks are normally staid, scripted affairs, Mr. Trump’s usual critics, like CNN’s Jim Acosta, had a field day, suggesting that Trump’s spontaneous outpouring indicated derangement of a kind that meant that his only supporters left were those drinking the Kool Aid or were his next of kin.

As usual, the critics failed to understand the deeper truth in what the president said.

His key assertion, apparently missed by the media, was that there had probably "never been a time when [the presidential] candidates are so different."

Mr. Trump clarified, that Republicans were for "law and order," but Democrats wanted to shift resources away from the police: "We want strong closed borders with people able to come in through merit, through a legal process; they don’t want any borders at all."

The starkness of the choice we face this November is striking, and the difference between the two parties ought to be recognized. Instead of focusing on the president’s unique style, his detractors ought to recognize that he and Mr. Biden are presenting very different visions for America.

Democrats have moved markedly, if not dramatically, to the left of the political spectrum.

They have done so to accommodate the progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,  D-N.Y.

Both clearly favor increasing the power of the federal government, higher taxes, reparations, globalization, redistribution, and, in general, a restructuring of our culture and institutions toward something going beyond even a European welfare state with a single-payer healthcare system, and perhaps even guaranteed income.

Mr. Trump’s Republican Party, by contrast, favors decentralized authority, reduced regulation, lower taxes, competition for healthcare, and foreign and trade policies focused first on American, rather than global concerns.

Republicans want to encourage the development of American industry and manufacturing, while Democrats want to reduce America’s carbon footprint, and perhaps institute Ms. Ocasio-Cortez's touted Green New Deal.

Mr. Trump has made clear in his speeches, such as the one he gave at Mount Rushmore on July 3, that his approach is to preserve continuity with the past, to encourage piety and patriotism. The approach of the Democrats seems more inclined to remove religion from the public square and to place their faith instead in narrow bureaucratic, technocratic expertise.

It's something of a mystery why it is so difficult for Mr. Trump’s opponents to acknowledge the validity and the range of the programs he limns (and there are many more than alluded to here), but perhaps this has always been a feature of our politics, that personality often obscures policy.

Mr. Trump may be correct that we are at a unique moment, but there have certainly been other times when Americans have had to make such dramatically different choices.

One such analogy is the election of 1800, when the incumbent John Adams was running against the former vice president, Thomas Jefferson.

Then, as now, there was a calculated campaign of mendacity run by the vice president’s party. Then, as now, there were "fake news" allegations that the president was enthralled to a foreign government (in Adams’s case, England, in Trump’s Russia), and then, as now, a pandemic raged (Yellow Fever, at its worst in 1793, yet still lethal in 1798).

Then, as now, there were attacks on the president equally unhinged (writer James Thomson Callender, through newspaper attacks, branded Adams as a "hoary headed incendiary.")

While the president has his "Never-Trumpers," — turncoats from his own party against him — Alexander Hamilton turned on his former federalist colleague, Adams, thus undermining the president in a manner eventually costing Adams the election.

Of course, there are profound differences between the races of 1800 and 2020.

Thomas Jefferson was perhaps our most brilliant polymath and politician, while Mr. Biden is something less than that. Adams was a lawyer and scholar; Trump is a magnate and entertainer. Jefferson won in 1800, of course, and the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in American history occurred, setting the template for the centuries to follow

Jefferson’s presidential terms were characterized by one marked success, the Louisiana Purchase, but also some notable failures including the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase (bearing some similarities to the Democrats’ tormenting of Brett Kavanaugh) and the embargo against European trade (which eventually almost led to the secession of some New England states).

If Donald Trump succeeds in articulating what is actually a novel combination of Hamiltonian economics with Jeffersonian populism and Adams-like piety, he ought to be able to avoid Adams’s fate, thus securing a second term.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. Read Stephen B. Presser's Reports — More Here.

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If Donald Trump succeeds in articulating what is actually a novel combination of Hamiltonian economics with Jeffersonian populism and Adams-like piety, he ought to be able to avoid Adams’s fate, thus securing a second term.
adams, hamilton, jefferson
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2020-11-19
Sunday, 19 July 2020 07:11 AM
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