Tags: Barack Obama | Donald Trump | Presidential History | framers | republic | representative

Vicious Partisanship Will Collapse Our Republic

Vicious Partisanship Will Collapse Our Republic
(Daniel Thornberg/Dreamstime)

Tuesday, 01 May 2018 01:49 PM Current | Bio | Archive

If one reads "The Federalist," that extraordinary contemporary explication of the U.S. Constitution by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — the book widely acknowledged to be the greatest work of political science ever produced in our naton, one powerful theme emerges. That theme is the dangerous, corrosive influence of "faction," of what we would now refer to perhaps as "special interests."

Our Framers feared faction and constructed a Constitution to keep it at a minimum. The Constitution was believed to have set up a structure where the dual sovereignty of state and federal governments and the separation of governmental powers would reduce the risk of arbitrary power and thus keep faction in check, and so would result in a government committed to and exercising its powers only in interest of the greater good of all.

Sadly, the authors of the Federalist made one glaring error — they did not anticipate the rise of national political parties, where faction is not, as the Framers’ anticipated, local in nature, and thus easily controlled in a large country. Instead, somehow the local factions metamorphosed into combinations which became two now profoundly ideologically distinct approaches to national politics.

It has taken time for this fully to develop, but still, almost immediately after the adoption of the Constitution, these national parties began to emerge, and they have gone through several transformations since the late 18th century.

The Jeffersonian-Madisonian Republicans and the Hamiltonian federalists (it’s one of the exquisite historical ironies that those old allies working for the common good  — Madison and Hamilton — soon became leaders of what were to become two distinct political movements) the two parties that eventually became today’s Democrats and Republicans, originally stood for quite different things.

For example, the earliest "Republicans" who are now today’s Democrats, led by Jefferson and Madison, emphasized the primacy of private property and state’s rights, distrusted federal judges, and wanted a less powerful federal government.

The Hamiltonians, who became today’s "Republicans," wanted a powerful central government, distrusted the states, and built a powerful federal judiciary designed, in part, to keep the people in check.

Today’s Democrats, at least as they operated in power during the time of the Obama administration, appeared to favor a federal leviathan. They believed that federal judges, in effect, ought to be able to formulate policy that would promote what they purportedly believed to be the interests of the people.

The Obama administration claimed to be engaged in shifting power and resources away from traditional bases of authority toward ethnic and racial minorities — the victims of sexual discrimination, immigrants and women.

Today’s Republicans, while equally committed to a norm of anti-discrimination, believe that it is not the job of judges to legislate, nor is it the job of government to reallocate wealth. Indeed, they favor the primacy of economic and property rights over redistribution, because they believe that prosperity demands such stability.

The policy switches over time demonstrate that our great political parties have borrowed from each other, but at the point we have now reached, our two parties embrace starkly different sets of goals and reflect, as well, a starkly different set of beliefs about human nature. Today’s Democrats, often calling themselves "progressives," claim to follow Jefferson in believing in the innate goodness of humankind and the utopian perfectibility of all. Today’s Republicans, however, the "conservatives," follow Hamilton in understanding humankind’s limits and the susceptibility of people to corruption.

It’s no wonder that our two political parties often see each other as embracing fundamentally flawed sets of beliefs, and, worse, begin to think that this means that the other side is hopelessly obdurate, or just plain evil.

Hence the extraordinary nature of the Obama administration’s response to the election of Donald Trump, which we are now beginning to understand resulted in a plot to undermine the new Republican government and oust the president himself.

It's time for us to understand that this naked and unforgiving party spirit must be tamed before it destroys us. The so-called "resistance" chiefly comprised of Democrats who challenge the legitimacy of the duly-elected Republican president, ought to understand that its continued opposition threatens the orderly peaceful successions which have always been and will continue to be necessary in our polity. We forget this at our peril. Fortunately, party differences have only once in our history resulted in actual bloodshed on a horrific scale — but that could happen again.

Until very recently, and indeed, through most of our history, our two great political parties, in whatever manifestation, understood that neither had a monopoly on wisdom, and, accordingly, there was considerable reaching across the aisles, both in staffing administrations and in borrowing of ideas and policies.

This appears now to have ended.

Now, for example, the Democrats in the Senate appear committed to doing all they can to oppose Mr. Trump’s appointments to the judiciary and the executive branch, even going so far as to embrace spurious accusations against them, resulting, in at least one instance, of withdrawal of the nomination. This is not an atmosphere that will encourage qualified candidates to serve, and Mr. Trump is encountering the slowest confirmation of his appointments in recent history.

It should not be asking too much to return to the traditional deference accorded presidential appointments, and to return to a time when ideology did not completely divide us.

We need a rebirth of bipartisanship, or at least the recognition that we have more in common than we have matters that divide us. The president has indicated his willingness to work with Democrats, but his efforts are too often rebuffed, and the opposition party has seemed more interested in maintaining the now discredited fable of Russian collusion than it has in working out a means of bipartisan cooperation.

In this nation we have not been and never will be a pure democracy since a nation of millions is simply too unwieldy actually directly to engage in self-government.

Our Framers wisely chose the form of a republic, that is, of representative government committed to the seeking of the common good. If our representatives, however, persist in viciously partisan behavior, and refuse to concede both the possibility of legitimate policy differences and the legitimacy of elected office, the Framers’ plan will collapse, their fear of faction will prove prescient, and representative government in this nation will end. The alternatives are bureaucratic autocracy and insurrection, and neither ought to be acceptable.

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 recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

1Like our page
We need a rebirth of bipartisanship, or at least the recognition that we have more in common than we have matters that divide us. The president has indicated his willingness to work with Democrats, but his efforts are too often rebuffed,
framers, republic, representative
Tuesday, 01 May 2018 01:49 PM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved