Timothy Egan’s spectacularly dishonest op-ed for the Times, “The Founders Would Gag at Today’s Republicans: The cult of Trump has embraced values and beliefs that Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln abhorred,” was one more conservative- and Trump-bashing exercise disguised as a history lesson, albeit for Americans who know little about history and foolishly assume that they can trust pundits like Egan to enlighten them. Of course, all such exercises in time-traveling appeals to authority are inherently dishonest. 18th century minds, even those as sharp and creative as the Founders possessed, would go into shock at most of what they saw today if somehow provided the opportunity, and would take a while to understand why things have evolved as they have.
Frequent commenter JutGory sat down and treated Ethics Alarms readers with an analysis of developments the Founders would have had trouble with without indulging in the sort of cherry-picking and distortion Egan did to pander to the Times’ progressive readership. The result of what Jut called his “retro-prognostications” is a genuinely educational post, and a distinguished Comment of the Day.
Here it is:
If we are doing retro-prognostications, I bet I could do better:
Disclaimer: the Founders would probably be a bit mystified at the technological advances in general.
They would not be surprised by the abolition of slavery. They would be half-surprised that it took a war to do it (“We put in an amendment process for pretty much this reason, people!”)
They would probably be surprised at how much power the Supreme Court (the weakest branch) wields. Of course it only wields that much power because the other branches have gotten more powerful. To wit:
They would be surprised by the 16th Amendment (income tax), as it is a direct tax of the individual by the Federal Government, but okay (“Yay, Amendment process).
Of course, money is power, so, with more tax money comes more power.
They would be completely baffled by the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators). That opens the Senate up to national influences, instead of influence from a small group of state legislators. That was kind of the whole point of the Senate: to represent the States, not its citizens.
But, you can’t pass a farm subsidy bill if Senators answer to their legislatures.
Can’t get universal healthcare if Senators stand in the way.
But, you change the Senate selection process, you get popular candidates, supported by national appeal and no specific understanding of the needs of the State (Hello, Al Franken!)
The power grab of the Commerce Clause would puzzle them.
The Federal Criminal Code, as punitive as it is, would not meet with their approval.
While they would not like standing armies, but would be aghast at the Left’s disaffection with the Defense Department; it was one of the things included in the Constitution. Congress gets to make war.
Same with immigration; Congress has the power to pass immigration laws. It can do pretty much anything. But, Leftists think ICE is illegal and there should be no immigration laws.
The Electoral Eollege issue is just one of many other issues that could be raised regarding progressives’ fundamental misunderstanding (or deliberate disregard) of the design of the Federal system. They look at representation in the Senate as fundamentally unfair, as Montana has one Senator for approximately 250,000 residents, while California has one Senator for its 27,500,000 residents. Of course, this completely ignores the fact that EACH state has TWO Senators. The electoral college reflects and imbalance in electoral votes by giving state electors in the same number as they have representation in both houses of Congress. This was by design and a popular election of the President would be deemed abhorrent by the Founders, as it would completely ignore the federalist structure of the government.
Yet to progressives, it seems self-evident that the President should be elected by the popular vote of the people. However, considering the federalist structure of the government, one could argue with equal force that the President should be elected by the majority vote of the states. Thus, while Clinton received approximately 3,000,000 more votes in the election, Trump won 10 more states than Clinton did; given the federalist structure of the government, those two measurements are of equal validity and are equally invalid. However, it would appear that the left would find the selection of the President according to the number of states won incomprehensible. As the electoral college represents a balance between the people and the states, the Founders would likely see the effort to eliminate the electoral college to be completely contrary to the intended structure of the government.
It’s practically Bizarro-World: leftists don’t like it when the government does the things it was designed for, and insists that it do things it was never intended to handle.
If we want to talk about what the Founders would abhor, that discussion would be dominated by items from the progressive agenda.