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Trump and the End of American Democracy

October 12, 2018

Yesterday’s news coverage of the President’s meeting with Kanye West was painful to watch and brought home how clueless Donald Trump is about the duties of President of the United States. All this would be a source of comic relief, but Trump’s enemies are the enemies of America’s traditional political order.

Calls for giving serious consideration to Nikki Haley as a candidate for President are of a piece with the decline of American politics. That decline is visible in consideration of a woman appointee as representative to the United Nations on the basis of gender, not qualifications for service in a top foreign policy position. And they are of a piece with calls to repeal of the Electoral College, charges of sexual harassment that are accepted as true, on their face, and the rise of celebrities seeking political office.

Though President Trump is evidence of this decline, he is not its cause.

American politics has been in decline since “Progressives” forced acceptance of the 17th Amendment on threat of convening a Constitutional Convention that would re-write the Constitution of 1787.

The 17th Amendment provided for direct election of U.S. Senators and introduced “ideology” as a factor in election of the U.S. Senate. James Piereson’s important essay in the Weekly Standard tracked the influence of these “Progressives” who became socially dominant at the end of the 19th century.  They were critics of the classical liberalism of Adam Smith and rejected the Scottish “common sense” of the Scottish Enlightenment and British empiricism. Gone, Piereson writes, were David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson, James Beattie, and Dugald Stewart.  In their place stepped Thorstein Veblen (economics), John Dewey (philosophy), Charles Beard (history) and Oliver Wendell Holmes (law). Piereson observes that “these thinkers were not only academics but more importantly graduates of the new university.”

All believed that the Constitution was “inadequate to the challenge of modern life.”

Throw away the philosophy of limited government fixed in the Constitution by the Framers, provide for direct election of U.S. Senators, abolish the electoral college and Progressive ideology will have achieved its aims. Unfortunately, that end will not be a beginning but the final moments of democracy in America.

 

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