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America’s Founders vs. Trump

In the early years of the American republic, James Madison warned his fellow countrymen that their chosen system of governance would only survive if they adhered to the principles of representation and kept factionalism in check. In the era of Donald Trump, it would seem that these two conditions are no longer being met.

BERKELEY – From the very beginning of the American experiment, Alexander Hamilton, one of the new country’s founders, had serious doubts about democracy. “It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the … state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy,” he wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 9.

But Hamilton went on to praise such principles as, “The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature.” These, he wrote, “are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.”

And yet those improvements in the “science of politics” that Hamilton identified could apply just as well to monarchies as to republics, and in fact emerged from monarchies. The Plantagenet kings who ruled England between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries professionalized the judiciary, and established the precedent of securing parliamentary consent before levying taxes. Likewise, the professional bureaucracy and distribution of power that one would expect to find in a republic were also enshrined in the Council of the Indies and the Council of Castile under the sixteenth-century Spanish monarch Philip II.

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