Skip to main content

Opinions on the Trump Presidency

Madison Warned We Must Have “Virtue”

July 2021
2min read

The attack on the Capitol was not a true coup d’etat,  but a poorly organized and ill-thought-out attempt to strongarm Congress.

The attack on the Capitol was not a true coup d’etat, which ordinarily involves applying concentrated force and the determined pursuit of a goal.  Rather, it was a poorly organized and ill-thought-out attempt to strongarm Congress into refusing to accept the results of the election, an action that Congress has no constitutional power to take.  

Donald Trump is, in fact, a dangerous figure with delusions of becoming a totalitarian leader, but we should not overlook how inept he is at forming any plan of action and pursuing it.  Sending to Congress a bunch of yahoos recruited on social media was not a serious attempt at a coup.  

For this moment to be a turning point, our political leaders will have to start treating each other with respect. 

Nor, however, was it a peaceful demonstration.  The rioters were recruited with promises of violence and were stirred to rage by the president and Rudy Giuliani.  We are simply fortunate that they were no more competent than Trump is.  The failure of law enforcement to anticipate and control the rioters suggests a disturbing stupidity, rot and lack of will among congressional leaders.

Some have wondered if this is a turning point in our history, but the question reminds me of a saying in economic theory that the stock market has predicted eleven out of the last four recessions.  

Turning points seem to be thick on the ground as we live our lives, but in retrospect there are not so many.  A turning point requires, at least, that President Biden win the support of more Americans than voted for him, that the media stop parroting Trump lies, and that our political leaders start treating each other with respect.  

Even after the violence at the Capitol, more than 100 Republican congressional representatives voted to “investigate” the integrity of the 2020 presidential election in several states, something they have no power to do.  That is an appalling fact that suggests the attack on the Capitol was not a turning point for one-fourth of the members of the House of Representatives. 

Blaming Trump and the media for these disturbances is like blaming nature for a snowstorm.  Trump will always be a lying braggart and the media will forever chase after every shiny, insubstantial headline that may increase their clicks and viewers.  Neither can change their natures.  

The true culprits are the intelligent leaders of the Republican Party who made a deal with the devil when they embraced Trump.  They got their tax cuts, their right-wing judges, and the savaging of the planet through reduced regulations, and in return they normalized a congenital, vicious liar and gave him immense power to inject toxic venom into our political culture.  They have much to atone for.

In the formulation by Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some of the people all of the time.  Trump has done that with his “base,” feeding them a relentless diet of lies which they unthinkingly swallow.  The unhappy wake-up call is that we are no better than any other nation on the planet.  We are not exceptional.  

Our Constitution and our political culture can be reduced to rubble if we give power to the wrong people.  James Madison wrote that the nation would not survive, whatever the virtues or defects of the Constitution, unless the people retained “virtue.”  Still true.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

Please support this 70-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate