With the inauguration of Donald Trump coming up soon, and with the histrionics of many on the left, and the arrogance displayed by many on the right (there was something very arrogant about the House Republicans trying to downgrade their own ethics office in their first week on the job), it can be helpful to seek out one of the most rhetorically masterful calls to sober reason ever written, to persuade us not to lose our heads. Enter Alexander Hamilton with his first of many in a series: Federalist No. 1.
Whether you take the view that the election of Donald Trump was calamitous, or merely the avoidance of the greater calamity–we can all agree that the stakes were high. “A wrong election of the part we [have acted], may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.” Our President-elect (and soon to be president) won the election, with some help from foreign spy work, while losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. Not exactly an auspicious beginning–and that’s on top of what was possibly the most vitriolic and fearful campaign in living memory.
Wouldn’t it be so much less odious and counter-productive, all around, if we could look forward to as gracious an inaugural speech as Hamilton’s Federalist No. 1? Wouldn’t it be delightful if, having been sworn in, President Trump were to take a deep breath, and then say, “So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.”
Would it not be even better if his next remark was to extend his personal gratitude to everyone who is willing to work for the betterment of the country, whatever their view, so long as they are civil and willing to exchange ideas freely and civilly?
For some reason, I do not strongly suspect his remarks will play to the intelligentsia, and vaunt his willingness to win over his opponents–or be won over by them–with reason. “For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”
If he were then to say, simply, that he promises his will be a term of patience and openness. Wouldn’t that be nice?
“On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of the government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”
I do not harbor suspicions that we have elected Alexander Hamilton. But I did learn a lot from reading Federalist No. 1.