The founders tried to guard against con artist tyrants — but our democratic republic may end anyway

The founders tried to guard against con artist tyrants — but our democratic republic may end anyway
President Donald J. Trump listens as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India addresses his remarks on stage Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, at a rally in honor of Prime Minister Modi at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Our founding fathers were of an era when slavery and colonization were a direct extension of the "t'was ever thus" of history. To fault them for their failures to live by our current standards (by which they fail miserably) is to miss the point.


So too is praising them for their idealism and vision. Though many were Christians, they knew better than to bring that kind of blind-faith optimism to the crafting of our city on the hill.

Their true genius was in expecting of humankind what humankind inevitably delivers, corruption, backsliding and backlashes, the opposite of the dream of woke enlightenment in which everybody finally sees the light, realizing the truth of love, kindness, generosity, justice and liberty for all. Our founding fathers were cynics, not romanticizers of human nature.

That's why our democratic republic lasted as long as it did. It was the founding fathers’ paranoid checks and balances against backlashes, backbiting, backsliding and the irresistibility of power grabs. No one leaves power on the table or, more to the point, someone's bound to grab it, rationalizing the grab any way that works.

To some extent, they listened to John Locke (the source of the original line "Life liberty and the pursuit of property") but John was a bit of a dreamer. He argued that we are all born blank slates and therefore moldable into anything by any society we inhabit. Locke inspired the founding father’s attempt to blue-sky design a better society. Still, in describing us as blank slates he was likely to overlook our tendency to be just awful when we can get away with it no matter what society we inhabit.

Our founding fathers knew better.

I have dozens of colleagues who make romantic cases for a great awakening. Some are high-placed and scholarly manifesto authors. It’s funny about the word woke. We awaken every day only to get dull and nod off by the evening. That’s not captured in the woke concept.

Again, our founding fathers knew better.

I think anyone who would design such Lockean woke societies is kidding themselves, amateurs masturbating to their own virtue-signaling. I bet if any of them lucked into the unlikely opportunity to actually craft such a nation they'd be dictators in no time. That's what always happens to romantic social engineers and just what didn't happen to our founding fathers. Romantics have a scooped-out vision. They can picture their day of victory and the happily ever after. They don't foresee the backlashes, backbiting, and backsliding.

I have no patience anymore for people telling us how we should all feel, believe and act as though that solves anything. I have no patience for "If I were in charge for the world and everyone's attitudes" manifestos. It's grandiose "be like me" syndrome or worse: "be like wannabe me” syndrome.

If you're not addressing the fact that 3-5% of us are outright psychopaths and the rest of us will cut corners in a pinch or when the opportunity arises, you haven't begun to think realistically about social engineering. If your vision doesn't foresee the effects of degradation, erosion and death by a jillion cut corners, you might as well be playing with Legos.

If you haven't confronted what I call philo-sophie's choice: Who will be the have nots in your great society, you have yet to get beyond the glory of your own pretenses to think about what it takes to craft a sustainable society.

If you think there must be a better way just because our way sucks and then you wish list the better ways you'd have people embrace based on everything you like in contrast to everything you abhor, you're just playing house.

Three-pointed hats off to our founding fathers, not for their vision of a city on the hill and certainly not for their atrocious behavior by our standards, but rather for expecting atrocious behavior. Hat's off for not being like optimistic guru con artists who claim they've found a magic cure for cancer but instead like realistic oncologists studying the inescapable cancers in human nature as a way to treat them, to create a more perfect union. More perfect, not perfect and under constant degradation.

Come November, we may see the end of our democratic republic. Though the founding fathers set up all sorts of locks to block con artist asshole tyrants, it looks like the current bunch have run the gauntlet and are very close to unlocking the last of the traps.

There have been lots of close calls over our history and understandably so. Cancers aplenty were seeded here at our nation's founding, Indian massacres, slavery, insane Puritan posses and on top of that, the worst of exactly what inspired conservativism in the first place, a recognition that inheritors tend to go soft, corrupt and egomaniacal with time, ugly Americans precisely because, ignoring their luck, they fancy themselves so beautiful. Ours was a windfall nation. Not every explorer in that era landed in a cornucopia like this relatively virgin continent.

244 years was a good run. The founding father's locks worked admirably well. That's because they were paranoid cynics who knew that there were bound to be plenty of people trying to hack the system.

It's not over yet. If November doesn't end us, we could be in for a US renaissance, a renaissance of the healthy cynical distrust of human nature that would enable us to reset all the traps stronger even than our prescient founding fathers thought necessary. One can hope. One is best hoping cynically with low faith the seductive powers of our fantasies of sudden-school universal wokeness.

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