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How to Prevent Another Violent Attack on the Presidential Transfer of Power

A Collection of Essays Prepared for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol

The cover letter included with this collection of essays argues that a vital step in the prevention of future violent disruptions to the peaceful transfer of power in the United States is the reinvigoration of political institutions which successfully thwart the rise of demagogues to the Oval Office, irrespective of the party affiliation of the demagogue. It encourages the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack to study the history and political science of demagogues as part of their investigation. Further, it argues that members must apply the correct “political diagnosis” to the former president as they search for insights and preventive solutions. That diagnosis is demagogue. Armed with the right political diagnosis, the Select Committee will stand the best chance possible of generating effective recommendations to make sure such an attack never happens again.

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Trump's Place in History? He is the Supreme American Demagogue

Los Angeles Times

It is never too early to begin to consider an ex-president's place in history. And, in the case of Donald J. Trump, what future historians are going to say is unambiguous. Trump’s fate in history is to become first among the cast of dishonored political figures known as "demagogues." Compared with Trump, famous demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy will become footnotes. Trump will be remembered as the first full-blown demagogue in the White House, one who incited seditious violence on the U.S. Capitol — and for little else. Over time, Democrats and Republicans will unite in this historical understanding of the 45th president, just as they have long since reached consensus about Democrat Huey Long and Republican Joseph McCarthy. The judgment of Trump will not be a partisan matter. Republicans in particular should recognize this fact and get on the right side of history, even if it means enduring criticism from constituents and the loss of reelection to office.  

 

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Would the Founders Convict Trump and Bar Him From Office?

The New York Times

Published on the opening day of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate, this op-ed argues that if the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were sitting as jurors in the trial, they would cast two near unanimous votes: first, to convict the president of an impeachable offense, and second, to disqualify him from holding future federal office. They would vote in this way because they believed as a matter of civic principle that ethical leadership is the glue that holds a constitutional republic together. The op-ed underscores that the framers of the Constitution wrote the language of the impeachment powers specifically with a demagogue like Trump in mind. As incisive political scientists steeped in history, they understood that demagogues are the singular poison that infects and kills republics and democracies. Today's gatekeepers of our constitutional democracy must understand the same lifesaving principle.

 

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Civics 101: Keep Demagogues Out of Democracy

Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy

This article maintains that the preservation of a healthy constitutional democracy in the United States hinges critically on whether Americans heed a golden rule of this free form of government as taught throughout the ages by democracy experts like Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Livy, Edward Gibbon, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln and especially the framers of the U.S. Constitution. That rule is that demagogues erode and eventually destroy democracies. In their writings and speeches, these incisive political philosophers teach us that demagogues, especially those serving as heads of state, are to the body politic of democracy what cancer is to the human body. If the cancer is not kept out, or removed, it eviscerates critical organs and eventually mutates democracy into autocracy. 

 

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Why Demagogues Were the Founding Fathers' Greatest Fear

Los Angeles Times

This op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, subsequently published by 22 other newspapers, reveals that the founders self-consciously drafted the Constitution to be a bulwark against demagogues gaining power in the federal government. As Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 1: “History will teach us 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.”

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Alexander Hamilton Would Have Led the Charge to Oust Donald Trump

Los Angeles Times

Published at the height of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate, this op-ed in the Los Angeles Times tells the story of Alexander Hamilton's campaign in early 1801 to defeat a demagogue, Aaron Burr, and instead elect his political arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson, as president of the United States. Hamilton deplored Jefferson's policies but believed he, unlike Burr, was dedicated to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. Burr, he said, who was “deficient in honesty” and “one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates,” would “disturb our institutions” and be governed by a singular principle — “to get power by any means and to keep it by all means.”

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Why America Must Not Reelect a Demagogue: That's What Trump Is, and It Matters

New York Daily News

Trump’s election to the American presidency has exposed a fatal Achilles' heel of democracy. It is demagogues. The great danger of this political personality type is that demagogues are temperamentally wired to run roughshod over everything we hold dear in our representative government: the Constitution, Bill of Rights, impartial courts, the rule of law, institutional norms, and, not least, free and fair elections followed by the peaceful transfer of power. In order to arrest our constitutional democracy’s descent into chaos and breakdown, we must get Trump’s "political diagnosis" right. According to the political science of democracy, he is not a fascist, autocrat, or dictator. He is a demagogue — and therefore the worst poison possible to a democracy. Voters must understand this clearly. The health, and possibly survival, of our democracy depends upon it. 

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U.S. Capitol Insurrection

Could Trump have a reality-distorting mental condition?

Los Angeles Times

On January 6, a pro-Trump mob, after attending a "Save America" rally organized by the president, staged a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol where the Congress was counting Electoral College ballots. After such an event, this Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times argues, it becomes incumbent upon the members of the House, the Senate, and the Executive Cabinet to inquire to what extent President Trump might suffer from a fixed delusion that played a role in inciting the riot. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump seems to believe he won the election. Could he be “captured”––to borrow a term from David A. Kessler’s book “Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering”––by a fixed delusion? In light of the tragic events of January 6, the gatekeepers of our democracy must explore all possibilities as they weigh options on how to ensure the safety of the American people and the integrity of our democracy.

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The Constitution Must Be Our ‘Political Religion’: Remembering Lincoln’s Words

Seattle Times

This op-ed in the Seattle Times, telling the story of Lincoln's historic 1838 address entitled "The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions," showcases Lincoln's belief that in order to survive as a democracy we must transcend our racial, religious, regional and party affiliations and together embrace what he calls "the political religion of our nation" — that is, the Constitution and the rule of law. 

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MLK's Prescription For Healing Hate Was Embracing 'Agape'

USA Today

This op-ed in USA Today, published to commemorate the Birmingham campaign of 1963, describes MLK's relentless devotion to the Greek concept of agape, defined as love and compassion for all fellow human beings, in his arduous life's work as a civil rights leader. King characterizes agape as a potent inner position of “soul force” that each of us can cultivate within ourselves—and teach to our children. According to King, agape is the world's greatest hope for healing hate in all its manifest forms, whether racial, religious, ethnic or political. 

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How to Remember the Founders

New York Daily News

Published in the aftermath of George Floyd's death and the toppling of white-dominant statues throughout the nation, this essay proposes dialectical thinking as the best way to remember the founding fathers on the Fourth of July. Only through dialectical thinking can we tolerate the cognitive dissonance of remembering both the horrors of the United States' original sin of slavery and, simultaneously, the founders' fierce and brilliant establishment of equality and justice as our nation’s founding principles. Our common American narrative centers on the undying fight for equality and justice for an ever-widening circle of "We the People."

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MLK's Prescription For Healing Hate Was Embracing 'Agape'

Eli Merritt

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How George Washington Would Fix Partisan Politics Today

The Tennessean

This op-ed in The Tennessean casts new light on Washington's political talents as revealed in the Newburgh Conspiracy and his First Farewell Address in 1783. Washington's two-part prescription for politics in the 21st century would be the same as in the 1780s: 1) the rule of law and 2) emotional intelligence. 

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Sectional Conflict & Secret Compromise

The American Journal of Legal History

Published in The American Journal of Legal History, "Sectional Conflict and Secret Compromise: The Mississippi River Question and the United States Constitution" reveals that the United States nearly broke apart in 1786-87. The young nation was saved from North-South disunion by the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. 

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The Mississippi Navigation Crisis

Encyclopedia of North Carolina

Published in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, "The Mississippi Navigation Crisis" highlights the role of New Yorker John Jay and North Carolinians Timothy Bloodworth, Richard Caswell, Hugh Williamson, Benjamin Hawkins, and William Blount in the North-South crisis over the Mississippi River in 1786-87. 

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Thomas Jefferson in a New Light

New York Times

This letter to the New York Times calls for doublethink on founder Thomas Jefferson. The otherwise enlightened founding generation perpetuated slavery not only due to a pervasive ideology of white racial superiority but due to the founders' overwhelming fear that emancipation would trigger disunion, civil war, and a swift collapse of the American experiment in self-government. 

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Debt Ceiling Treatment

San Francisco Chronicle

In this op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Merritt satirizes Democrats and Republicans for their mutual intransigence in resolving the debt-ceiling crisis. The piece concludes with a prescription by founding father James Madison for treating such political dysfunction.   

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