10 things we can learn from the founding fathers of America about rebuilding democracy, surviving the pandemic, and finding personal happiness

George Washington

Summary List Placement1. Don’t panic

Did the founders anticipate a Donald Trump? I would say yes. As James Madison wrote in the most prominent of his contributions to the Federalist Papers, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” Just after Aaron Burr nearly became president, Jefferson wrote that “bad men will sometimes get in, & with such an immense patronage, may make great progress in corrupting the public mind & principles. This is a subject with which wisdom & patriotism should be occupied.”

Fortunately the founders built a durable system, one that often in recent years has stymied Trump. He has tried to introduce a retrogressive personal form of rule, but repeatedly has run into a Constitution built instead to foster the rule of law.

Over the last several years we have seen Madison’s checks and balances operate robustly. Madison designed a structure that could accommodate people acting unethically and venally. Again, our national political gridlock sometimes is not a bug but a feature. It shows our system is working. The key task is to do our best to make sure the machinery of the system works. This begins with ensuring that eligible citizens are able to vote. This ballot box is the basic building block of our system.

We should appreciate how strong and flexible our Constitution is. It is all too easy, as one watches the follies and failings of humanity, to conclude that we live in a particularly wicked time.

In a poll taken just as I was writing the first part of this book, the majority of Americans surveyed said they think they are living at the lowest point in American history. So it is instructive to be reminded that Jefferson held similar beliefs about his own era. He wrote that there were “three epochs in history signalized by the total extinction of national morality.” The first two were in ancient times, following the deaths of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, he thought, and the third was his own age.

As an aside, Trump’s attacks on immigrants might raise a few eyebrows among the founders. Seven of the 39 people who signed the Constitution were themselves born abroad, most notably Hamilton and James Wilson.

Read more: ‘I love depreciation’: How big companies use Trump-like maneuvers to play the tax code in their favor

2. Curtail campaign finance

We should drop the bizarre American legal fiction that corporations are people, enjoying all the rights of citizens, including unfettered campaign donations as a form of free speech. Indeed, corporations possess greater rights than do people, as they cannot be jailed or executed, while citizens can and do suffer those fates. As the legal historian Zephyr Teachout has observed, the founders would have considered corporate campaign spending the essence of political corruption.

3. Re-focus on the public good

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 reminded America of a lesson it had forgotten about the public good — a phrase that occurs over 1,300 times in Founders Online. Health is a public good — which is one reason …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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