Posted by: George | July 16, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 17

The operations of the national government, on the other hand, falling less immediately under the observation of the mass of the citizens, the benefits derived from it will chiefly be perceived and attended to by speculative men.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 17

 Political commentators seem to be puzzled by the segment of Americans who remain loyal to Trump. After all, since the day Trump announced he was running for president, he has generated one scandal after another. The scandals are not so much resolved as they continue to linger at the borders of newer scandals, overlapping and interlacing into wonderous geometric patterns.

 Even compared to Nixon’s second term, Trump’s campaign and administration have been incomprehensively amoral, lurid, rash, salacious, arrogant, corrupt, and [insert your own string of adjectives here].

 How could it be, reporters and pundits ask, that Trump continues to have the support of even 35 percent of our citizens? Who are these people? Well, maybe that 35 percent are not what Hamilton calls “speculative” thinkers.

 In Federalist No. 17, Hamilton again addressed the Anit-Federalist concern that the new constitution will allow too much power to ooze from the states and collect around the central government. To allay these concerns, Hamilton argued that power will more likely ooze in the opposite direction—toward the states—because state governments will more directly impact the lives of citizens. Only a small segment of the population—speculative men—will be interested in the more distant central government and its national or international duties.

 I am not sure that I follow Hamilton’s logic—that the states will be more powerful because citizens will be more engaged with state politics. But I do think he is right that speculative—roughly meaning “theoretical” in this context—citizens will be engaged in politics at the national level and with a different focus and perspective.

 Speculative thinkers—most reporter and pundits, except maybe those who work for Fox News, are among this group—cannot react to a Trump tweet without imagining how it might affect international diplomacy, American’s standing in the world, international trade, or even the future of democracy. Those who are not speculative thinkers—some of Trump’s 35 percent, maybe many of them—are more likely to read a Trump tweet without being sucked into implications of repercussions of unintended consequences. They are more likely to react abnormal tweets with no more chagrin than when Uncle Billy walks up to little Tommy and Suzie and says, “Pull my finger.” It’s not funny, but, you know, that’s just how Uncle Billy is—always has been, always will be.

 I think there might be some true in this, but it is also painting the 35 percent with a broad brush. And, it’s pretty condescending. I am sure there’s more to it.

 I would assume, for example, that many among the 35 percent are too preoccupied with working several jobs to pay bills that they don’t have the mental energy to think through the implications of every Trump tweet. They need their lives to improve now, not three and a half years from now. They want to give Trump a chance to do his job.

 I am not saying I agree with that line of thought, but it should be respected.

Consult for background and texts relating to The Federalist Papers.

I also invite your to read Homo Academicus, my serial novel, which is being published at


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