Posted by: George | August 8, 2017

Lessons from The Federalist Papers, No. 19

Whatever efficacy the [Polish] union may have had in ordinary cases, it appears that the moment a cause of difference sprang up, capable of trying its strength, it failed.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Federalist No. 19

Our constitution, as the Federalist Papers attest, is a product of smart people who learned the lessons of history.

Hamilton and Madison wrote their essays quickly, which means they wrote from the knowledge of history they carried with them, the knowledge they used to construct a constitution and a form of government that could survive not just mundane events of normal times but also the more extreme challenges of abnormal times, the kind of threats that fill the history books of Greece, Rome, Germany, Poland, France, and England, times distant and recent.

But I’m not so sure Hamilton and Madison anticipated the kind of threat we face at this moment, a time when we are obsessed with scandals and distracted from the machinery of government.

We can see it in the rhythm of news coverage, especially on 24/7 news channels. The anchors often began their shows by saying, “We have a lot to talk about today.” Then, they launch into the enduring scandals of the Trump administration, like potential collusion with Russians to tamper with elections, and the handful of new scandals that broke in the last day—or the last hour. These are not normal times.

Sometimes, with nostalgia, even tears in my eyes, I think back on news coverage about scandals during the Obama administration. News shows might spend the better part of a week talking about how Obama bowed too deeply before the Emperor of Japan or held a Latte in his right hand as he saluted a marine.

These were normal times. We were not so distracted and could attend to a broader range of news about our government, mundane and subtle changes that often affect our lives.

We might even have time to talk about cultural values. Again, with nostalgia, I remember when Miley Cyrus danced on her stripper pole. On Morning Joe, for several days, the panel spent entire blocks on Miley and her stripper pole. Mika Brzezinski, a mother of daughters, was particularly concerned about the message Miley was sending young women. Rightly so. I miss Miley and her stripper pole.

In these abnormal times, if Miley started to act trashy again, I’m not sure we would notice. If we did, we would probably say something like, “Well, that’s not so bad. At least, she’s not working in the West Wing.”

In these peculiarly abnormal times, our attention is diverted. Our attention is distorted. When Trump began criticizing his own Attorney General, I began to hope that Sessions would remain strong and assert the independence of the Department of Justice. I was cheering him on. Then, I thought, “Damn, I’m defending Jeff Sessions.” I hadn’t given much thought to what the Attorney General is doing to reverse policy on voter ID laws, protection of LGBT rights, punishment for minor drug offenses, and Affirmative Action.

Secretary Sessions is working the machinery of government every day. He doesn’t attract much attention, but his actions have consequence.

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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