Upon the creation of the United States government in 1789, Vice President John Adams argued that President Washington should be addressed as “Your Majesty.”

He was derided by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The last thing the Founders wanted was another king. But it wasn’t until eight years later, when George Washington resisted calls to stay in office, that the Founders could rest easy.

The temptation of a monarchy was dead.

Since then, the United States has held 57 presidential elections. Some were so close as to be disputed, such as 1876 and 2000. But solutions were found, the losers conceded, and democracy marched on. Never until this year has a losing incumbent president tried to leverage the powers of his office to stay in power after having lost an election. Never before has a president claimed the powers of a king.

President Trump, loser in November by 7 million ballots and 74 electoral votes, has spent the last month twisting the arms of judges, governors, secretaries of state and local election officials to disallow hundreds of thousands of legitimately cast ballots in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. It’s a stress our constitutional system has never experienced before.

Fortunately, the Founders anticipated the problem.

Unlike Plato and other philosophers, who had designed ideal republics to be administered by wise men, Madison was a realist. He wrote that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” James Madison saw that people naturally grouped themselves into factions, rendering them “more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for the common good.”

Madison’s answer was to structure the new government with multiple sources of power: federal and state, judicial and legislative and executive, House and Senate. Each source would “check and balance” the others.

This year, Madison’s structure proved its worth. Federal and state judges, governors, state legislators, secretaries of state, and local election officials, have all resisted presidential pressure to overthrow the election results. Even officials of Trump’s own federal departments of attorney general, Homeland Security and General Services have stood firm. What’s impressive is that many of the federal judges were appointed by Trump, and many of the state and local officials resisting his pressure are Republicans who voted for him.

Perhaps some of these local Republican officials can qualify as “angels” in Madison’s terms. They are certainly endangering their political careers in the Republican Party by their courage. In any case, we can thank Madison and the Founders for designing a governmental structure that can withstand even a presidential effort to stage a coup.


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