Trump, Abigail Adams and Jefferson: Has the “Mad Cry of the Crowd” Seized Our Nation?

Within a few years of the end of Revolutionary War former solders were still unpaid, farmers were losing their farms, speculators were snatching land; the gap between the rich and the poor was widening, the goals of the revolution were crumbling. Appeals to state legislatures demanding debt relief went unanswered; Daniel Shay led a rag-tag army that prevented courts from convening and threatened to seize weapons in armories.  The new nation appeared to be on the verge of anarchy.

Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson,

 Ignorant, restless desperadoes, without conscience or principals, have led a deluded multitude to follow their standard, under pretense of grievances which have no existence but in their imaginations. Some of them were crying out for a paper currency, some for an equal distribution of property, some were for annihilating all debts, others complaining that the Senate was a useless Branch of Government, that the Court of common Pleas was unnecessary, and that the Sitting of the General Court in Boston was a grievance …

 Instead of that laudable Spirit which you approve, which makes a people watchful over their Liberties and alert in the defense of them, these Mobish insurgents are for sapping the foundation, and destroying the whole fabric at once. 

  I cannot help flattering myself that they will prove Salutary to the state at large, by leading to an investigation of the causes which have produced these commotions. Luxury and extravagance both in furniture and dress had pervaded all orders of our Countrymen and women, and was hastening fast to Sap their independence by involving every class of citizens in distress, and accumulating debts upon them which they were unable to discharge. Vanity was becoming a more powerful principal than Patriotism. The lower order of the community were presst for taxes, and though possessed of landed property they were unable to answer the Demand. Whilst those who possessed Money were fearful of lending, least the mad cry of the Mob  should force the Legislature upon a measure very different from the touch of Midas.

Abigail was incredibly prescient.  The “regulators” (the name adopted by the Shay army) can easily be compared to the current Trump voters. Disillusioned, ill-prepared for the 21st century economy and angry; instead of marching against the government they marched against the establishment, and, while Shay’s army was put down with force the new “regulators” seized control of the nation.

A few months after the Adams-Jefferson correspondence the delegates to the constitutional convention began trickling into Philadelphia. A new constitution, a successful battle over ratification, the Federalist Papers, the election of George Washington and the selection of an outsider, Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton, the immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis, saved the nation. His economic policies, a national bank, the federal assumption of debts, borrowing to create  infrastructure programs secured credibility for the fledgling nation, in spite of the increasing opposition by Madison and Jefferson,

A month later Jefferson responded to Adam’s letter

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere.

In 1787 the rebellion was put down aggressively by troops, the “little rebellion” that Jefferson liked did not succeed. Or, perhaps the rebellion will be the new “regulators,” the opponents to the Trump administration “rebelling” against a government that appears to be tearing down decades of bipartisan progressive leadership.

The Trump cabinet nominees are more radical than the nominees that Rubio or Cruz may have made. An Attorney General nominee with racist roots, who opposes the Voting Rights Act, opposes protecting the rights of the disabled and on and on, in many ways rolling back the nation to the 1950s. An Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) head who is a climate change denier, an Education Secretary who supports unregulated charter schools and vouchers as well as prayer in he schools, basically an enemy of public schools.

What is especially interesting is how the stock market has responded; instead, as predicted by many, a sharp drop the market has hit all-time highs – the “Trump Bump.”  Has the Trump rhetoric freed up dollars and sent them into the market? Do the usually cynical and tough hedgefunders think that Trump can pump a trillion or two into a massive infrastructure program, renegotiate deals with China and bring jobs back to America?  New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks not. Even conservative former Congressman Joe Scarborough, “Morning Joe,” questions Trump assertions that the government can both spend trillions on infrastructure and reduce taxes.

How will the new administration react to the first crisis?

Italy is tottering on the brink of an economic collapse that could drag down the European Banking system with a world-wide domino effect. Russia and/or China could decide to test the new administration with aggressive actions in the Baltic or in Hong Kong. Acting aggressively in the Middle East, sending in more American troops could further destabilize all-ready fractious part of the world. Obama’s reaction to he 2007-8 fiscal debacle was laudatory, the accretion of recession to depression was halted and slowly but surely our economy recovered. All of the economic indicators show we have returned to a pre-recession economy; however, the constant attacks from the right, that have little basis in reality, played a role in the Trump victory.

I am both cynical and fearful.

How will Trump react when the crisis occurs?

In the years leading up to World War 2 many millions of American were still suffering, ten years after the beginning of the Great Depression. The rise of Hitler was viewed as a European problem, the isolationists and the pacifists in Congress refused to allow us to aid our allies across the Atlantic as the continent fell to the Nazis.  At home the Dies Committee, lead by Congressman Martin Dies persecuted Americans accusing them of being Communists, to Dies a much more serious threat than Hitler. Anti-Semitism was rampant, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion accepted as gospel, and, lynchings were commonplace. Attempts to pass a federal anti-lynching law were thwarted by southern congressman and FDR made a political decision not to pursue the issue.

George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, reminded us that if we don’t learn from the lessons of history we are fated to repeat them.

I fear that as the economy falters, as a crisis abroad escalates the response will be to blame the unions, blame the civil rights advocates, blame the Jews, blame the immigrants, the minorities, blame the press, deflect blame and use the same scapegoating strategies we saw in Germany in the thirties and during the recent presidential campaign.

We live in a new world of communications, I may watch MSNBC, others may watch Fox, and fifteen million Americans subscribe to Trump’s Twitter feed. With a few finger taps the President-elect can send a 140 character message directly to his subscribers, bypassing the traditional sources of news. In fact the very definition of “news,” the code of conduct of journalism has changed. The “first out” wins, a Trump twitter assault on whoever becomes the news story repeated endlessly by the traditional media outlets. News stories no longer require two sources to validate the source as taught in journalism schools; reporting the tweet becomes the story. There are no rules on Twitter, or on Facebook. No one vets the story, the accusation, in fact, fake stories become the news.

Those of us who live in Northeastern cities or the cities along the West Coast live in a bubble. At 5:45 in the morning of Election Day I waited outside my polling place on a long line. It was a party; we were going to elect our first woman president, a woman with decades of experience, actually the most qualified person ever to run for president.

A month after the election we are still suffering from a new illness – post election PTSB. We are shocked, how could this have happened? Everyone we know was deriding Trump and voting for Hillary.

On the other hand I know too many voters who decided they couldn’t vote for Hillary and stayed home, or voted for Jill Stein, or, voted for Trump as a protest vote, after all, he could never win.

Maybe I am overly concerned, perhaps the optimistic market is an accurate predictor of a rosy economic future, or, maybe my concern is real, maybe we are on the cusp of the Inferno, and   whatever our differences we should unite and fight back before the Ninth Circle engulfs us.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

3 responses to “Trump, Abigail Adams and Jefferson: Has the “Mad Cry of the Crowd” Seized Our Nation?

  1. James S. Vlasto

    One of best critiques of election.


  2. Peter, how do you advise citizens to stay vigilant,so we do not wake up saying too little too late? KCfrom Gen Store?


  3. Organize!! Join an organization of like-mined individuals … power comes from numbers, power comes from the skills of organization members … single voices are drowned by silence – organized citizens can roar.


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