Neither Trump nor Clinton Is the End of the Republic

tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Trump

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugural address with a hopeful message. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he declared. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Weeks later the Civil War began. Roughly 620,000 Americans died in that conflict. New York City burned for four days of draft riots and looting. General Sherman burned his way through Georgia to the sea. African Americans won emancipation, only to be terrorized, assaulted, and subjugated for another century. In spite of it all, the Union survived, the better angels of human nature reasserted themselves here and there, and bonds of civic friendship were repaired.

Last week, Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, declared in the digital pages of the Claremont Review of Books that regardless of who wins the upcoming election, “the republic established by America’s Founders is probably gone.”

It survived chattel slavery that made a mockery of founding principles, Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Insurrection, the burning of its capital by the British, the Trail of Tears, The Dred Scott decision, the aforementioned civil war, the assassinations of presidents, Plessy vs. Ferguson, an imperialist foray into the Philippines, the Espionage and Sedition Acts, a flu pandemic that killed 20 million worldwide and an estimated 675,000 Americans, the Great Depression, the global rise of fascism, World War II, an expansionist Communist dictatorship with nuclear weapons that infiltrated the U.S. government, Jim Crow, Watergate, urban riots, the Sexual Revolution, and the September 11 attacks.

But now it’s all over:

...the 2016 election is sealing the United States’s transition from that republic to some kind of empire. Electing either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump cannot change that trajectory. Because each candidate represents constituencies hostile to republicanism, each in its own way, these individuals are not what this election is about. This election is about whether the Democratic Party, the ruling class’s enforcer, will impose its tastes more strongly and arbitrarily than ever, or whether constituencies opposed to that rule will get some ill-defined chance to strike back.

“Regardless of the election’s outcome,” he adds, “the republic established by America’s Founders is probably gone.” ...

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