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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

White House strategy to keep power is all about the factions

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), bottom left, and Rep.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), bottom left, and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) on Thursday as the House Judiciary Committee marked up articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Credit: EPA / Michael Reynolds

If James Madison were alive today he might be tweeting. If so, millions of followers this week could read his posts on how factions threaten popular republics.

For what it's worth, Madison's definition of factions — published in the 10th essay of what became known as the Federalist Papers — would fit Twitter's 280-character limit:

"A number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

The House impeachment of President Donald Trump escalates the most serious display of partisan division in years.

The Democratic faction accuses Trump, as ruler of the Republican faction, with abusing his government power for personal benefit.

As a faction leader, the president seems to have no Madisonian concern about factions destroying the republic. He likes the flavor of factions. His governance has landed far from the detached balancing of interests that the framers of the Constitution envisioned for elected American leadership.

One recent Trumpian tweet: "Radical Democrat opponents [are] driven by hatred, prejudice and rage.”

Another of his statement, to rallygoers, about House Democrats: "They’re coming after me because I’m fighting for you. And I’m fighting for all Americans and our way of life, but I’m fighting for you.

"And they don’t like you. They don’t like you. And you explain why. You explain why. Your values are so incredible. They don’t like you."

What is Trump's "base" if not a an inflamed faction of citizens?

More remarkably, Trump promotes factional divisions within the very government he's anointed to lead. This week he sided with right-wing conspiracy theorists against his own FBI director on whether a "deep-state" plot to "overthrow" him was magically averted. 

Attorney General William Barr cast doubt upon a report by the Justice Department's inspector general regarding the origins of the Russia investigation, further casting law-enforcement personnel as divided into pro-Trump and Trump-skeptical factions.

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani seems to put foreign factionalism to work in service of his president's domestic faction. Giuliani has turned openly to sources who sit outside Ukraine's ruling circle for "information" for his anti-Democrat political skulduggery.

Several ex-prosecutors and alienated oligarchs approached by Giuliani seem to belong to this pool of dissidents.

Meantime more than one Trump supporter has told the news media of a feeling that the president's impeachment and removal from office would bring about a second Civil War.

Trump and the people around him do nothing to impede such talk.

It doesn't get more factional than that.

Madison wrote that the causes of faction cannot be removed without killing liberty, but that the design of our representative republic can blunt its negative effects.

The question is whether that works at this point in the 21st century.

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