Monday, August 29, 2016

2016:  James Madison and the Margins


In September 1787 while waiting for the arrival of others, James Madison began drafting a blueprint which would eventually be known as the Virginia Plan.  The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral legislative branch and set the stage for creating the idea of representation according to population.  Madison was no stranger to these questions haven already given long study to historical forms of government, much of it in solitude at his home in Montpelier, VA.

While not a behavioral scientist, James Madison knew his man; or better said he knew the tendencies of men and women by studying the various forms of governance and the corresponding behaviors.  His review of past governance failures challenged him to devise and propose a new system which would promote the best outcomes while minimizing the worst outcomes.  His ability to arrive at his personal conclusions and thereafter propose and have them accepted are central elements to what makes America great and a model for others.

Madison devised a system of interlocking government that he thought could serve the citizens of our country well assuming that those elected to office were NOT wise and good men, or the best of America.  This concept is expressed best when considering the separation of power into three branches of government.  While it is an American ritual to complain about the cumbersome nature of the “People’s Business” in Washington, DC, it is also important to know this feature is a safeguard of ours from an oppressive overbearing government.

Admittedly, it would be a welcome day of freshness if we could see better citizenship practiced and modeled for us rather than our elected leaders focused on “inflamed mutual animosity and rendered more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."

A representative republic, Madison thought, was different from a direct democracy because its government is placed in the hands of delegates, and, as a result of this, it can be extended over a larger geographic area and gave argument in favor of a large republic against a small republic for the choice of "fit characters" to represent the public's voice.

In a large republic, where the number of voters and candidates is greater, the probability to elect competent representatives is broader. The voters have a wider option. In a small republic, it would also be easier for the candidates to fool the voters but more difficult in a large one. Madison suggests that a representative republic form of government is more effective against factions than a direct democracy. 

Men who are members of particular factions, or who have prejudices or evil motives might manage, by intrigue or corruption, to win elections and then betray the interests of the people. Madison thought the possibility of this happening in a large country, such as the United States, is greatly reduced. The likelihood that public office will be held by qualified men is greater in large countries because there will be more representatives chosen by a greater number of citizens. This makes it more difficult for the candidates to deceive the people. Representative government is needed in large countries, not to protect the people from the tyranny of the few, but to guard against the rule of the mob.


Madison’s theoretical argument for our resultant US Government representative republic could also be used to define what we know as a Bell curve in the discipline of statistical Analysis.  Essentially it means that in any given measured collection of people, things or events that occur there can be expected a certain outcome.  When all outcomes are registered and the frequency of that outcome is charted it looks like a bell; shape with a curved top by greater frequency recordings and moving downwards towards the outer extremes of normal.  This is also known as being on the “margins” compared to the majority who bunch together for thought, performance, attitude, behavior, etc.

While James Madison was a gifted scholar, he didn’t carry a smartphone, own a computer, drive a car or eat a pop tart.  In fact, he was still pretty amazed to get regular mail service.  While he understood the darker tendencies of human behavior in power he could never have anticipated the magnitude, directness and speed of electronic communication nor the resultant power of celebrity and immense wealth.  While the US has been showing some affects of these issues in past elections, the 2016 US election cycle has brought about a unique, unprecedented circumstance which likely will become a watershed for political, social and civic thought and conversation.

In 2016, Donald Trump received the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States.  He used his celebrity to bully about a dozen reasonably qualified persons during the primary election campaign cycle and win the nomination. 

This written work is not about endorsing other candidates or parties;  it is about recognizing that in 2016 we have experienced the Nation’s first failure of James Madison’s theory that a large representative republic would likely weed out non-qualified candidates for important political office, power and leadership.  The author of this work does not endorse and will not vote for such an unqualified candidate for office. 

I encourage you to exercise your right to vote for the many candidates running for the various federal, state and local offices in November 2016.  Because I think the republican candidate for president in 2016, Donald Trump, is such an extreme variance from those in the pool of the “best minds available in American” and does not reflect our core American behavior, I ask you to join me and not vote for Donald Trump.