“Both parties instead hoped to crush the other in the national election of 1800. The campaign rhetoric became especially dire and bloody under a Republican administration, ‘murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, the nation black with crimes.’ A Republican journalist countered by denouncing Adams as ‘one of the most egregious fools in the continent,’ who meant to become an American king. Republicans and Federalists brawled in city streets in competitions to sing songs and display their flags.”—Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, W.W. Norton Co., 2016, p. 424
Sound familiar? For those who need refreshers on our history, in 1800 Republicans (not to be confused with today’s Republicans) were the party of state’s rights and limited government led by Thomas Jefferson, and Federalists were the party of a strong central government led by a powerful executive, exemplified by John Adams. The Federalists were leery of pure democracy which they felt led to anarchy and mob rule. The Republicans were leery of centralized government and a strong executive which they believed would lead to a monarchy. Our constitution can be viewed as a great compromise between the two viewpoints which gave us such arcane features as the electoral college and counting slaves as three-fifths of a person.
Now, almost 220 years later we have the specter of a president who warns that if Democrats are elected there will be an increase in crime and a radical move to the left towards socialism. The Democrats warn that if Trump is re-elected, he will have free reign to rule as a king. Both sides have their list of horrors if the other wins. 1800 all over again.
It is over a year to go before the November 2020 election. But you can already see both side’s playbook: The Republicans mongering fear by screaming the “S” word, and the Democrats mongering fear by screaming “Unhinged Dictator!” Will we find middle ground? Hard to see how in this polarized environment. But as our Commander in Chief likes to say: “We’ll see what happens.”