CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Exploration Legacy Is Not Over Yet

As perhaps you know, I’m now the editor of the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, “We Proceeded On.” That’s one of the refrains of William Clark’s journal of the 28-month expedition that was the brainchild of the great Jefferson. Whatever else was true, virtually every day (there were 1,123 of them), Clark announced that “we proceeded on” — from St. Louis to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The journal comes out four times per year. My fourth issue will appear in about a month. I’m so excited about it that I want to tell you what we have discovered, and I want to urge you to become members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and in so doing subscribe to the journal, which we Lewis and Clark obsessives call WPO, we proceeded on.

Lewis and Clark were explorers, which meant that they regarded themselves as the first white people to see whole swaths of the American West. Lewis, in particular, wanted to be first — first to see the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers; first to view the Great Falls of the Missouri, which Lewis regarded as second only to Niagara Falls in sublimity; and maybe greater, first to bestride the source of what he called “the mighty and heretofore deemed endless Missouri River.” They were traveling through what Lewis called a landscape “2,000 miles in width upon which the foot of civilized man has never trodden.”

The word “discovery” is now pretty suspect. One person’s new discovery is another’s ancient homeland. Lewis and Clark were not traveling in a vacuum, no matter what they wanted us to believe. They depended on Native American informants, Native American guides (and I don’t mean Sacagawea), and Native American maps drawn with sticks and mud on the ground, or with charcoal on animal skins, and occasionally on paper.

Cartographers have identified at least 10 places in the journals where the captains talk about the maps that their Indian hosts produced to help them figure out the lay of the land and to know which tributaries and mountain ranges stood in their path to the Pacific.

A couple of years ago, a graduate student named Christopher Steinke, then at the University of New Mexico, discovered one of those maps. It was stored in the archives of the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris. Steinke was not a Lewis and Clark scholar. He was searching for North American indigenous maps at the Bibliotheque nationale when he stumbled upon one by an Arikara man named Piaheto or Arketarnarshar or Too Né. He wrote an article about it, with more emphasis on indigenous than on Lewis and Clark, in the outstanding William and Mary Quarterly.

As you know, every year I lead a cultural tour on the Lewis and Clark Trail in Montana and Idaho. We canoe through the White Cliffs section of the Missouri River east of Fort Benton, Mont., for three days, and then — after a hotel room and hot showers — we spend another three days hiking up on the Lolo Trail, the most pristine part of the entire national Lewis and Clark Trail. One of my favorite young guides, an archaeologist named Kevin O’Briant, told me at a place called Eagle Camp that he wanted me to see a map he had come across.

I was stunned. The map was made by Too Né, who traveled with the expedition for a few weeks in the autumn of 1804 in what’s now North Dakota. He went upriver with Lewis and Clark to try to make peace with the Mandan Indians, with whom the Arikara had been at war. He tried to inform Clark of some of the important landmarks, including sacred places, on that stretch of the Missouri River between today’s North Dakota and South Dakota border and the earthlodge villages at the mouth of the Knife River in central North Dakota.

In his journal Clark said he was indifferent to the geographic, historical and sacred information Too Né was explaining to him through an interpreter. But the discovery of the map shows that Clark was listening more closely than he let on, and Too Né’s information did actually find its way into Clark’s journal.

All of this is spectacular news. It’s one of the most important discoveries in Lewis and Clark studies for a generation, since folks in Louisville, Ky., found a packet of 51 William Clark letters in an attic in the late 1980s. It may be more important because it sheds important light on the expedition’s dependence on Native American maps, on the previously neglected role of Too Né as a Native American guide, interpreter and diplomat and on the significance of the expedition’s encounter with the Arikara in northern South Dakota.

When Kevin showed me the map, I immediately decided to dedicate a full issue of “We Proceeded On” to the Too Né map. I asked Kevin to write the lead article. He has written a wonderful essay about the ways in which Native American maps read the land differently from Euro-American Enlightenment maps. We’re publishing the map in a pull-out centerfold. I call it Lewis and Clark porn.

I asked the two leading Lewis and Clark cartographers, both eminent individuals, Herman Viola and John Logan Allen, to assess the map. Before fulfilling my request, they made me send them wonderful huge laminated copies of the map. Their assessments are amazingly generous and insightful.

I interviewed Chris Steinke, the discoverer of the map. I found Jefferson’s letter of condolence to the Arikara — Too Né visited the Great Redheaded Father in Washington, D.C., and unfortunately died there on April 6, 1806. And I found a multipage description of Too Né in the nation’s capital by a painter, man of letters, playwright and actor William Dunlap. And I wrote an essay about the ways Too Né’s map tracks with Clark’s journal from Oct. 8 to Nov. 10, 1804.

This will be one of the most important issues of “We Proceeded On” in a very long time, perhaps forever. I even got an artist friend of mine, Katrina Case-Soper, to paint a courtroom-like watercolor of Too Né in the Washington boarding house where he stayed in the weeks before his death.

You can sense how excited I am about this and how proud I am to serve as editor for this critically important moment in the long history of Lewis and Clark studies. I hope you will subscribe to WPO starting immediately. Just go to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage website. Their headquarters is in Great Falls, Mont. You will find more information about all of this on our website.

A couple of weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to one of the sacred places on Too Né’s map. It’s called Medicine Rock, located near the Cannonball River in southwestern North Dakota. It’s a lonely outcropping in the middle of the middle of nowhere. Virtually no non-Indian North Dakotans know that Medicine Rock exists.

It was a windy, cold, gray, winter day on the northern Great Plains, with ground blizzarding on the narrow two-lane roads, followed by gravel roads, followed by a two-trail path in the middle of an immense grassland. I had to walk a mile into a stiff wind, wind chill about 10 below zero, to get to the sacred place. And there, in this nondescript bit of sandstone in the infinite expanse of the Great Plains, where a protective chain link fence surrounds the perimeter of the Medicine Rock site, I found prayer bundles — thumb-sized plugs of tobacco wrapped in bright cotton handkerchiefs — tied to the fence.

Think about this. It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and I got to the site partly by using the Google earth app on my smartphone. We need these  reminders that there are still sacred places all around us and that the white history of America, particularly the Great Plains, is very recent.

Robert Frost was right. “The land was ours before we were the land’s.”

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — What Could We Possibly Really Know?

I get so tired of the Sally Hemings story. At almost every public presentation I give in the costume and character of Thomas Jefferson, someone sashays up to the microphone in the aisle and says, “Tell us about Sally Henning” or some other slight botching of her name. “Or tell us about your family, and I mean all of your family?”

I go ahead and provide an answer in character, but I want to ask, “What do you know about this exactly and why do you care and what do you think it means for our understanding of Thomas Jefferson?” But I don’t.

Some people think Jefferson raped Sally Hemings, repeatedly, over a period that may have amounted to 34 years. If you listen to this program you know Jenkinson’s law: All bets are off below the waist. So I could not swear that Jefferson did not rape Sally Hemings.

Once you learn that the sportcaster Marv Albert likes to bite his lovers on the backside, that presidential consultant Dick Morris enjoyed sucking the toes of the prostitutes he hired and that Bill Clinton liked to play hide the cigar with Monica Lewinsky, you just have to accept that human beings are aroused by a very wide and strange set of practices (of which these examples are in fact tame).

Still, I find it virtually impossible to imagine that Jefferson ever forced himself on Sally Hemings. But we weren’t there, of course, and we have no way of knowing what went on behind those tightly closed doors. It seems to me that slavery had to produce psychological damage in a highly evolved human being like Thomas Jefferson. It may have played itself out sexually in ways that we would rather not know or face.

The British explorer John Speke, one of the questors for the source of the Nile, like to eat the fetuses of the big game animals he killed in Africa and India.

De gustibus non est disputandum. There is no accounting for taste.

Jefferson may not have forced himself on Sally Hemings, but it depends on what you mean by force. He owned her. She was his property. He could sell her at any time. He could whip her. He could give her as a hospitality token to his male guests for the night. This very often happened in the plantation South.

Look at it this way. If Jefferson made it clear that he intended to have sex with Sally Hemings, but never would have overpowered her with his physical strength, it could still be rape — if she didn’t want his sexual attention. It might be rape even if she did, given the vast differential between his status and hers, the profound difference in power and freedom of movement and action, the implicit threat of what might happen if you disappoint the master and the myriad ways in which the slaveholders were able to coerce their slaves to conform to their habits and notions.

It may have begun in France with some tacit coercion — what choice did she really have, so far away from the enslaved community in Virginia? — and over time morphed into something that can be said to resemble “consensual intimacy.” Or she may have been both vulnerable and impressionable when it started — more seduction than coercion.

She was after all just 14 years old when she arrived in Paris. Jefferson was 44. He was a famous man, a great man, the ambassador to France, the author of the celebrated Declaration of Independence. It might have been intoxicating to receive the attentions, possibly romantic attentions, of one of the most elegant and fastidious men of the Enlightenment.

In our time and according to our codes, a 44-year-old man having sex with a 14- year-old girl is regarded automatically as rape — statutory rape. Think of the revulsion most people felt when they learned of Roy Moore’s alleged statutory proclivities in Alabama.

Today we automatically think 14 is too young for consensual sex with an adult, and we have a special place in our Inferno for men who prey on young impressionable women and men: preachers, priests, college professors, politicians, coaches, team doctors, Scout leaders.

I’m with John Adams, in this as in almost all of his judgments about human nature. When he read about the Sally Hemings story in the newspapers — this was THE scandal of the years 1802-04, during Jefferson’s first term as president, he said he could not of course be sure that Jefferson was guilty of this transgression. And in fact, it seemed out of character for the graceful and exquisite Jefferson.

BUT it was, said Adams, precisely what one would expect in the miasma of slavery. Owning another human being had its implications, all transgressive, and there was no good reason to try to draw some sort of line at the sexual frontier.

 

 

That seems right to me.

My own theory, and I do not say this to try in any way to exonerate Jefferson, is that Sally Hemings was a shrewd young woman. Her mother had been the mistress of a white man. Her grandmother had been the mistress of a white man. By making herself available to Jefferson, she increased her status and improved her life: better clothing, better food, a better job at Monticello (housekeeper inside the mansion), better sleeping quarters, some spending money, better doctors, etc.

And we know from the testimony of her son Madison, from his 1873 interview in an Ohio newspaper, that his mother struck a hard bargain with Jefferson while they were still in France, where she was free under international law, and therefore did not have to return to Virginia with her master Jefferson. According to Madison Hemings, Jefferson agreed to free her brother, James, once he taught other slaves the art of French cookery, and he agreed to free any children he might have with Sally Hemings.

And he did. Two walked away from Monticello and passed seamlessly into the white world. The other two were freed in Jefferson’s will.

In other words, I give Sally Hemings credit for being savvy and strategic.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t love Thomas Jefferson or learn to love him. But she knew how to look out for her interests and particularly those of her children.

If this is true, it doesn’t exonerate Jefferson from abusing his power and status to take as bedfellow someone who had very limited options in that situation and someone who today would be regarded as criminally too young to enter into such a bargain, no matter how shrewd she was. In other words, it might still be rape in some sense of that term. If true, it certainly reveals something fascinating and very troubling in Jefferson’s sexual persona and indeed character.

We need to be troubled. But we also need to be fair, circumspect and to seek understanding rather than to swagger in judgment. The DNA makes it a near certainty that Jefferson was the father of one or more of Sally Hemings’ children, but the genetic code does not get us very far into this story because it does not tell us anything about that most mysterious of human mysteries, just what their relationship was behind doors that we have not been invited to open.

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Conflict Of Interest

Thomas Jefferson had many opportunities to speculate in western lands. Many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, were engaged in land speculation beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Jefferson quietly refused because he knew that at some point he might have to “legislate” for the public domain, and he did not want to be guilty of conflict of interest or even to give the appearance of possibly being guilty of conflict of interest.

An exaggerated image of Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese.
An exaggerated image of Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese.

Jefferson needed the money that such speculation might have brought to his always troubled finances, but he chose to stay aloof from such temptations.

When Elder John Leland of Massachusetts sent President Jefferson the world’s largest cheese in 1802 — 1,235 pounds, 4 feet wide, 15 inches thick — Jefferson immediately sent the pastor a check for $200.

Not the largest, but world’s dumbest cheese.
Not the largest, but world’s dumbest cheese.

Jefferson understood that the so-called “mammoth cheese” was an innocent and lovely gift, a kind of gimcrack or prodigy, and that Leland had no political agenda (unlike today’s American Dairy Association, for example), but he wanted to maintain his principle of not accepting gifts, however whimsical or harmless, because A, it would set a bad precedent, and B, accepting such gifts might constitute a slippery slope. Integrity and republican virtue were the very basis of Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a republic.

These are just two examples of Jefferson’s lifelong habit of ethical high-mindedness as a government official. He understood what is at stake in a republican society.

So:

  • President Trump’s hotels, including the Trump International in the District of Columbia, are bustling with guests, banquets, receptions and barroom meetings. His Mar-a-Lago resort is bringing in record profits. These facilities are filled with foreign diplomats, princes and foreign government representatives who could just as easily stay at any one of the hundreds of hotels in Washington, D.C., or the scores of five-star resorts in Florida. This in spite of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution: “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” — Article I, Section 9, Clause 8.
  • The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, we have learned, has conducted meetings in the White House with bankers and business groups from whom he has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars for his personal business holdings in New York City.
  • The president’s daughter, Ivanka, has a product line that was granted several trademarks in China on the same day that she sat in on a meeting between President Xi Jinping of China and her father at Mar-a-Lago. Hmmm.

This list could be much longer.

Even if these transactions could be interpreted as “perfectly innocent and/or coincidental,” the appearance of conflict of interest, of the president’s smug indifference to ethical norms and the laws of the United States, including clauses of the U.S. Constitution itself, puts PresidentTrump at the far other end of the spectrum from President Jefferson, and virtually every other president in American history.

The only thing worse than these improprieties and (perhaps) crimes is the steadfast refusal of the Congress of the United States to hold the president and his family accountable.

To those who wish to argue that President Trump’s bombastic and narcissistic style is a wise strategy to “shake up the dysfunctional world of Washington, D.C.,” I ask, what is the beneficial purpose of this brand of ethical negligence? How does the republic benefit from the Trump family’s determination to use their time in the White House to line their own pockets and increase the profits of their businesses?

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Big Military Parades

President Trump wants a big military parade, the kind one saw in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the kind one sees today in North Korea.

It might be useful to compare that notion with the republican dignity of the third president, Thomas Jefferson.

President Jefferson in his White House Office with Meriwether Lewis.
President Jefferson in his White House Office with Meriwether Lewis.

Jefferson broke with the habit of his two predecessors and sent his annual messages by courier to Congress. He believed that appearing in person before Congress smacked of monarchy, European court culture and a false aggrandizement of what an American president should represent in a free society.

He walked to the Capitol in Washington to deliver his first inaugural address March 4, 1801. He wore plain gentlemen’s clothes, eschewed all pompous ceremonial rituals and delivered his address so nearly inaudibly and with such meekness that those who gathered to hear his vision of America had to go out on the street afterward to buy printed copies of the speech. When he finished his address, Jefferson walked back to the boarding house where he was staying and took his seat at the foot of the table, farthest from the fire, in his accustomed way.

Jefferson met White House visitors in plain, sometimes slightly shabby, clothes.  In fact, he caused an international incident when he greeted British Minister Anthony Merry in his house slippers, his linen “none too clean,” wearing an ill-fitting great coat.

Jefferson rode his horse freely and without a military escort around the District of Columbia, often stopping at greengrocers to inspect their fresh vegetables. He corresponded with average Americans in a frank and thoughtful manner. He called the presidency “splendid misery” and on the eve of his voluntary retirement after two terms, he wrote, “Never did a prisoner released from his chains feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.”

Jefferson understood political theater, but rather than use his office to puff himself up or compensate for a lack of understanding of the constitutional process, he carefully shaped his public life to remind himself and those around him that while he was perhaps the first citizen of the country (for a limited time), he was not king, dictator or high priest. To his Postmaster General Gideon Granger, Jefferson wrote, “our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very unexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”

That’s what it means to live in a republic.

Jefferson knew how much discipline it takes to maintain a free society. He knew that “the tendency of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” He understood that the genius of America is undermined whenever our leaders forget that sovereignty resides in the people, not in their own persons or their short tenures as stewards of the people’s will.

CLAY JENKINSON: Poor John Adams: Right And Wrong As Always

Basic chronology:

  • June 7, 1776: Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee presents resolution of independence to the Second Continental Congress.
  • June 11: Committee of five appointed to draft a declaration explaining America’s right to secede: Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson.

The others drop out in the following order: Sherman, Livingston, Franklin and Adams. Jefferson signs and undertakes to write the document, “consulting neither book nor pamphlet.” (Showoff!)

  • June 28: Committee presents Jefferson’s draft to the Continental Congress.
  • July 2: Congress passes resolution of independence — the die is cast.
  • July 4: After two days of intense debate, Congress adopts a chastened (TJ said mutilated) version of Jefferson’s declaration of independence.
  • Aug. 2: There was never a formal signing ceremony. The document certainly wasn’t signed on the Fourth of July. Once the engraved copy had been prepared, most delegates signed on or around Aug. 2, 1776.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …

The great John Adams, who played a much more significant role in the American Revolution than did Jefferson, developed both a short-term and later a long-term reaction to the events of the first week of July 1776. In the moment, overwhelmed with pride and revolutionary excitement, Adams wrote a letter to his “dearest friend,” Abigail, his wife, on July 3. The great letter contains the following exuberant paragraph:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Well, sir, you were half-right. At the instant when this was all unfolding, Adams rightly predicted the ways in which the American people would come to celebrate the birth of their republic. But he was off by two days on the celebration date.

for a list of OSHA violations, see …
for a list of OSHA violations, see …

Much later, when Jefferson’s fame and popularity had soared beyond that of many of the other figures of the Revolution, including Adams, Adams attempted to restore the balance in his own favor. He made it clear that he could have written the Declaration of Independence if he had wanted to but that, in an act of selfless nobility, he handed the assignment off to young Jefferson. He suggested in letters that there was nothing original in Jefferson’s document; in fact, Jefferson had merely copied from a range of state and local declarations to produce his synthesis. And when he was truly upset with his former “protege,” the earthy Adams raged, “You have run away with” the Revolution.

Among other things, exquisite penmanship. Genius: “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”
Among other things, exquisite penmanship. Genius: “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”

All that historians can conclude is this. Jefferson had nothing to do with America’s preference for the fourth of July over the second of July — unless you credit what even Adams called Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity for expression” for lifting what might have been a routine state paper into global immortality.

Jefferson did not seek to write the Declaration of Independence. In fact, he tried to talk his way out of the assignment.

The simple fact is that on the Fourth of July 1776, one of the handful of most important documents in the history of the world was adopted by a group of principled intellectuals from Britain’s colonies in North America. If you start to make a list of the most important and influential documents ever written — the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights — there can be no list that does not place Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in the top 10, indeed top five.

Why?

Because Jefferson had spent a lifetime to hard reading and composing lucid prose in order to be ready when the moment came. As a young man, he read 12 to 15 hours a day. Doesn’t leave much time for firecrackers. Jefferson had a genius for piercing through the immediate to the universal significance of things. The Revolution wasn’t finally about Britain. “It was about the aspirations of humankind.” Jefferson was a humanist in the profoundest sense of the term.

The irony is that Jefferson would probably have been happy to steer fireworks, parades and bratwurst to the Second of July and devote the Fourth of July to seminars on liberty, a thoughtful toast with a fine glass of Bordeaux, a rigorous checklist survey of how well human liberty is doing against the forces of creeping bureaucracy, regulation, taxation and big government.

He never did figure out how to fire off a Roman candle.

So today, July 2, 2017, I lift my glass to irascible, contentious, prickly, earthy, vain, self-pitying and unbearably honest and virtuous John Adams. Let the parades begin.

It may be worth noting that in 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day — on the FOURTH OF JULY.

Checkmate, Mr. Adams.

CLAY JENKINSON: The Death Of Decorum In The White House

As a scholar not a partisan, I have been trying to think if any president in American history has behaved in a less presidential way than Donald Trump.

Andrew Jackson was a frontier ruffian in some respects, a loud populist, and during his inauguration March 4, 1829, his rural supporters trashed the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt called his enemies colorful names (he said McKinley had the backbone of a chocolate éclair, and he called William Jennings Bryan a human trombone). His roughhousing with his rambunctious children in the White House raised the eyebrows of the Victorian stuff shirts of his time. As president, Roosevelt rattled the nerves of Charles Elliot, the president of Harvard, when he showed up at his old alma mater packing a loaded pistol. When one of his old pals from the Dakota Bad Lands fretted that he might not be admitted into the White House through the usual doors, TR urged him next time just to shoot out one of the windows. Probably he was joking.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Bill Clinton famously spoke with foreign diplomats while receiving oral ministrations in the Oval Office from Monica Lewinski and fiddling creatively with cigars. He was not the only president to have opportunistic sex in the White House, of course, but his sexual style always felt a little like it belonged in a trailer park. JFK is said to have taken LSD in the White House with one of his girlfriends, in the middle of the workday. One hopes it was a relatively quiet day during the nuclear-tipped Cold War.

The always elegant Thomas Jefferson.
The always elegant Thomas Jefferson.

Most presidents either have or adopt proper Presidential deportment. Think of Ronald Reagan (a conservative populist) or George Bush senior (a patrician) insisting on always wearing a coat and tie in the Oval Office, never propping their feet on the famous Resolute desk, and invariably speaking, at least in public, with decorum, a careful and heightened diction and a demeanor that reflects an awareness that they were the prime representative of one the most powerful and important nations in history — the republic of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, and elegant Obama.

Trump mocks a disabled reporter.
Trump mocks a disabled reporter.

No. 45, Donald Trump, behaves like a rich frat boy, your crazy unfiltered uncle at the Thanksgiving table, the loudmouth at the end of the bar at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the golfer who wraps his 7-iron around a tree when he misses an easy shot. Trump behaves like a psychologically damaged 70-year-old man trapped in the persona of a spoiled 13-year-old adolescent, a reality TV star who got paid millions to be brash, rude, demeaning, and narcissistic.

And here’s the astonishing thing. For about 35 percent of the American people, it works! In fact, some significant percentage of the electorate thinks this is precisely what American most needs. When you mock a disabled person by waving your arms in what you think is a spastic parody, declare that your wealth and celebrity allow you to grab women by their sexual parts with impunity, when you call Mexicans “hombres,” shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way during a photo op or call terrorists who just blew up the bodies of several dozen British young people “losers, a bunch of losers, OK,” you would seem to prove yourself unfit for the presidency of the United States. Who really wants to defend such behavior? And yet, this man who has never tried to hide his core persona was elected president of the United States in 2016.

I have close personal friends, decent, morally mature and sensitive men and women, who defend Donald Trump’s antics and hijinks and say that he is the victim of “fake news” and a liberal national media that is indeed the “enemy of the American people.”

This phenomenon is simply mystifying. Trump’s behavior gets denounced every day, almost every hour of every day now, but I’m much more interested in trying to understand it, or more particularly trying to understand why there is about a third of the population that defends such loutish and unpresidential behavior or even fist pumps it.

If your preacher talked this way, would you defend it? If a high school English teacher talked this way, would you defend it? If Obama had talked this way, would you have defended it? If your best friend talked this way, would you defend it?

I heard a commentator named Dylan Byers on one of the talk shows last week say that we will never recover our national social and political equilibrium until we figure out why about half the nation is so pissed off, so utterly disillusioned with America’s path, so profoundly fed up, cynical and eager to say not much more than “up yours” to the rest of us, that they routinely, even invariably defend the least presidential character in American history.

I suppose you could argue that even Thomas Jefferson had his moments. He deliberately ruffled the feathers of British ambassador Anthony Merry with his pell mell dinner protocols. Occasionally, for effect, or in philosophical absent-mindedness, he greeted White House visitors in his slippers. He blustered about Spain’s colonial presence in the western hemisphere and rattled the saber towards Madrid and Mexico City from time to time, knowing that it was highly unlikely that Spain would take the bait and actually wage war against the United States. Weary of the opposition press of his time, Jefferson eventually suggested that we divide newspapers into four sections: truth, probabilities, possibilities, and bald lies.

That’s the sum total of Jefferson’s rudenesses. Probably no president in our history had more elegance, and a finer sense of etiquette than Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s world was essentially no different from a Jane Austen novel: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Emma.” Everyone is polite, euphemistic, civil, and nonconfrontational. Whatever gets resolved — and, of course, they faced the same problems all humans always face — has to be resolved by indirection, strained politeness and nuance. It’s hard to know when someone is enraged in Jane Austen’s world because they always unburden themselves using their “inside voices” and employing complete sentences. Or they faint.

Thomas Jefferson was an exquisitely civilized man. He did not Tweet or hold impromptu news conferences or mouth platitudes with tedious repetition of every phrase. “We’re going to be great again. I tell you great again. I mean great folks. Really great. So great.”

Jefferson sat down in front of a plain sheet of expensive paper and the best writing instruments of his time. He thought through just what he wanted to express before he touched pen to paper, paused to regroup between sentences, tried hard to phrase his views in a way that would find harmony in the letter’s recipient.

When he disagreed strongly with someone, Jefferson invariably attempted to lighten the tension by saying, “If we disagree, let us disagree as rational friends.” This was a personal application of the famous utterance from his First Inaugural Address: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”

Much later, Jefferson wrote one of his most beautiful letters to a man named Charles Thompson. The letter epitomizes the soul of the kind of individual you want to be president of the United Sates.

“It is a singular anxiety which some people have,” Jefferson wrote, “that we should all think alike. Would the world be more beautiful were all our faces alike, were our tempers, our talents, our tastes, our forms, our wishes, aversions and pursuits cast exactly in the same mould? If no varieties existed in the animal, vegetable or mineral creation, but all moved strictly uniform, catholic and orthodox, what a world of physical and moral monotony would it be!”

Well, I guess you cannot Tweet that.

I’m Clay Jenkinson.

CLAY JENKINSON: Erasing The Past

Students at Columbia University recently put a Ku Klux Klan hood over the statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands in front of the journalism school.

The group, known as Mobilized African Diaspora, declared that “Jefferson’s statue makes it clear that black students are merely tokens of the university.” MAD argued that “venerating” Jefferson “validates rape, sexual violence and racism,” which they say is at odds with the university’s pledge to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all of its students. They are demanding the removal of the repugnant statue of the author of the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty and the Bill for the Government of the Western Territories.

The subtlety of righteousness: Jefferson with his KKK hood at Columbia University.
The subtlety of righteousness: Jefferson with his KKK hood at Columbia University.

So let me get this straight. Jefferson must go, because he was a slaveholder, but Alexander Hamilton gets to stay at Columbia, even though he despised democracy, distrusted the people, sought to overturn the election of 1800 after the New York results were in, called the Constitution a “shilly shally” thing, advocated a hereditary monarchy for the United States, wanted U.S. senators to serve for life and believed that adventuresome militarism was a primary path to American glory. Hamilton attended Columbia, then known as King’s College, before he became history’s greatest advocate for handing America over to what he called “the rich and the well-born.”

Students shame Jefferson with Post-its at the University of Missouri, on land purchased from Napoleon by Thomas Jefferson in 1803.
Students shame Jefferson with Post-its at the University of Missouri, on land purchased from Napoleon by Thomas Jefferson in 1803.

A KKK hood over Jefferson’s head at one of the premier academic institutions of the United States? Columbia, I thought you taught your students to think, to discuss, to reflect, to ponder, to debate, to imagine, to explore rather than merely to posture in righteousness. Really, the students of Columbia are now joining the new American Culture of Outrage? I thought Columbia was above cliché.

Here are five reasons this is a bad idea.

The “racist scum” who wrote the most important 35 words in the English language: “We hold these truths be be self-evident …”
The “racist scum” who wrote the most important 35 words in the English language: “We hold these truths be be self-evident …”

First, if you cover Thomas Jefferson with a KKK hood, what’s left for the KKK? There is a proportionality issue here. Jefferson did some ignoble things, but he never burned crosses on the lawns of his enemies. He never turned attack dogs loose on black men accused of a crime. He never burned down the barns of Catholics and Jews in Virginia. He never sent thugs to beat up individuals who called for general emancipation. He never set fire to polling places, tortured prisoners or joined a squad of sheeted goons on horseback who ran down a black man accused of a crime he may or may not have committed, tied him to a tree, gouged out his eyes and castrated him with a butcher knife and then poured kerosene on him and lit the pyre. For that matter, he never put a hood over the statue of someone he disagreed with.

Second, there is no way we can erase the past. Slavery doesn’t go away even if you pluck down Jefferson’s statue. Jefferson’s life and achievement are inextricably bound up with slavery, but in this he is not alone. To be logically consistent, we’d have burn images of George Washington (the strategic genius who won the Revolutionary War), James Madison (the father of the U.S. Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights); James Monroe, who declared that the Western Hemisphere was off-limits to any future European colonialism; John Marshall (perhaps the greatest justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court); and Patrick Henry, our greatest revolutionary orator.

Wipe them off the map, them and many more, but that doesn’t change the fact that the United States was complicit in the systematic enslavement of millions of Africans and African-Americans between 1619 and 1865, and our civilization has not achieved racial equilibrium yet. I’d rather keep the Jefferson statue (and the Robert E. Lee and the Stonewall Jackson and the Jefferson Davis statues, too) and argue in front of them every day until we make things right, than rip them all down and pretend it never happened.

Third, when J. Robert Oppenheimer was being tried in 1954 for some radical associations he had formed during the 1930s, long before he was asked to head up the Manhattan Project, his countless defenders invoked what they called “the whole man theory.”

Taking Oppenheimer’s life and achievement in their entirety, his degrees, his books, his teaching, his research in quantum mechanics, his masterful management of the most significant engineering project in American history, his mentoring of young scientists, his profound ethical musings on America’s role in creating the greatest weapon of mass destruction the world had ever seen — given all of that, how much weight should we give to one or two minor incidents that did no harm to America’s security but did not exhibit Oppenheimer in the best possible light?

Taking Jefferson’s life and achievement in their entirety, what weight should we give to slavery? If we apply the whole man theory, does his complicity in slavery force us to erase him from Mount Rushmore, to raze Monticello, to throw paint on his statue at the College of William and Mary, to rename Jefferson high schools for someone better?

Or on balance, do we still need, respect, and even celebrate Jefferson, in spite of slavery and Sally Hemings, for the long list of his undeniable contributions to American civilization, from the Library of Congress to the University of Virginia?

The Declaration he wrote in 1776 did more to free American slaves than all the pamphlets of all the abolitionists combined. Plant the seed of universal liberty, and the rest is sure — sooner or later — to follow.

Surely, Jefferson can never again be seen as a flawless American hero. But to make him a leering, raping, horse-whipping fiend like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Simon Legree is as silly as it is easy for those who would rather dismiss than discuss the blemishes of American history.

Fourth, what makes these students believe they are morally superior to Thomas Jefferson or any number of other figures from American history? What part of the human condition do they think they have avoided? I’m with Jesus: “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” All you have to do is get off your soapbox long enough to ask, “What will the future say of us?” — and if you are like me, you will just want to shrink away to your fracking rig, or your air conditioned Walmart in Phoenix, or your spring break in Cabo or your plastic water bottle, or perhaps start removing your clothing made in Taiwan or China under labor conditions we have not permitted in this our happy republic since 1905.

Really? We can be righteous, we who have caused the vast majority of the world’s scientists to warn that we are edging to global climate catastrophe?

I’m with Hamlet: “Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping?”

Finally and most important, a mature response to the dark side of human behavior is not to turn away in smug superiority and disgust, but to wrestle with those impossible questions of human imperfection.

Why did LBJ jeopardize his magnificent vision of a Great Society to wage a war in Southeast Asia he knew to be unwinnable the moment he inherited it? LBJ’s decision left 58,000 American dead, a million or more Vietnamese, and yet he said from the beginning in 1965 that the war could not possibly be won.

Just for a moment, compare that legacy and those numbers with Jefferson’s admittedly damaging relationship with slavery. Why did FDR put more than 120,000 Japanese, many of them Japanese-Americans, in internment camps during World War II? How could Bill Clinton’s sole dream, from the age of 16, have been to become president of the United States, and then he jeopardized the whole progressive dream to diddle interns? How could Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered one of the handful of greatest speeches of the 20th century, have plagiarized his doctoral dissertation? How could Theodore Roosevelt have dishonorably discharged 167 African-American soldiers for a riot in Brownsville, Texas, when even he was pretty sure they were not guilty of the crime?

The list goes on and on. Shakespeare said, “We are all men frail, and capable of frailty.” George Washington told his niece, Nelly, there is something combustible in human nature, so we ought not play with the matches of temptation.

We humans are strange, paradoxical and wayward creatures, full of sound and fury and whopping moments of darkness and self-destruction. As Huck Finn said, “Humans beings can be awful cruel to one another.”

Who shall scape whipping?  Not I, that’s for sure. My great mentor Everett C. Albers always said in moments like this, “Judgment is Easy, Understanding is Hard.”

Amen.

I’m Clay Jenkinson.

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Our Gardens

When I moved back to North Dakota in 2005, I determined to plant a vegetable garden. I moved back to the Great Plains just in case the world collapsed and when it did, I wanted to be near farm country — where I could, like “The Martian,” grow just enough potatoes to survive.

The moment I got all the boxes into my house, I drove to Fergus Falls, Minn., to my grandparents’ old dairy farm, to get some of their rhubarb. They were long since dead, and the farm now belonged to the city of Fergus Falls, but I managed to dig up a few rhubarb roots before they bulldozed everything and transplanted them back at my house here in Bismarck, N.D. For me, this was as important as an ancient Roman transferring the family’s household gods — the Lares and the Penates — to the new hearth.

I’ve harvested rhubarb from that seed stock every year since. Every time I bite into a rhubarb pie or rhubarb bars, I think of my grandmother Rhoda Straus. She kept a garden all of her life, not as a privileged hobby, but out of actual necessity. As someone who lived through the Depression and the Dust Bowl, she needed to grow as much of her own food as possible — every single year — and then to can enough of it to get her family of five through the winter.

She’s my hero: Rhoda Straus. She was as close to a Jeffersonian as anyone I’ve ever met. She paid her taxes, voted every time, belonged to three or four church circles, made quilts, afghans, clothes, draperies, scarves, Christmas decorations, helped organize the annual farm bureau picnic. She had perfect penmanship, spoke and wrote in complete sentences, read all the county brochures on self-improvement and never borrowed a dime. She was what O. E. Rølvaag, quoting the Old Testament, once called a giant in the Earth.

My mother, who is a remarkable woman, walked away from Jeffersonian agrarianism when she was 18 and never looked back — not once. She wouldn’t crochet or make a quilt if you paid her by the inch. When she sees me out weeding my garden, or bringing in vast bushels of tomatoes to blanch and can, she can barely hold back a sneer. At her very-most generous, Mother will say, “Better you than me,” and from time to time, she explains that farmers’ markets are the best of both worlds: high quality, organic, locally grown food — and somebody else does all the work. But she loves, even covets, my creamed corn, and I have begun counting the frozen in my chest freezer before and after she visits.

I am not quite sure why I chose to leap over my mother’s indifference and back into the arms of my maternal grandmother, but I’m not sorry. My favorite meal of the whole year — whether I dine at my favorite restaurant in front of the Pantheon in Rome or at Delmonico’s steakhouse in Manhattan — comes about Aug. 15 when I come home from work, walk out into the garden, snap off two cobs of ripe sweet corn, pull three pear-shaped tomatoes off their vines, grab a cucumber and pull a baseball-sized onion out of the warm earth. I wash them in the kitchen sink, boil the corn, slice up the rest, add a little feta — if I’m feeling frisky — and some zesty Italian dressing, and then I eat what I regard as a perfect meal.

The taste of this salad to the one you get in a restaurant is the difference of hearing Paul McCartney sing “Hey Jude” live in concert or listening to the song on an 8-track tape that went through the wash. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Matthew (13:31). It is, in its own humble way, a kind of agrarian Declaration of Independence. It is to make a sacrament out of the mingling of hands in the soil, modest little seeds, water and the sun.

Farmers are dreamers — and gardeners, too. I have big plans for this year’s garden. I’ve been buying and ordering my seeds. Yesterday, after work, I started up my lawn mower (first pull) and my rototiller (7,000th pull) then, like Romulus among the Seven Hills, I made one round with the tiller to claim my precinct and got started. I spent part of the evening trying to decide where to plant what. I will start my tomatoes this weekend inside — this is North Dakota, where you don’t dare plant a tomato outside until after Memorial Day — including, this year, several Joe Cocker tomato seeds given to me by my friends in western Colorado. I’m not even sure what that means — Joe Cocker tomatoes — but I plan to make them flourish with a little help from my friends. I planted potatoes on Good Friday, as the old wives recommend.

So where does Jefferson come into this tale of Rhoda Straus’ grandson? I think I speak for my friend, David Swenson, the semipermanent — well, you know what — when I say that Jefferson has changed both of our lives in all sorts of ways, including out in the garden. First, we keep careful records, thanks to the master. Second, we experiment with new crops and new varieties even when we know that might not work out. Third, we both truly believe that those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God. And perhaps most of all, we take solace from Jefferson’s letter to Charles Wilson Peale on August 20, 1811. Here’s Jefferson:

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another.”

The failure of one thing repaired by the success of another. If you think about it, this wisdom applies to all of life, not just a vegetable garden up where Lewis & Clark wintered between 1804 and 1805.

CLAY JENKINSON: The NEH – The Most Jeffersonian Thing In America

Thomas Jefferson would probably not have supported the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, at least in his own time.

Don’t get me wrong. He loved the arts. He read in seven languages. In fact, he was reading Thucydides in ancient Greek, without a grammar or dictionary, in the 83rd year of his life.

Could Michelangelo have self-funded his art?
Could Michelangelo have self-funded his art?

In his own state of Virginia, Jefferson wanted public libraries to have art collections that you could literally check out and display, this painting or that sculpture, in your own home for a time. He gave his life to the promotion of public education. In fact, he regarded his founding of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as one of the three prime achievements of his life.

Thomas Jefferson was America’s Leonardo da Vinci.

But …

Jefferson believed that a national debt is a national disgrace, and he believed that the federal government should only do those things that were absolutely “necessary and proper” as the Constitution puts it, and not that which is delightful, life-affirming, useful, or personally satisfying.

Jefferson told Charles Willson Peale, the father of the America museum system, that we must not contemplate creating a national museum of the United States (effectively the Smithsonian) until such time as we had paid off the entire national debt and also passed constitutional amendments to authorize such things as a national museum or a national university.

Ok, we get it. No president was as fiscally Draconian as Jefferson.

But that was then and this is now. Now we have the CIA, the National Security Agency, billions of dollars of black-ops that never appear in the budget of the United States. We have the Consumer Product Safety Board, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Radio Free Asia, the National Forest System, National Monuments and on and on and on. Some of these things can rightly be called Jeffersonian. Some are so dark that it would be a slur against Alexander Hamilton or even Aaron Burr to say they might favor them.

The United States government funds a great deal of what might be called Enlightenment. But the United States government also funds an enormous amount of darkness-regime change, political assassination, arsenals of chemical and biological weapons, cyber-terrorist shops, extraordinary renditions, entities so horrific and so appalling that they make the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA look like a gathering of Girls Scouts.

We are no longer Jefferson’s nation. We are not, in any meaningful sense, a republic any longer. In 1909, Herbert Croly, in a book called “The Promise of American Life,” said we would only become a Jeffersonian nation if we adopted Hamiltonian means. From today’s ominous perspective, even that might seem cheerful and naïve.

The Great Plains Chautauqua: the master work of the legendary Everett C. Albers of the North Dakota Humanities Council.
The Great Plains Chautauqua: the master work of the legendary Everett C. Albers of the North Dakota Humanities Council.

People often ask me what is the most Jeffersonian thing in America. My answer is invariably the same. If we rule out Monticello, Poplar Forest, or the University of Virginia — all great candidates — or the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, which is maybe the most magnificent public building in America, my vote goes to that small cluster of cultural entities including: the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, public television, America’s public libraries, and our fabulous national state and local array of public museums.

For me, above all else, it is the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Don’t tell me we don’t need the NEH, the NEA, public radio or that the work those entities do is not patriotic enough or that the NEH and NEA are not much more than welfare for scholars and artists.

Baloney.

The endowments represent that very thin gossamer of Jeffersonian thread that lifts our national culture to civility, nuance, context, thoughtfulness and public engagement. The NEH costs less to run per year than any one of the dozens of weapons systems, from unnecessary tanks to the failed F-35 jet fighter program that the Defense Department itself asks Congress to cancel as inefficient, over-priced, overbudget or no longer useful; programs and engines of death that members of Congress keep funding, not because we need them, but to please their pals in the military industrial complex.

My life has been marked, my life has been “made,” by the existence of the National Endowment for the Humanities and its 57 affiliated state and territorial humanities councils. Imagine living one week without National Public Radio, without the National Air and Space Museum, without the films of Ken Burns, without that local ballet performance by young girls and boys who would have nowhere to develop their talents without the town’s $1,432 grant from the Utah Arts Council.

Do we absolutely need the NEH and the NEA? That depends on how you frame the question and what you think a great civilization “needs.” Did we need the MX missile or the ABM defense system or the most recent of our wars in Iraq? As King Lear says, “O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars /Are in the poorest thing superfluous. / Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s.”

American civilization has been lifted immeasurably for pennies on the dollar, indeed pennies on tens of millions of dollars, parceled out as competitive grants by the NEH and its state affiliates. To go after them because we need to balance the national budget is insane. To go after them because some simpleton thinks all art should be accomplished without institutional funding would be to deny the Vatican the Sistine Chapel, deny Florence Michelangelo’s David, deny St. Louis the national Gateway Arch, deny PBS the great genius of our finest public historian Ken Burns.

If you love the “Thomas Jefferson Hour” or the republic Thomas Jefferson sought to create, you must fight to maintain funding for America’s cultural agencies, for they truly are the most Jeffersonian thing in America.

CLAY JENKINSON: Trump’s Inaugural Address

Donald Trump delivered a 16-minute inaugural address January 20. Some have called it “the most divisive in American history.” I did not hear it — with Trump tone and delivery matter greatly — but on the page it certainly does not seem to me to be that divisive.

Here are my thoughts about reading it quietly in my library.

Donald Trump’s inaugural address will either stand as one of the most important or one of the most delusory in American history. He made big promises, wild promises, and he drew a line in the calendar of American history — asserting that his installation as president of the United States would repair, restore and renew the American experiment.

If he “succeeds,” his inaugural address will be seen as pivotal, by those who thirst for his leadership and by those who dread what he represents and seeks. If he fails, it will be regarded as a piece of naive bombast that shattered against dynamics bigger than his will and his ego. I fear that in 10 or 50 years, his inaugural address will be regarded as not much more than hyperventilation.

Trump should have read through the inaugural addresses of his 44 predecessors as he prepared for his big moment. Here is what he could have learned from one of the most extraordinary men who ever held public office in America, Thomas Jefferson.

  • Humility. Thomas Jefferson was one of the most talented men in American history. He was, after Abraham Lincoln, our greatest writer among presidents. He was a polymath who knew seven languages, read incessantly, invented labor-saving devices and what he called gimcracks, conducted serious scientific experiments, helped to create American paleontology and archaeology and made the Library of Congress a universal repository of human knowledge. He was America’s Da Vinci. And he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Donald Trump is a successful businessman. He did not write the books issued under his name. All of his life, he has been surrounded by allegations of sharp business practices, fraud, self-promotion, human rights abuses and sexual adventurism. He has bankrupted his businesses repeatedly and left investors, partners and Trump university students holding the bag.

There is not a single word in Trump’s inaugural address about how humbling it is to be selected as the principal representative of the principal representative of the American people.

Three times in his inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson informed the American people that he was not sure he was equal to the grave responsibilities of the presidency. He declared “a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents.” He said, “I humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking.” He compared himself unfavorably to the first president, George Washington. And he said, “I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment.”

And Jefferson said, with extraordinary insight, “it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it.”

It is possible that Jefferson was emphasizing his sense of diffidence more than he actually felt it, but I believe he was essentially telling the American people how he felt in being made first among equals in a nation of 6 million people that included such worthies as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Patrick Henry, James Monroe and the late George Washington. He was also reminding us all of the sense of respect and even awe that any president-elect should bring to the highest elective office in the United States.

Donald Trump did not make even a half-hearted statement of those humble sentiments. He is not a humble man. So far as we can tell, he has no doubts about his capacities.

Trump promised “I will never ever let you down.” Jefferson admitted that he could not possibly satisfy those who disliked him or his policies, but he would do what he could to conciliate them, and he admitted — with some firmness — that he knew he would sometimes “let the American people down,” even those who were his ardent supporters.

  • Acknowledge the primacy of the legislative branch. Donald Trump told us some ways in which he intends to make America great again, and he paid a number of populist tributes to the People, but he never told us how he intends to accomplish his goals and through whom. Someone from Jupiter reading his inaugural address might conclude that he intended to do all this by himself — with the support of the American people — but without any help from the other two branches of the national government. That is the very definition of one-man rule. In fact, President Trump went out of his way to condemn what he calls the Washington establishment. Jefferson said, “To you gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are embarked.”Trump blamed established politicians (in other words, members of Congress) and the Washington insiders — bureaucrats, lobbyists, journalists—what he called “a small group in our nation’s capital,” of prospering at the expense of the American people, protecting its own perks and power without any desire to serve the rest of us who do not live in the District of Columbia and of “triumphing” (strange word) while the rest of us suffered. He even accused the Washington establishment of “celebrating” while factories closed and families struggled all across America.

Such pronouncements are not just populism. They are irresponsible, irrational and just not true. The Washington establishment may not have been sufficiently responsive to the needs and demands of the American people, but the portrait President Trump painted will make it harder to govern rather than easier. It woefully misreads the Constitution of the United States. It shows no understanding of how difficult it is for 535 members of Congress to craft legislation for a third of a billion people in places so mutually distinct as Hawaii and Mississippi, Montana and New York.

By denying any virtue, good will, earnestness or good sense to the Washington establishment, which he portrayed as a parasite on the body of the American people — worse, a gang of parasites bent on enriching themselves and living in sybaritic comfort while deliberately destroying the American dream — Trump may have pleased the radical wing of his populist base, but he showed a lack of professional balance and decorum that manifests a fundamental contempt for the American system. He spoke like a strongman of a hapless island regime. He spoke like someone who would be Mussolini if he could get away with it.

  • Explain your philosophy of governance. Jefferson not only laid out what he took to be a consensus view of American public happiness — “a wise and frugal government that shall restrain men from injuring one another, but leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement” — but he went on to outline his own “philosophy of governing,” in other words his own playbook for serving as the third president of the United States: majority rule, a preference for state rather than federal solutions to public problems, a deep commitment to free speech, freedom of religion, payment of the national debt sooner rather than later, a firm preference for a people’s militia over a permanent army and navy. Etc.

In other words, Jefferson not only explained what he took to be the national consensus about how much government the American people wanted and how it should operate, but he outlined his own theory of presidential power.

Donald Trump provided no clues of any sort about how he intends to preside over the United States and by what processes and procedures. He merely told us what he intends to get done: rebuild America; force our international partners to pay their own way; protect our borders; utterly destroy Islamic terrorism, etc. But he gave us no indication of just how he intends to do all of that.

He promised to give America back to the people — a Jacksonian pledge, even a Jeffersonian one — but how exactly does he plan to do that?

He talked as if America were a giant corporation of which he is new CEO, governing without even a board of directors; but he will soon learn that that is not how the American constitutional process works. It is not how a 21st-century democracy works; and if the American people put up with such dictatorial actions, it will indicate that the republic is now officially dead, and we the people have lost the spirit of America’s constitutional genius.

  • Finally, conciliate, unite, forgive, seek national reconciliation. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson famously said, “Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”Jefferson acknowledged that the election of 1800 had been vicious, bitterly partisan and destabilizing, but he promised to do all that he could to reach out to his detractors and take their concerns seriously, and he carefully warned his own majority that they must not lord it over their defeated brethren. “Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate which would be oppression.”

There was no spirit of national reconciliation in the inaugural address of Donald Trump. There was only triumphalism. At the beginning of his speech, he praised his predecessor and Michelle Obama, but only for “their gracious aid throughout this transition.”

In his address, Jefferson never said a single negative thing about the government of the United States, about the “establishment,” about his predecessors, about his political enemies, about opposition newspapers, about sincere and angry critics. He gave one of the most inclusive and gracious inaugural addresses in American history.

Even his personal and ideological enemy, John Marshall, said, after hearing Jefferson’s address from very close proximity, that it was “well-judged and conciliatory.”

Trump spoke again and again of the People of America, but at no point did he acknowledge that only 27 percent of the American people voted for him, that Hillary Clinton received several million more popular votes than he did, that about half of the country believes he is a disaster, little short of Beezebub, and that no president since Lincoln has entered office under such a cloud of anger, bitterness, disapproval and disbelief.

Had he been a Jeffersonian, Trump would have acknowledged the polarization of the country, the bitterness of the election and the intensity of those who are having a difficult time accepting the fact that he is now the 45th president of the United States.

Had he been a Jeffersonian, Trump would have reached out to all of those who distrust or dislike him and said it is his intention to do what he can to win them over, to gain their trust and respect and to remember that as a president with a little less than half the country on his side, he cannot possibly succeed without at least the grudging cooperation of the other 170 million individuals.

Instead, Trump spoke of the people as if it were a monolithic phalanx of 340 million people “all of whom” support him against the establishment and the elites, “all of whom” are praying that he will give them back their country. By not acknowledging the fact of the opposition, and making some gesture of his desire to represent them too, some urge to find a way to win their approval, Trump wound up speaking of “the People” in a way that is merely demagogic and self-serving, but without any fundamental truth or reality. Or generosity of spirit.

Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of good things about Donald Trump’s inaugural address. To be a good president or candidate for the presidency, you must be able to sing what I call the Jefferson Music about America. Trump did so, admirably. He was profoundly Jeffersonian when he said the country belonged to the American people not its government, that government exists to serve the people and not the other way around, that he intends to give the country back to the people, that the people will not be ignored and held in contempt any longer. He said, “This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.” I was moved by that — and I do hope he meant it.

Trump spoke movingly of American optimism, the can-do American spirit, the boundless opportunities before us.

He spoke of our universal desire for good schools, safe neighborhoods and good jobs. And he spoke movingly of those trapped in bad schools, unsafe neighborhoods and dead-end jobs, if they have them at all.

These are great things. If we did not know so much about Trump, if we were just reading the inaugural address of January 20, 2017, in the abstract, not knowing who delivered it, not having witnessed the circus and mayhem of the last two years, it might be possible to see the speech as the utterance of a populist democrat, even a social and political liberal.

But Trump has been so profoundly Trumpish, Trumpastic, Trumperistic, Trumpompous, Trumprageous since he burst into the political arena, that it is no longer possible to read his words without seeing his wild gestures, his grimaces, his clowning, his scowl, his self-love, his arrogance, his bombast and his colossal self-assurance.

Donald Trump, you should read Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, and Lincoln’s second, and Washington’s second, and John Kennedy’s and Ronald Reagan’s first.