Thomas Jefferson: America's First Troll President

3 posts

President Camacho

I finished Thomas Fleming's book Duel a couple weeks back and I highly recommend it for a good narrative not only of the Burr-Hamilton duel from which the title is derived, but of the early post-revolutionary political period in general.

While one is tempted to award Jefferson points for trolling the British in the following anecdote, it becomes obvious that TJ was in fact a vindictive queertroll whose governing philosophy and habits provided a ruinous example for all subsequent American administrations:

Besides the abject trolling of foreign nations, Jefferson deserves recognition as the first great patron of America's most distinguished domestic political tradition: pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending to live and act like the coarsest elements of society.

Now you could say with some justification that this is part and parcel of all democratic regimes in general, but nowhere is this grotesque spectacle taken farther than in America, as Ames & co noted here . A politician like Sarkozy or Berlusconi, with their playboy lifestyle dating models, playing up their image as the free and masterful Renaissance personality, the cultivated sense of joie de vivre etc-- is unthinkable in America, where every presidential candidate is supposed to assume the public image of an ignorant lumpenprole.

While the "Dinner Compromise" of 1790 (whereby Jefferson & Madison agreed to support Hamilton's economic plan while Hamilton acquiesced to Jefferson's wish to move the national capital to the Potomac River) has traditionally been interpreted as a one-sided victory for Hamilton's faction, Fleming notes that the Federal Government's migration to the then-swampy backwaters of D.C. might have played a role in the coarse populism that took hold under Jefferson:
Bob Dylan Roof

Jefferson's Francophilia and political influence certainly set the tone for our modern democratic decline.

Although I'm tempted to agree that Jefferson's behavior here presaged Fussell's "prole drift" in American politics, it's important to keep the historical and cultural divide between our era and Jefferson's in view. Jefferson was a slave-owning aristocrat whose intellect, culture, and learning far exceeded anything achieved by our modern political class. (he also looked white ).

Still, there's definitely an air of aristocratic counter-cultural decadence in the anecdote, reminiscent of the status-mongering upper class in 20th-century America (and the dying aristocracies in France and Russia).

President Camacho
Well, that much is obvious... even the slimiest political figures from that era like George Clinton would look like learned men of honor compared to 90% of the current US Senate class.

To tick off more grievances against Jefferson, he was also the first high-ranking statesman to establish direct patronage within the press when he appointed James Cheetham as his covert mouthpiece with which to attack opponents. Cheetham of course was enlisted by TJ in personal vendetta against Thomas Callender-- immediately after Jefferson had defeated John Adams with the "freedom of the press" and repeal of the Sedition Acts as a centerpiece of his platform.

The American Republic was destined by history to follow the downward-sloping trajectory characteristic of all democracies, but the process was undoubtedly accelerated and eased by the invocation of this man's name and legacy by succeeding generations of politicians. There was nobody from that era whose political idealism was more divorced from reality, nobody whose thirst for absolute power was only matched by his public denial of all ambition, and nobody more solely responsible for demolishing the concept of the electorate as a franchise of landowning white males. Without Thomas Jefferson, the US Congress might have more closely resembled the British House Of Lords (as was the inclination of Washington, Hamilton, etc) late into the 19th century.