Donald Trump, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson
DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

Republicans like to pretend they are the political heirs of the Founding Fathers. But the nation's founders would be appalled by what Donald Trump's GOP has become.

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This is the first of a two-part series that contemplates what the Founding Fathers would make of today’s politics and each of the parties. For Part 2, please come back tomorrow. 

This Independence Day, Americans did all of the things they usually do on the Fourth of July. They spent time with family and friends, blew up stuff, killed each other, boycotted some beers and drank others. Politicians talked about America’s greatness, and Donald Trump shared a super weird picture of himself as George Washington.

That last one got us thinking: If the Founding Fathers traveled forward in time, what would they think about the state of their American experiment? How would they feel about Democrats and Republicans, and what would they say to them?

Let’s start with the Republicans, who seem to view themselves as the ideological heirs of the Founding Fathers. They are big on waving the flag and calling themselves “patriots.” Right-wing groups have words like “liberty” and “freedom” in their names, and there is a reason why the Tea Party was called the Tea Party.

When you think about it, that’s all pretty ironic.

Yes, the Founding Fathers and today’s Republicans shared some of the same ideologies. For example, it stands to reason that there is some overlap on social issues.

However, seeing how the Founders lived 250 years ago, that’s not exactly a badge of honor for modern-day conservatives.

Back then, even the most enlightened thinkers believed some backward stuff, e.g., that some people could own other people, just to name the big one.

Here is another way to illustrate what things were like when the Founding Fathers were alive: They signed the Declaration of Independence at a point in time that was closer to the Salem Witch Trials than the Civil War.

In other words, the colonies weren’t the most open-minded places… kinda like today’s red states

Of course, it’s very on-brand for conservatives to pick heroes who are actually progressives.

Take Jesus (whether as a historical or fictional character). That dude was a lot more like Bernie Sanders than Mitch McConnell.  

It’s the same with the Founding Fathers (and Abraham Lincoln, for that matter). All of the above (well, not Bernie Sanders) are in the pantheon of GOP icons.

There is just one problem: None of them were conservatives.

Considering the times they lived in, a much stronger case can be made that they were all progressives. In fact, what they did is literally the definition of being progressive: With their ideas and policies, they completely upended their respective societies.

Keeping that in mind, how would the Founders feel about today’s Republicans?

We think they would be absolutely appalled — not just by the GOP’s regressive agenda but also by the manner in which the party attempts to ram its unpopular policies down the throat of the country.

In the past, we have mused about how the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason would have felt about the bastardization of the Second Amendment in particular.

Here is how that went:

Jefferson: How about adding something about the right to bear arms? That’s innocuous enough. Obviously, we want our frontiersmen to protect themselves from wild animals and noble savages. What could go wrong if we add this?

Mason: We could, but could this not be misconstrued in the future? What if, 200 years down the road, Americans bear much more powerful arms and use them to senselessly slaughter each other?

Madison: You mean in the fight against tyranny?

Mason: No, just because they can.

Madison: This does not seem plausible. However, I am sure that, using the framework of the Constitution, Congress would come up with sensible laws that would prevent such a thing. For example, and I am making this sound as outrageous as possible, these laws would then make it unlikely that a deranged young man would be able to walk into an elementary schoolhouse with many muskets and murder a score of children.

Jefferson: Well, obviously in that case, lawmakers would act. Only an idiot would sit by and do nothing if such an atrocity were committed… let alone one every week or so.

Knowing how far ahead of their time the Founders were in many ways, it’s easy to imagine how similar conversations would play out on other issues.

For example, while they wanted to ensure a strict separation between church and state, many Republicans want to blur that line (and by “blur,” we mean “obliterate”) and create an evangelical theocracy.

However, we believe that the Founding Fathers’ objection to the modern GOP would go far beyond individual policies.

Almost more importantly, they would be repulsed by how today’s conservatives are conducting themselves.

It’s tough to see any of them condoning the GOP’s total disregard for truth, the abandonment of anything resembling intellectualism, the appeals to populism, the politics of division, and the use of government power to undermine democratic principles.

All of these things run completely counter to the ideals the Founders held and fought for.

Finally, there are the GOP’s leaders themselves.

It is tough to imagine anybody being more of an antithesis to visionary statesmen like Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, or Benjamin Franklin than Donald Trump or any of the other firebrands that currently dominate Republican politics.

Take Jefferson and Trump. Literally the only thing they have in common is that both of them paid for their mistresses.

Or what about Franklin, a publisher of newspapers who wanted the media to benefit the colonies and the young United States? He offers a stark contrast to Rupert Murdoch, the owner of propaganda outlets that divide the country for profit.

We would be hard-pressed to name anything about the modern GOP that the Founding Fathers would admire.

Perhaps there is one thing: Each of them, in their own way, make a strong case for a strict separation of church and state.  


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Donald Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Thomas Jefferson caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Benjamin Franklin caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Capitol (USCapitol / Flickr), and boat (Tong Kuan Chuah / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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  • DonkeyHotey

    DonkeyHotey creates art to illustrate news articles and opinion pieces. His current work is a combination of caricature, photo collage, and photo manipulation.

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