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220 years ago, George Washington warned us about Trump

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In the U.S. military, George Washington is regarded as a military genius.  As general, he exhibited what famed war theorist Clausewitz referred to as the “coup d’oleil (French for the “inner eye”): the ability to see and comprehensively assess the whole problem, now and in the future. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both our own forces and that of our enemy, Washington used his inner eye to guide our ragtag army to victory over the British forces in the American Revolution.

But his inner eye was not just something he applied on the battlefield. He applied it during his tenure as president, guiding our infant nation through its formative years. And 220 years ago, in 1796, Washington applied his inner eye to America’s future in his farewell address. Far more than a simple resignation statement, this was Washington’s summary of his hopes and fears for the future of the country he had fought so long and hard to create and nurture.

{mosads}Incredibly, in that address, he saw this year’s election coming.

Washington worried about the development of political parties (“factions”) in America. He worried that, over time, political parties would be destructive to our democracy because they would replace the will of the people with the will of the victorious political party. He feared that as different parties took control of the government, America would lurch from one policy to another instead of having a continuous and consistent approach to governance.

But beyond the dangers of partisan policymaking, Washington warned that “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” would eventually rise to take advantage of this struggle for power between political parties.

Washington went on to explain that at its worst, the emergence and strengthening of political parties, with their inherent spirit of revenge, “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection” and “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption.”

This election year, Donald Trump has been using Washington’s warnings like his own personal playbook. Trump has agitated the country with false alarms about public safety, the economy, and national security. He has kindled animosity against entire segments of the American populace from women to Hispanics to Muslims (including a Gold Star Family) to African Americans. He has fomented violence at his rallies and suggested violence against his opponent. He has openly invited Russia to influence the outcome of our 2016 election and he has still not disclosed the extent of his financial entanglements with foreign nations and companies.

Turning his inner eye to the future, Washington concluded that it is “the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain” an extreme situation of this kind from arising. Applied to this election year, Washington is warning us that it is up to good people everywhere, regardless of party or politics, to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President.

George Washington warned us this day would come. The only question is whether we will listen.

U.S. Navy Captain John Plumb has been a Navy Officer for 22 years, studied George Washington extensively for his Joint Professional Military Education, and holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. He is the Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 23rd District.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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