During election season, hyperbole becomes the norm. It doesn’t seem that unusual to see presidential hopefuls accused of fearmongering and demagoguery.

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz recently dialed up the rhetoric even more. In a video that appeared on Big Think earlier this month, Wilentz implied that Donald Trump just might decide to suspend the Constitution if he is elected president in November.

“If [Trump] becomes president will he be able to do everything he says he’s going to do?” asks Wilentz. “No. We do still have a Constitution.”

Wilentz then casually fantasizes that Trump could decide to suspend the Constitution in an act of Caesarism.  

“Then we have a crisis like we’ve never faced as a country before except possibly in the case of session in 1861,” says Wilentz, the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at the Ivy League university. “That was a constitutional crisis that ended up with 750,000 military dead. I don’t want to go through that again.”   

“It would be a crisis presidency, yeah,” Wilentz adds.


I recall reading Wilentz as a grad student. His work Chants Democratic is a classic in labor history, a rather good read. 

I don’t doubt that Wilentz has legitimate and perhaps even valid concerns about a Trump presidency. Conservative writers have shared similar concerns, particularly over Trump’s apparent willingness to “open up the libel laws,” which could have a chilling effect on free speech.

All of that said, Wilentz’s comments seem a bit extreme. The historian is critical of politicians who “appeal to people’s fears,” but implying that a politician might suspend the Constitution seems itself a form of fear-mongering.  

It’s also worth noting that Wilentz has a relationship to the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a 2008 New York Times article, reporter Kate Zernike called Wilentz “a longtime friend of the Clintons.” No disclosure of this fact is made in the video.

Does Wilentz make valid points about the alleged danger of a Trump presidency or is it another example of election season hyperbole? Should viewers have been made aware of his reported relationship with the opposing candidate?

Jon Miltimore is the senior editor of Intellectual Takeout. Follow him on Facebook.

[Image Credit: Big Think]