Certain individuals desire a headstrong official to govern.

They submit to that man or woman who claims all power belongs to him or herself. They follow. They obey. They do what they are told. They cease thinking for themselves. They refuse to contradict. They discard their own thoughts. They appreciate a monarch’s talent for quick far-reaching decisions.

Politicians call this right-of-center government “authoritarianism.”

Other individuals want a democracy, a republic, a sharing of power, where numerous people submit their ideas and plans onto a platform for the public to consider. Elected officials then make motions, count votes, and declare winners, those with a majority of the votes. Laws are passed.

Politicians call this kind of left-of-center government “liberal democracy.”

Americans since the days of President George Washington have experienced a tug-of-war between the two opposing types of government.

Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Secretary of Treasury, wanted rule by the best people, a powerful central government at the expense of states’ rights, a loose interpretation of the Constitution, a massive national debt, and an expanding bureaucracy to control a capitalist economy.

Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s Secretary of State, though wanted rule by the informed masses, an extension of democratic practices, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, a balanced budget, a dwindling national debt, a minimum number of bureaucrats, and an agricultural-based economy.

At Washington’s cabinet meetings, the two young men—Hamilton the authoritarian, and Jefferson the liberal democrat—disagreed often, which distracted Washington’s focus. Often he was caught in their cross-fire. When Washington took Jefferson’s side, Hamilton would glare at a smirking Jefferson.

Whereas Hamilton was “aggressive, confrontational, and openly ambitious,” Jefferson was “indirect, retiring, and eager to work behind the scenes.” Jefferson disapproved of Hamilton’s “forty-five minute jury speeches,” at Cabinet meetings, and his irksome talent “to sway Congress to his will.”

Finally, a frazzled George Washington had enough. First, he wrote a stern letter to Jefferson.

“How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing [at] our vitals.”

Washington feared the worst for the new Constitution. He wrote, “It must inevitably be torn asunder, and, in my opinion the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man, will be lost, perhaps forever!”

Three days later Washington wrote a forceful letter to Hamilton, and said the same thing.

I think that Washington would feel pleased today that the Constitution has endured for almost two and a half centuries, despite the pitched battles between authoritarians who would cast aside the Constitution, and the liberal democrats who would follow a more balanced and democratic approach.

At some points in our nation’s history, the Democrats have latched onto authoritarianism, sometimes the Republicans.

Last month, Anne Appelbaum published her latest book, “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.” She says that she is “less concerned with the aspiring autocrats and their compliant mobs, than with the mentality of the courtiers who make a tyrant possible.”

And who are the courtiers? She answers, “The writers, intellectuals, pamphleteers, bloggers, spin doctors, and producers of television programs.”

Applebaum tries to answer other questions, “Are these enablers true believers or just cynical opportunists? Do they believe the lies they tell and the conspiracies they invent, or are they simply greedy for wealth and power?”

She identifies certain of the courtiers’ attributes: “a disappointment with meritocracy, the appeal of conspiracy theories, and the cantankerous nature of modern discourse itself.”

The electoral process is designed to push aside the unqualified, the incompetent, but on occasion the mediocre or unqualified will rise to the top. People will give themselves over to tall tales and even lies to explain the unexplainable, and chronic debates around a table wearies even the strongest spirits.

Either Benjamin Franklin or Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” Yes, liberal democracy is messy. It requires time. It is slow. It recognizes others’ points of views, even the minorities’ opinions.

Yet by that slow and messy process a better government, perhaps close to the best, can reveal itself.