I want to first define a few terms and then follow on with some commentary. The first term is “democracy”. ” Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly–through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf.”
We hear people say all of the time” that’s Democracy at work!” , when things go according to the will and vote of the people. Or “that’s Democracy in action!” , when the things that the majority deem to be “good” are put in place by an affirmation of the majority vote of the people.
These words and phrases make us feel good about the our brand of government, and often lead us to believe that which is not true because we, in fact, do not live in a “Democracy”, instead the United States is, indeed, a republic, not a democracy. And I will further refine this as we go along.
Many of you will be surprised, we are not a Democracy . The Framers of the Constitution were fearful of pure democracy. They felt that “pure democracies “breed spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths” (Federalist No. 10).
So, at this point you are probably saying “Get the heck out of here Angela, what does this mean to us?”
Well, it means that there is a great deal of confusion among the electorate and this confusion should have been addressed in 12th grade civics or government. This is where our education system has cheated us and blighted the ability to comprehend how our government does and does not work.
The word “democracy” is defined as a form of government in which the government derives its power from the people and is accountable to them for the use of that power. On the local level, one might vote on filling potholes, where to put a sign, or one small municipal change or another. Many states allow for policy questions to be decided directly by the people by voting on ballot initiatives or referendums. (Initiatives originate with, or are initiated by, the people while referendums originate with, or are referred to the people by, a state’s legislative body.)
But as you get towards more complicated items and agendas, you will elect a representative. The Founding Fathers were not confident that the people had the time, wisdom or level-headedness to make complex decisions, and indeed, given the literacy achievement of THEIR day, they might have been correct. Today we have a shift just recently through social media of “mob rule”. Truth is only the truth when the mob decides it is the truth such as the case in Ferguson MO, where an assault on a police officer by a young criminal was decided by a mob to be a “justified act” and even though evidence to the contrary was presented over and over, the “mob” decided to make a “hero” out of the criminal and a “despot” out of the victim who has had his life “up-ended” by simply performing his job and then defending his own life. One might say that this “mob” was uneducated so it might be an anomaly. BUT…
Yesterday, a “mob” of sixteen female journalists issued an open letter Wednesday calling for the firing of Corey Lewandowski, the Donald Trump campaign manager charged with battery after allegedly grabbing a female reporter at a Trump event this month. First, the incident they are talking about in the letter is suspect, second, they give no respect to the legal rights of their target. One thing about a “mob”, group think will never allow for conscience – only cause , so they can never grasp what would happen if a similar mob turned on them one day to violate THEIR rights….
So the founding fathers were right. And decisions made then protect us from OURSELVES and our most profane and ignorant nature …now. I wonder how they knew?
So, let’s move away from human nature and back to government. James Madison observed that one of the most important differences between a democracy and a republic is “the delegation of the government [in a republic] to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.”
Quite frankly, in the strictest sense of the word, the system of government established by the Constitution was never intended to be a “democracy.” The scheme of representation and the various mechanisms for selecting representatives established by the Constitution were clearly intended to produce a republic, not a democracy.
And in fact, when we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we are affirming our support that the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” (Article IV, Section 4).
So, why is this so important? Simply because the American population has grown exponentially. And they want to have a say in their elections. After decades of apathy, it seems as though the American people want to “take back” their say and their vote…… And in doing so elect, good or bad, the people who THEY feel represent THEM. Americans do not value the thought of a monarchy or a set of rulers who permanently decide their fate, so in this election season, they are riveted towards two polar ends of the spectrum – Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Make no mistake, if this were a “pure Democracy” instead of a manipulated contest, this would be the choice….. by a landslide.
BUT that is NOT the world we live in. Now, just as in the 1700’s there are people who either appoint themselves or what they consider their “equals” to be the “choosers”. They look at each other and say “Are the American people today sufficiently better informed and otherwise equipped to be wise and prudent democratic citizens than were American citizens in the late 1700s?” They smile and say to themselves and each other emphatically “NO”. From the previous two examples, we can say that we are less equipped today than ever before.
And in asking themselves this question and responding in kind, they find themselves in “good” company. The Founding Fathers worked very hard NOT to create a democracy. The Greeks had a democracy, a system of government in which every citizen could vote on the vital issues of the day. The result was that it fell into tyranny. The Romans had a more restrictive system, a republic, in which citizens voted to elect politicians who would represent them in a legislative body called the Senate. Starting to sound familiar? This too eventually fell to despotic demagogues (they stabbed the crap out of Julius Caesar for a reason),
To be sure, it took a long time for the people of the United States to achieve their full voting rights. Until the mid-1960s, many Blacks were excluded for one reason or another from voting in much of the South. Arizona and Maine prevented American Indians from voting (despite their U.S. citizenship) until the mid-20th century. Prior to 1920, voting rights for women were partial in some places and denied altogether in much of the country. Before the Civil War, almost no Black people, including free Blacks, could vote. And until the 1820s, even most white guys didn’t have the right to vote.
Now you say ….. Angela you are cray-cray —– WHITE GUYS COULDN’T VOTE!!!! Yep, that’s about the size of it. Qualified white men had to meet certain requirements, most often based on net-worth, property and influence. But mostly net-worth —- They deemed this a sign of someone being smart, capable, and hopefully beyond corruption because they weren’t economically vulnerable; the founders feared poor people would sell their votes. Property requirements for voting fell away over a prolonged period from the 1820s-40s.
The Republic (not Democracy) that the founders created extended voting rights to a scant 10-15% of the American population at the time of its inception. And unfortunately some people still believe this is the case.
So here we are in 2016, Curly Haugland, an unbound GOP delegate from North Dakota, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” : “The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination. That’s the conflict here, political parties, not voters, choose their presidential nominees, —- we choose…. not the people.”
People, what he truly said, was that the one piece of “Democracy” the ability to choose in a primary – does not, in fact exist. And this election might just prove….. that he is right.
Again I ask, are we losing our “Democracy”? We do not have a “Democracy”…. We have a “Republic”, or in particular, we are a “Constitutional Republic”. A constitution that limited and divided the power of government was necessary to preclude elected officials from imposing tyranny on the people. This is why they adopted a constitution with limited enumerated power, divided and checked across several branches and levels.
At present, we find all of our founding principles under assault. Many prominent political leaders in both parties seek to destroy our free markets, infringe upon our personal liberties, and abrogate our social values. Unfortunately, they have accrued a high level of success. Moreover, they have prosecuted this revolution without firing a shot. Instead, they have used the soft edge of the sword of elected despotism. –
So in this election, be not blinded by the flowery words, because flowery words have created the situation that we are in now. Do not let people tell you that THEY will choose FOR you. Make sure that through your elected officials those types have little to no access to power wince they tend to be rendered drunk by this power.
Stay involved, stay vocal and be engaged. And remember , the value of the concept of separation of church and state. At any given time, people do not conceive of this, YOUR religion may or may not be in popularity, favor or fervor. Ask yourself how easy it would be to bow to another person’s god and understand that is the way they feel about your God.