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Shove This Column Down The Throat Of The Next Person Who Tells You "We're a Republic, Not A Democracy"

Submitted by Robin Messing on Tue, 07/19/2022 - 4:55pm

Whenever I tweet that we are in danger of losing our democracy I almost INEVEITBALY get a response from some Trumpanzee or Putinista saying "America is a republic. It is not a democracy." This pablum is intended to be Novocain for the brain. It is designed to confuse the issue and cause us to lose sight that the Founders wanted a government that represented the will of the people, and not the will of an autocrat. True, the Founders defined who "the people" were far too narrowly. That is why we have had to work to form a "more perfect union." But we must not lose sight of the aspirational goal that President Lincoln set forth in his Gettysburg Address--that we should have a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." 

Of course, the Founders did install safeguards to ensure there would not be a tyranny of the majority against the minority. But those safeguards have been so warped that we are at risk of becoming a tyranny of the minority against the majority. That is the goal of those who respond to pleas to protect our democracy by saying, "We are a republic and not a democracy." They WANT to confuse us so they can install a tyranny of the minority. They are authoritarians who know their ideas are unpopular and they cannot win otherwise.


I highly recommend this thread by David Pepper, author of Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines. It will help clarify what the Founders meant when they called our system of government a republic. (If the thread should disappear then you can read an unrolled version of it here.





He writes that when the Constitution says "the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government", it doesn't mean what those who object to calling the United States a democracy think it means. It means the government should reflect the will of the people--which is exactly the opposite of what those who want to impose a tyranny of the minority want it to mean. Pepper also talks about the danger of the Independent State Legislature doctrine that may be codified into law next year after the Supreme Court hears Moore v. Harper.


If you are not familiar with ISL and Moore v. Harper, I suggest you watch this video by Beau of the Fifth Column first. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of ISL it will do more damage to our country than it did when it struck down Roe v. Wade.



Then after you have watched Beau's video, make sure you read all of David Pepper's thread if you have not already done so. Follow that up by reading this article by Jonathan Chait. It is the best response I have seen to Republican talking points that argue we are not (or should not be) a democracy. Chait writes:


The belief system [Rand] Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok. . . .


The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.


You may think the threat to our democracy will fade once Donald Trump passes from the political scene. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I explain here. Most of the Republican party has turned its back on democracy. And there is a good chance that Ron DeSantis will be the GOP's 2024 presidential nominee if it isn't Donald Trump. Unfortunately as Jonathan Chait explains, DeSantis may be just as big a threat to our democracy as Donald Trump. I've already quoted much of Chait's column about democracy. Go to New York Magazine to read his column about DeSantis's threat to democracy.


Finally, please read my companion piece to this one: Ten Signs That Republicans Want To Destroy Our Democracy To Retain Power.The ninth sign discusses the Independent State Legislature Doctrine in more detail.



Recommended Videos


The 10 tactics of fascism by Jason Stanley. Trump and his supporters score a perfect 10! (My conclusion after watching Stanley's video. Stanley did not make this claim.)



David Pepper explains why he wrote Laboratories for Autocracy A Wake Up Call from Behind the Lines. This video was produced before the Supreme Court decided to hear Moore v. Harper. The threat to our democracy from state legislatures has increased significantly since then.



And now you are in for a very special treat. Here are some of the lovely folks who want to make America a tyranny of the unforgiving Christofascist minority. Seems like they forgot the parts about "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", "Turn the other cheek", and "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." I also have a sneaking suspicion that they are not big fans of Matthew 6:5-8 or Matthew 19:23-24.