Democracy, the United States, and the Importance of Semantics

Let’s talk about democracy for a minute.

In the course of discussing any topic, one must first begin by defining terms. Using our language, it’s no longer safe to assume that people, particularly those with different or opposing views, values, or principles, will inherently understand our terminology. Often dictionary terms are sufficient, but particularly when terms have changed over time, it’s critical for common understanding to explain our meanings. A perfect example, though not politically correct, is the word “gay.” If I post a Facebook update stating how gay I am, despite using a meaning pulled right from the dictionary, I’d have some confused family and friends (particularly my wife and kids), while I myself would be frustrated by every else’s stupidity: of course I mean I’m happy!
So allow me to define terminology:A democracy is a form of government werein each individual of society has equal political weight or equal voting power. Simply put, it means that every person gets 1 equal vote. Regardless of current dictionary definitions, it does not include representative governments, unless those representatives simply write laws, which are then placed to the people for direct voting.

A republic, on the other hand, is a representative form of government wherein representatives are selected by the people to represent them in government. These representatives may or may not be directly (or democratically) elected, but the representatives make the ultimate decisions of government: they write and vote on the laws.

Now having defined these things, let’s talk about our government. We (the United States) are NOT a democracy. I will explain, so please continue reading before you get your torch. In fact, there is not any aspect of the constitutionally outlined federal government that IS a democracy. 

Why do the terms matter? Because democracies and republics aren’t the same. They are not equal in efficiency, nor in equity. They do not grant to the people the same level of Liberty.

But our society has conflated (deliberately or not) the two terms, believing that a republic is a form of democracy, and as a consequence our populous has become ignorant and complacent. This has lead to political devision. Worse, it has made common the belief that the American Constitution is nothing special, not spectacular, and even an outdated and out of place document. This is dangerous, but that is a conversation for another time.

So what did the founders want? The founders looked at multiple forms of government when re-evaluating our first confederacy. They looked at a monarchy, which was the standard of government at the time. They looked at limited monarchy, similar to England (in fact many principals of our government come directly from England’s government), they looked back into history and saw Greece’s democratic (little ‘d’) and Rome’s republican (little ‘r’) governments. They looked at the Anglo-Saxon tribal governments. And they realized that the best form of government for a free and liberated people was (and is) a republic. However, Rome’s example didn’t fit our needs. They specifically decried all of the examples of democracy; Madison called democracy “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” Jefferson called it “nothing more than mob rule.”

So the Founders recognized a clear distinction, if we are to understand our government, so must we.

Now we take a brief look at the federal and state governments of the United States, as I have said, there is not any part of our government that is, if we follow the constitution, democratic.

The majority of the constitution is spent in the creation of the congress. Apart from being the most complex portion of our federal government, it is clear that the constitution and its signers intended congress to be the greatest and most powerful portion of our government.

Congress is split into two sections (an idea taken from England) the House and the Senate (a concept of Rome). The house is representative of the people of each state, and is the closest thing we have to a democratic section of government at a federal level… But it’s not democratic. Why? Because each person has different weight in the voting process. My vote in Wyoming (if I lived there) would have greater weight than my vote in California (God forbid I live there: too many people). Thus, despite being similar to a democratically elected house, the House of Representatives is distinctly NOT a democracy. 

Next the Senate, which, (until the 17th amendment) was filled, not by the vote of the people of the state, but rather by the vote of the state’s governments. Why? Because the senate is designed (or was designed) to represent the STATES, not the people of those states. Again, an important distinction. It’s a distinction that shows that the Founders desired to keep the new government similar to the original Articles of Confederation, keeping our various states (read: countries) confederated (or federated) together, but each being distinctly sovereign over its own polices.

The 17th amendment, which I would repeal given the chance, significantly muddied the original intent of the federal government, and made the senate little more than another House of Representatives. In neither the initial design, nor in the current design is the Senate democratically elected. Having 2 senators from each state means that a person’s vote in Wyoming has significantly more weight than a Californian’s: a distinctively un-democratic thing.

Next the Presidential Branch: the president is elected by electoral vote, rather than popular vote. Despite current desire to push for popular election of the president, it is important that the election process remains the way it is defined in the constitution. Why? Because the president is the leader of the STATES, not of the people of the states. He (or she) should be representing the states equally, not the people equally. This position is anti-democratic, if you will, and it defined the 2000 election, much to the chagrin of Al Gore. 

And finally, and least of the three branches, is the judicial branch (but wait, jared: the branches are co-equal! No! Nowhere in the constitution will you find the words “co-equal branches of government” nor any language attempting to convey that idea. The constitution simply a declares that congress shall establish a Supreme Court. “Co-equal” is a term coined by, you guessed it, the Supreme Court! It is a perfect example of a branch of government commandeering the authority of another branch – a branch that is almost without fail the congress). the court is filled by appointed positions: clearly an anti-democratic concept. On further rant: the court cannot create law. It cannot write law. It cannot establish law. The constitution simply gives the court the authority to give an OPINION concerning law. Congress, according to the constitution, has the ultimate authority to decide constitutionality of law, not the Court.

So on the federal level, no part of our government is democratic. But what of the states? the constitution does not leave it to the states to be governed by democracy. The constitution declares that one of the few purposes of the federal government is to ensure that each of the States ha a republican form of government. Thus each had state must be, like the federal government, republican in design. Cities, townships, and counties could choose to be democratic, if their state’s constitution allowed; the constitution does not forbid democracy at that small scale.

In conclusion, when people say that we are a democracy: the correction is important, even if it is annoying. We are not a democratic nation, nor have we ever been, nor are we constitutionally allowed to be. 

Democracy is contrary to freedom. Democracy is best (in my mind) represented by the symbols of the torch and pitchfork. Justice and liberty cannot live long in a democracy.