No, the United States is not a democracy. And that is a good thing.
The nation has been in a bit of a political pickle of late and it would be much worse were we a democracy.
I expect this requires some explanation. You see, our nation is a republic. A democracy and a republic are different animals, and the founding fathers of America had the sense to pick the right animal.
In a democracy, the majority rules. Decisions are made by everyone voting and believing the majority will make correct decisions – or at least the decisions the most people agree with.
Ancient Greece is often pointed to as an example of pure democracy. It was one man, one vote, and majority rules. Notice that it was only men. And it also was only men of certain propertied status. In reality, it was a rather narrow version of democracy.
Another example of “pure” democracy is the old New England town hall meeting. Everyone in a quaint little village would gather in the town hall (or perhaps the church, I hate to tell you) and vote on the important issues of the day.
That would seem to be democracy at its best. In fact, the closer to the people a decision is being made, the better democracy works. So, folks in a little village can decide on which day to have the annual pumpkin festival or whether to pool their money to put a new coat of paint on city hall.
This isn’t to say that democracy can’t go bad locally. The majority of the village could vote to take farmer Green’s land because they want to make a park and his land has the prettiest trees – in addition to most people not liking farmer Green because he is mean and grumpy.
When expanded to a state or national level, democracy gets dangerous, which is why the smart guys in the beginning of America designed the country as a republic. A republic is different because the people in various districts choose people to represent them. They choose people they believe will represent their interests and make wise decisions.
Voters trust those representatives because there is built into the US Constitution a system of checks and balances. There are three branches of government, and each requires the cooperation of the other: executive, legislative, judicial.
The executive branch (the President and about a million people who work for him) requires consent to its actions of the other branches or it becomes a dictatorship. We have seen some ugly hints of dictatorship in recent months.
The legislative branch is charged with making laws to benefit the people. The House is, as least theoretically, the closest to the people and generates most of the effort to tax and spend. The Senate, originally elected by state legislators, does an immense amount of debating and, at least theoretically, makes sure the rights of the states are not trampled.
The founders didn’t want the most populous states to lord it over the small states. And to be honest, that remains a threat today. I, for one, do not want New York, California, Illinois, and Michigan to determine whether I can raise chickens in my backyard.
The judicial branch at the highest level makes sure the other two branches don’t do anything that violates the Constitution. As we have seen, what does and does not violate the Constitution can be open to a good deal of interpretation.
The system looks a bit complicated and is not the speediest way to get things done. THAT IS THE POINT!
Legislation is supposed to face a long and difficult path with heaps of analysis and examination of all possible plusses and minuses. If Congress wants to revamp the health care system or spend multi-trillion dollars on green energy initiatives, it ought to take a long time and receive plenty of input from everyone who is likely to gain or lose. At a minimum, legislators and citizens alike should have ample time to read and analyze a proposed law – especially if it is hundreds of pages long and might contain a bit of partisan mischief.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a national emergency that really, truly, requires immediate action. An example would be missiles on the way from China or a zombie apocalypse. Other than that, most problems we face are things there is time to talk about.
I often hear some version of “we live in a democracy and the majority should rule.” Well… not exactly. In such a world, 51 percent of the people could vote to take all the wealth of the other 49 percent. Such an action would violate a host of Biblical and natural laws.
That’s why America’s founders wrote a Constitution based on law, with a good deal of common sense thrown in. It is a Constitution designed to protect the people from a tyrannical government, not a roadmap of what the people should do to serve the state.
You may sometimes feel frustrated that the government isn’t getting more done. Perhaps you should be grateful.