Democraphobia Redux

Trump undercuts democracy - The Boston GlobeThe Founding Fathers feared direct democracy as “mob rule” and crafted safety valves into the Constitution to ensure that rabble-led political forces did not consume the new central government or its state constituents. Notably, the electoral college process and the Senate represented the more obvious structures to frustrate mob rule amplified by reservation of authority to the states.

Indeed, there were examples of rebel threats to the natal nation’s voyage into independence, including Bacon’s Rebellion (1676), the Whiskey Rebellion (1794), and, perhaps most alarming of all, the Haitian Revolution (1791), where Blacks successfully replaced a white aristocracy.

During the vice-presidential debates in October 2020, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tweeted “We’re not a democracy.” Later, he expanded upon the comment, adding “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

VoxFarfax first noted this phenomenon three years ago (https://voxfairfax.com/2018/12/10/democraphobia/) and recently referenced the disorder in regard to redistricting trauma in Virginia  (https://wp.me/p9wDCF-3g0) in Virginia. Coupled with measures in other states to rein in expanded voting opportunities and limit the authority of election personnel to administer the electoral process, it was observed that “[d]istrust of the potential or perceived dominance of the hoi polloi runs deep in this country.” That depth has emerged as far more expansive, perhaps genetically woven into the psyche of voters.

Shortly, the spectacle of January 6, 2021, at the Capitol will witness its first anniversary. The 155 million who voted in the 2020 presidential election have not expressed either fear or outrage that their votes were the object of plots to be nullified in order to preserve a failed presidency. One hundred thirty-eight Republican members of the House and seven Senate colleagues recorded votes to overturn the count of electoral votes of states.

Some of us of a certain age may recall esoteric debates in the 60s as to whether the United States is a republic or a democracy. As a republic, the argument cited that election of representatives locally and nationally, by definition, voided characterizing the nation as a democracy. While the debate is mostly an intellectual exercise, the current political reality is that the conflict between republic and democracy has entered a modern existential phase, one creating a high-voltage string of barbed wire between Republicans and Democrats and republicans and democrats.

A classic statement of the difference between the two may be formulated as the extent to which the populace at large determines who is to represent it and what legislation is to be enacted. In its present context, the United States Senate has morphed into an autocratic chamber of 100 with a small handful capable of frustrating legislative and other governmental processes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently relented a hold on 36 ambassadorial appointments in return for a vote on a pet issue. Sen. Joseph Manchin (D-WV), along with Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), blockaded major party legislation with implicit threats of filibuster.

A Republican-dominated Senate demonstrated its partisan chokehold in consenting to three SCOTUS appointments, politically because they could exercise that power. On another occasion, a Republican Senate majority refused to consider an appointee from a Democratic president. Reshaping SCOTUS was a half-century objective of Republicans to restore originalist interpretations of the Constitution, especially on voting rights, abortion, and federal regulation. 

The fear of democracy – democraphobia – has co-opted the political capability of the Republicans, mostly conservatives, to govern amicably and driven the party to resort to the extreme interpretation of the nation as a republic. The two parties have, in fact, come to be at a virtual war between democrats and republicans, even as their capital political party letters denote that distinction.

The fear of democracy – democraphobia – has co-opted the political capability of the Republicans, mostly conservatives, to govern amicably and driven the party to resort to the extreme interpretation of the nation as a republic. The two parties have, in fact, come to be at a virtual war between democrats and republicans, even as their capital political party letters denote that distinction.

Most of the 138 republican Republican vote nullifiers in the House will be on the ballot in 2022. As incumbents, they may succeed in their reelection efforts, muting whether their votes in January were important to their electorates. It may very well be that the voting public too is of the opinion that the United States is not a democracy and is best represented by elected officials in all aspects of governance. Unlike its national campaign in 2020, the 2024 Republican National Committee has indicated it will produce a platform. That document may shed further light on the nature of republican Republicanism. Of course, witnessing what they do is a crucial step in evaluating that platform.

On the other side of the high-voltage barbed wire debate, Democrats have not taken to the floor and debated the advantages of whether the nation is a democracy. Perhaps that political party is comfortable with the notion of democratic republic as the dynamic. Certainly, there are obstacles, such as an autocratic Senate (in the states also) and an Electoral College system that has on occasion produced incomprehensible results.

History and time have proven that government can survive mob rule and accommodate more democratic participation, such as the direct election of senators (17th Amendment, 1913), women’s vote (19th Amendment, 1921), and younger voters (26th Amendment, 1971).

The gravamen of the contention is no longer definitional, as history and time have proven that government can survive mob rule and accommodate more democratic participation, such as the direct election of senators (17th Amendment, 1913), women’s vote (19th Amendment, 1921), and younger voters (26th Amendment, 1971).

It may be curative for those insistent upon definitional cleavage to consider and recall that a Civil War tested the contentious proposition that extremism and nullification are counterproductive to forming a “more perfect union.” When, as on January 6th, mobs attempt to rule, it is not democracy but the very mob mentality that the Founders feared. Psychiatric assistance will not heal the problem, but courteous civic engagement promises a better patient outcome.

 



Categories: CIVIL RIGHTS, congress, cultural icons, democrats, elections, GERRYMANDERING, Immigration, Issues, legislature, National, political discourse, political parties, politics, republicans

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