Of Course We're Not A Democracy
[FirstThings] During the recent vice presidential debate, I pointed out on Twitter that our form of government in the United States is not a democracy, but a republic. The confused and vehement media criticism that ensued persuaded me that this point might be better served in an essay rather than a 140-character Tweet.
Insofar as "democracy" means "a political system in which government derives its powers from the consent of the governed," then of course that accurately describes our system. But the word conjures far more than that. It is often used to describe rule by majority, the view that it is the prerogative of government to reflexively carry out the will of the majority of its citizens.
Our system of government is best described as a constitutional republic. Power is not found in mere majorities, but in carefully balanced power. Under our Constitution, passing a bill in the House of Representatives—the body most reflective of current majority views—isn’t enough for it to become law. Legislation must also be passed by the Senate—where each state is represented equally (regardless of population), where members have longer terms, and where (under current rules) a super-majority vote is typically required to bring debate to a close. Thomas Jefferson described the Senate as the "saucer" that cools hot passions more prevalent in the House. It’s where consensus is forged, as senators reach compromise across regional, cultural, and partisan lines.
Posted by: 746 2020-10-23