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Why The Left Hates It When You Point Out We’re ‘A Republic, Not A Democracy’

Because there’s a difference

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For as long as I can remember, the left has been sneering at anyone who points out that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. They find the notion almost as unsophisticated and fascistic as flying a revolutionary-era flag.

Even some people I admire dismiss the democracy/republic debate as pedantic or a semantic distraction. They shouldn’t.

The other day, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan tried to make Trump fans who repeat this factual contention look like a bunch of dumb, lockstepping authoritarians. To explain the problem, CNN even recruited “democracy” expert Anne Applebaum, who noted that, “America is a democracy. It was founded as a democracy … the word ‘democracy’ and the word ‘republic’ have often been used interchangeably. There isn’t a meaningful difference between them …”

Sure there is.

Ask the contemporary leftists who target virtually every protection we have against mob rule in the name of “democracy” — attacking the Supreme Court, the Electoral College, federalism, the filibuster, the Senate, and even the existence of states. They understand the difference, even if just intuitively.

Ask leftists who treat the “popular vote,” not as a wishcasting cope, but as means of legitimizing presidential elections. Those who want a few big states ruling the nation via a direct federal democracy are not interested in a “republic” that derives power from the governed but one that strips local control and individual rights from those they dislike.

Blunting the federal government’s power over states and the state’s power over individuals is an indispensable way to ensure a diverse people in a huge nation can govern themselves and live freely. The “save democracy” types who refer to these long-standing federalist institutions as “minority rule” do not view “democracy” and a constitutional republic as interchangeable concepts.

Neither do smaller blue-state governors who sign a national vote compact that not only dilutes their state’s power but circumvents the Constitution. They love a direct democracy. A constitutional republic? Not so much.

When writers at The Atlantic, where Applebaum is a contributor, talk about “The Democrats’ Last Chance to Save Democracy,” they aren’t lamenting Biden’s unprecedented executive abuse, but the “democratic deficits in the Senate and the Electoral College” — as if these institutions weren’t specifically instituted to diffuse centralized control. They know the difference.

Democrats who want to “expand” the Supreme Court for failing to follow democratic trends, don’t care about the “republic.” After all, many of the high court’s most historic decisions, including Dred Scott and Plessy, cut the legs out from under “democracy.”

Or take the so-called moderate Democrats who want to get rid of the filibuster or use the slimmest of fleeting majorities to shove through massive, generational federal “reforms” without any national consensus — Obamacare or The Deficit Reduction Act [sic]. They’re aware that “reforms” will overturn hundreds of state and local laws. They want local minorities subordinate to the whims and vagaries of national majorities.

Then again, the more “democracy” we have, the more demagoguery thrives. Of course they’re fans.

As it turns out, according to CNN a number of Trump supporters also understand the distinction even if they are unable to articulate it in poli-scientific terms. 

Then again, if O’Sullivan wants to dunk on them, maybe he should take a civics refresher himself.  “There is, of course, a legitimate debate to be had on what form of democracy we have here in the United States — direct democracy, representative democracy, in fact, constitutional republic, which you heard people mentioned in that piece, that is a form of democracy,” the CNN host explained.

There is, “of course,” zero “legitimate debate discussion” to be had over whether we are a “direct democracy.” Not today, nor ever. “Democracy” isn’t even mentioned anywhere in any founding document, much less a direct one. None of the framers entertained any notions about majoritarianism or federal power that would even loosely comport the ones now embraced by the left.

People will often tell me that, sure, we might be a republic, but we also have “democratic institutions.” Of course we do. We also have numerous nondemocratic institutions. The Bill of Rights, for instance, is largely concerned with protecting individuals from state and the mob. The insistence that we only use “democracy” is meant to corrode the importance and acceptance of those countermajoritarian rules and traditions. 

“[F]or centuries,” insists O’Sullivan (italics mine), “America has celebrated its democracy,” before playing clips of Ronald Reagan and others praising the notion of “democracy.”

Indeed, the word “democracy” — from “demos,” the people — has been used as a shorthand for self-rule since before Pericles. In the past, we’ve used it to convey respect for a set of liberal ideas about liberties and rights, as well as self-determination. I’m sure I’ve used it in that way, too. No doubt, most Americans also comprehend the notion of “democracy” in the same, vague context.

These days, though, a bunch of illiberal progressives (and others) have taken universal notions that once fell under the umbrella of “democracy” and cynically distorted them to champion a hypermajoritarian outlook.  It’s no accident the people who demand you call us a “democracy” also champion the idea that 50.1 percent of the country should be empowered to lord over the economic, religious, cultural, and political decisions of 49.9 percent.

It’s the point. 


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