America Isn’t a Democracy? Not Really, But It’s Suffering

Having finally finished the previous post, I was deleting bookmarks when I came upon an article I’d forgotten to read: “America’s Not a Democracy, and That’s Bad News for Democrats”. It’s by Ed Kilgore of New York Magazine. He’s a professional writer who makes some of the points I made, but in a more professional manner.

The least significant part of his article is captured by that eye-catching phrase “America’s Not a Democracy”. The distinction he’s drawing is that between a democracy and a republic. But what’s a republic? Here’s a standard definition from The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd edition). A “republic” is: 

A form of government in which power is explicitly vested in the people, who in turn exercise their power through elected representatives.

But the dictionary goes on to explain that:

Today, the terms “republic” and “democracy” are virtually interchangeable, but historically the two differed. Democracy implied direct rule by the people, all of whom were equal, whereas republic implied a system of government in which the will of the people was mediated by representatives, who might be wiser and better educated than the average person. In the early American republic, for example, the requirement that voters own property and the establishment of institutions such as the Electoral College were intended to cushion the government from the direct expression of the popular will.

Well, we can certainly agree that the Electoral College is on its way to cushioning the government from the popular will this year, since it appears that Hillary Clinton (now leading the monster by almost 2.5 million votes) will be spending January 20th at home in Chappaqua – or maybe somewhere nice and warm where English is a foreign language.

Anyway, we now use the phrase “representative democracy” to say what America is. It means that we average citizens have a big role in choosing other citizens to run big parts of the government. 

The more significant part of the article is a recitation of the various ways in which “the … imbalance between the party that keeps winning the presidential popular vote and the party that keeps winning everything else is entirely the product of a system that systematically violates the supposedly sacrosanct principle of voter equality”. In other words, One Person, One Vote is a nice sentiment but that’s about it. Mr. Kilgore concludes, therefore:

For all of these interlocking reasons, the half-or-so of the American citizenry that is prone to support the Democratic Party and its more-or-less progressive agenda and ideology is and may continue to be underrepresented at the federal level to the point of powerlessness, and confined at the state and even local levels to enclaves that contain an awful lot of people but exert limited clout. And all this is totally aside from the extrinsic factors that place a thumb on the scale for Republicans, such as their support from business and financial interests and our currently uncontrolled system of campaign financing.

He then lists some ways Democrats might improve the situation. My favorite is “to win majorities in more states”. Unfortunately for our representative democracy, he doesn’t explain how that can be done.