As of late I’ve been noticing an increase in the refrain, we are a republic not a democracy, to which I say, we are both.
Words are powerful. They can make people believe the opposite of what is true. They can create illusions and misrepresent reality. I’ve been noticing a lot of misrepresentation of reality lately.
Take for instance the comments I heard in the last town hall I attended. When someone called out we are a democracy, at least a half dozen people repeated in rote, we are a republic not a democracy. This really caught my attention and I decided to do some digging.
If you review the definitions of republic and democracy they are not that different. Republic literally means government or power is held by the people. Democracy means a system of government where all people rule. Of course, we have to acknowledge that true democracies don’t exist these days. It would be impossible for everyone to be involved in the running of the government. What the United States has is a representational democracy.
Aren’t Republic and Democracy the Same thing?
Here’s where the power of words come in. A democracy is really about all people ruling (sorry ancient Greece you weren’t really a democracy). A republic meanwhile can be about all people or just a few people ruling (like in ancient Greece), and this is the reason for the word play. In the United States we have a Democratic Republic. We use representational democracy to run our government. However, throughout history we have had more or less democracy in our republic. For instance when the United States started, only white men who owned land had the right to be a part of the republic. They ruled over everyone else. They had a plutocratic republic, in which the mass of people were ruled by a small group of people. Slowly over time our democracy expanded and more and more people were able to be a part of the process of government. Until we have the vibrant democratic republic we have today.
Not everyone wants a vibrant democracy. They believe that democracy will lead to the “tyranny of the majority” in which the mass of people will impose their beliefs on a small group of people. For some people, especially those who already have a lot of power, this idea is abhorrent. They don’t want to give up their power to the mass of people. They want to maintain their individual liberty to do as they please, no matter how it impacts others. These powerful people want to diminish democracy so they can maintain control.
Our Democracy is Under Attack
Over the past several decades, there has been a steady attack on our democracy by those who want to grab control of the power for themselves. Here are just a few of the ways it has been eroded:
- A continual and increasing redistribution of wealth to the wealthiest has led to the highest level of stratification in the United States in over a hundred years. The wealthiest three individuals in this country now own more wealth than the poorest 50% of the population (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett).
- There has been a systematic disenfranchisement (taking away of the vote) for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the US. Over 500,000 people were purged from Georgian voting roles in 2017 alone. Since those without wealth only have power in numbers, it is the least powerful among us who have their voting rights taken away first. As our democracy is weakened, this right to vote will be taken from more and more people. This also diminishes the diversity of our voting base which is key to a vibrant democracy and ensuring we don’t have a “tyranny of the majority”.
- Government offices and programs have been weakened by inconsistent funding leading to understaffing and lack of resources. Every wonder why the lines are long at the DMV or at the airport?
- The level of misinformation and deceptive word play have increased. For instance, the idea that we are a republic, not a democracy has become a common refrain. Other double talk includes the use of the word liberty to mean the right to do what you want no matter how it hurts others.
The wonderful part of a democracy is that We the People get to have a say in our country! We must always fight to ensure this right is not taken away from us. If we want to have a country that lives up to our ideals of all people being created equal, with unalienable rights including the rights to life, liberty and happiness, we must have a vibrant, diverse and equitable democracy. To bring this fight for a diverse and equitable democracy to our leaders, you can download this resolution and take it to your caucus on Tuesday night.