Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about democracy in America, and it makes me wonder what exactly that means. The fact of the matter is that America is not a democracy, nor has it ever been.
Throughout 1787 and 1788 a series of articles were published in the newspapers of our new nation. These articles were written by three of our nation’s founding fathers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The collected publications, now known as The Federalist Papers, argued for the ratification of the US Constitution, and remain an important source for interpretation of that document.
These articles make it clear that our new nation, under the Constitution, would not be a true democracy. They point out numerous flaws the founding fathers saw with the democratic system, including the tyranny of mob rule, and instead proposed that a republic would be a more just form of government that would more able to protect the rights of the citizens.
The founding fathers even set up an Electoral College to elect the president, fearing that the masses would be swayed by charismatic yet corrupt politicians. The success of the Electoral College is, of course, dubious.
Despite the myth of democracy that is perpetuated by our politicians and our public school system, this nation remains a republic. The people do not vote on what laws should be passed, repealed, or amended. Instead, they elect senators and representatives to do this for them.
These congresspersons draft and pass laws that the people themselves, if they had the option, might vote down. Yet the people have no say about whether or not an unpopular law gets passed, and they can’t even repeal it. All they can do is vote a congressperson they’re unhappy with out of office, and replace that politician with another.
Also, as was made clear in the 2000 election, a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote and still win office. There are no presidential recalls –- an individual can only be removed from the highest office by impeachment, and that can only be done if he or she has broken the law.
So America is not a true democracy. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. Indeed, I happen to think the Founding Fathers were right to fear the mob-rule of a democracy, and to instead construct a system with checks and balances on power.
In a democracy, however, it is very clear that every vote counts. The rule is that of the majority, and if an individual wants to get his or her way, it would behoove that person to vote. But is it true that every vote counts in a republic?
In America, there is a multitude of political opinions. We have communists, anarchists, fascists, libertarians, capitalists, pacifists, conservatives, liberals, moderates, those who advocate theocracy, and many more. None of these political mindsets agrees wholeheartedly with another, though they may find themselves agreeing on certain issues.
We have all of these thought systems and more, but how many parties do we have? Only two. In the past, these parties would sometimes set aside their differences to work out solutions to the problems faced by the country as a whole. I’m not suggesting that the Cold War was a good era in American politics, but when confronted with the specter of Soviet communism, the parties were willing to cooperate.
Unfortunately, the parties nowadays seem more interested in bickering than solving problems, and politicians are more likely to line their own pockets than change anything.
If Americans hope to change the way our country is run, we have one option: cast votes for politicians. Yet these politicians only represent two sides to the political debate. Many people throughout America are frustrated with both sides of American politics (and I’m not referring simply to the Tea Partiers – there are many other discontents).
In schools, children are told that if they don’t like the way America is being run, they can vote to change it. But what if their views are not represented? What if these children, when they are grown, want to see a rainbow in our black and white political system? Similarly, I have heard it said many times that if a person doesn’t vote, he or she has no right to complain. But what’s the sense of voting if neither party represents your views?
I am not saying that voting is bad, or wrong, or that people shouldn’t vote. But if someone is voting just to vote, because they are told they should, does that vote really mean anything? It seems to me that if someone votes for something they don’t believe in, then that individual is contributing to whatever problem he or she may see in American politics, rather than helping to solve it.
Another problem is that of information: many voters do not take the time to research the issues they are voting on. They get biased information from 30-second advertisements on television, and base their decision on that. This is not a way to choose politicians.
It is important to know what a person believes before voting for him or her. This requires looking at speeches, voting history, and how the candidate has conducted himself or herself. Yet many people vote for a candidate A because they heard (in an advertisement paid for by a group supporting candidate A) that candidate B is unreliable and corrupt. This is not reliable information, and to vote based on unreliable information is just as bad as voting for a candidate you don’t actually believe in. In the long run, it will do more harm than good.
In state and local elections, citizens have more influence. They can vote on whether to pass laws and tax increases or cuts as well as for local and state politicians. But the rules for voting are the same –- people should vote on matters that are important to them, and on matters that they are informed about.
It isn’t hard to get informed, and if you don’t care about an issue, or aren’t concerned enough to get informed about it, it is all right to abstain. It is harder to change things in a republic than in a true democracy because of the way the system is set up. Therefore, it is vital that when people vote, it is on important topics that they are informed on. They say that every vote counts; don’t waste your vote on issues that you don’t feel strongly about.