What type of government does the United States have in place? If someone asked you that question, what would your answer be?
If your answer is “a democracy,” that’s understandable. Many elected officials from all levels of government to instructors from the university lecture hall to the grade school teachers have repeatedly labeled the United States a democracy for many years.
You may be surprised to learn that our system of government is more accurately described as a “republic.” And there are some big differences between the two. Allow me to briefly point out how the two are different.
A pure democracy is where the entire population votes on all issues needed to be decided. Therefore, laws are always determined by a majority vote. Whatever the prevailing emotion or sentiment held by the majority of people will end up becoming the law of the land at the time the vote is taken. Some have described this as governance by feeling or emotion.
A “republic,” on the other hand is a form of government where people elect representatives to carry out the responsibilities of governing at the various levels of responsibility. At the Federal level of government, these representatives have a foundation of laws they use to run things (the Constitution). So, a republic is a “rule by law.”
Viewed from a little different perspective, our Founders had an opportunity to establish a democracy in America and chose not to do so. In fact, several made it quite clear that we were not and would never become a democracy. Read what several of them had to say…
• Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general, been as short in their lives as they been violent in their deaths. – James Madison
• Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. – John Adams
• The experience of all former ages has shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short lived. – John Quincy Adams
• A simple democracy… is one of the greatest evils. – Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
• Pure democracy cannot subsist long… it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage. – John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
• In a democracy… there are commonly tumults and disorder…Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the tyrannical government on earth. – Noah Webster
John Adams provided a succinct summary with the following commentary:
“Every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mold itself into a system of subordination of all moral values, and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will and the execrable (abominable) cruelty of one or a very few.”
At that point, our government has become a government of bullies! The appropriate name or description would be “Mobocracy” or “Anarchy.”
Let me encourage you to fast forward your thinking to 2018. Multiple sources of recent research have reported that two-thirds of American adults harbor strong feelings about the condition and direction of our country. Huge majorities of the people argue that the United States is moving in the wrong direction on at least three important fronts: politically, morally and culturally.
In particular, both conservative and liberal activists have been pushing their ideals and desires for the nation in full view of the public. The clash of worldviews promoted by the two factions has created a stalemate in which our country is making little or no progress. Some have called it a non-violent civil war with an occasional outburst in the streets of our cities — forerunners of anarchy or mobocracy.
So, if we are living in a republic, why aren’t things going more smoothly?
Allow me to offer up several suggestions. First, we lack leadership at all levels of government – especially at the national and state levels. We experience it everyday. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-Christians, Millennials and Boomers, whites and non-whites, rich and poor – they all express their divergent perspectives and refuse to give an inch.
Without strong leaders casing a compelling picture of a superior future and showing us how we can move forward, the existing animosity will not end.
Another crucial component of our stalemate is the share of voting-age population that is disengaged from the multifaceted battle of world views.
These folks are tie breakers, but they fail to show up. They refuse to get involved. There are two key segments of the disengaged.
The first is those who have moderate views on both politics and theology.
They will not take stands on the important issues like immigration or abortion.
The second segment is people who are not registered to vote and pay little attention to political news and information. There are times when we all get frustrated with the political system and its players, and harbor ill-will towards the biased media. Rather than working through the garbage, the disengaged retire from the game altogether. Bottom line – these two groups are closely related. In fact, 35 percent of adults fit one or both of these categories.
You may be asking why I am harping on the participation problem. In short, it is because this group of absentee citizens may hold the future of our nation in their hands for better or worse. Conservatives and liberals want to change America, but the Disengaged through their apathy and ignorance are effectively destroying it.
I will say it again, our nation is at a political impasse and the Disengaged hold the tiebreaking vote. Imagine if the U.S. Senate had an evenly – divided floor vote and the Vice-President refused to show up to cast the deciding ballot. What would you call the VP? Irresponsible. Reckless. Uncaring. Derelict in his duties.
It has been estimated that one out of every three Americans fit the description or falls into the category of the Disengaged. If you are among that group, and only you know, would you please invest yourself in your own (and everyone else’s) future by getting involved in the community around you.
I, for one, have no doubts that you are busy and feeling overwhelmed – as are the rest of us. However, hiding from “cultural controversies” or “not taking a stand “is not helping you or your fellow citizens. I would exhort you to start spending a little time on the state of the union as well as the opportunities and and challenges that lie before us. Figure out what you believe and how to translate those views into positive action.
Admittedly, we are in the midst of a messy socio-political process, trying our ragged best to make our nation and communities better places. We are in a life and death struggle for our nation’s soul. It is paralyzing us all. We need your help!
The republic is ours to lose. Can we keep it? It’s up to us.
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.