A (democratic) REPUBLIC, IF WE CAN KEEP IT
de·moc·ra·cy| dəˈmäkrəsē | noun (plural democracies): a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives • control of an organization or group by the majority of its members • the practice or principles of social equality: demands for greater democracy.
re·pub·lic| rəˈpəblik | noun: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch. ....
From the Oxford Dictionary
Increasingly, hard-right members of the Republican Party have been insisting that the United States is not a democracy, rather it is a Republic, and certainly the term “Republic” appears over and over in numerous historical documents pertaining to the founding of the country and it appears in our Pledge of Allegiance. So, what gives?
As with many Americans, I use "democracy" and "republic" interchangeably. I have grown up believing that “democracy” and “Republic,” in the American context at least, are the same thing. Past political speeches from both sides of the aisle are rife with “democracy” and “Republic” appearing together, extolling the virtues of Americanism. Therefore, it does seem strange that Republicans suddenly want to separate “democracy” and “Republic,” both as ideas and as definitions. The reason is simple: "Democracy" implies both majority rule and the inescapable idea of, one person, one vote. "Republic" may indicate both but guarantees neither.
In a republic citizenship does not automatically confer eligibility to vote. Laws can be passed that define those citizens who are “The People” and those citizens who are not. By such means, access to the vote can be conferred, expanded, limited or denied…and those in power might remain in power for as long as the Republic stands.
In a Republic a group of people, a segment of the population – a plurality of the whole or a numerical minority – may by virtue of clever manipulation of the levers of political power, mastery of the means of communication, land ownership, accumulation of vast wealth, access to and control of arms, threat of violence, exercise of violence, accrue to themselves permanent political power and control over the government and therefore the society itself. They become the State and the State becomes them.
There have been two Republican Presidents since the turn of the century and neither of them has been elected by most of the American people. The first Republican President prosecuted a war in Iraq despite the majority of Americans opposing his actions. The second Republican President championed class and racial grievance domestically, extolled despots overseas and, as we are learning daily, actively engaged in sedition and, quite possibly, insurrection to overturn a free and fair election that he lost. The new century has also seen a determined effort by Radical Conservatism to drag the country back to an imagined era of “small government,” ushering in heightened deregulation in the business sector, the elevation of the propertied class, union-busting and an over-arching Judeo-Christian religious ethic governing every aspect of social discourse, artistic and cultural expression and interpersonal relations. In fact, the most zealous of the New Radical Republicans is not opposed to the idea of Evangelical Christianity as a “national” religion.
These are ideas once consigned to the furthest fringes of American politics; concepts that once caused most people to laugh scornfully at cocktail parties or giggle in college halls, mere distractions before the professor returned to “real issues.” Not anymore. January 6th, Dylan Roof and Buffalo, New York have proved that these ideas are not only coursing through the veins of the American body politic, but have also become dreadful matters of life and death - the deaths of real people and the death of the country as we have known it.
The attempt by the Republican Party to control the levers of the election process, to legally overturn elections, above and beyond any independent oversight, to put in place a permanent election majority – something resembling the way the Jim Crow South created one party rule in favor of the Democrats across nearly one hundred years– will push this country ever closer to authoritarian rule, a sham democracy, in which people will appear to have “choices” on the ballot but in fact the outcome will always be the same: local, State and National elective bodies dominated and thereby controlled by the Republican Party.
The radical and conservative Right Wing has never been able to prevail for long in the public marketplace of political ideology because, at the end of the day in order for them to prevail, they must prevent the expansion of rights in a country where access to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is precisely why so many have literally risked their lives to reach these shores. The expansion of rights, the availability of rights for all, is at the core of why the Civil War was fought and the Civil Rights Movement was pursued. It is why the Suffragists endured and persisted, why Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther faced down billy clubs and tear gas and why we no longer have "Yellow Codes" and poll taxes. Conservatism in America, in one way or another, has stood in opposition to every one of these movements in the name of nativism, patriotism or in adhering to the original intent of the Framers. They see the Constitution as a sacred document, perfectly formed, inviolate and most properly impervious to any interpretation beyond what is clearly stated on the parchment. This kind of rigidity pales when matched against the ambitions, dreams, desires and innovations of new generations pushing the boundaries of modernity. How can rules and guardrails established in the 18th century be expected to govern citizens of the 21st century without taking these changes and new realities into account? They can't, and that is why sooner or later Conservatism falters and finds itself sitting alone by the side of the ideological road as the life of the country moves on.
Conservatives have looked at that landscape with cold and precise calculation: An electorate that registers more Democrats than Republicans, that favors Democratic programs to address the economy, the climate and personal liberty over that of the Republicans; an electorate that skewers younger, progressive and more inclusive and diverse. The solution, Republicans seem to have decided, is not to persuade the electorate. The solution is to seize the voting process and thereby control the outcome, and that is precisely what today’s Republican Party has set out to do and they are dangerously close to succeeding.
Most Americans believe in the idea of one person, one vote. The Republican Party did, too – until the midterms of 2018, when a coalition of young voters, suburban housewives, working class voters, Boomers and Xers turned the House back over to the Democrats. And again in 2020 when Georgia sent two Democrats to the Senate and the voters of the country sent a Democrat to the White House. Now, many (not all, but many) Republicans no longer support the idea of one person, one vote because it does not favor them. And rather than adjust or change their policies to compete for more hearts and minds, they have decided to seize the vote altogether, seize the government and keep it in their hands in perpetuity. John Adams’ admonition that we would “have a Republic, if we can keep it,” was prescient, for we are now seeing just how transient a Republic can be if we fail to maintain the democratic norms that supposedly make us “one nation – under God – indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.”