If I say “democracy,” you will probably say “America.” When founded, the United States was one of the first modern nations to give power to the people and, consequently, the two words have become forever married. However, even at its inception, the United States was never intended to be a democracy. The Founding Fathers knew this, and you should too.
Technically, the United States is considered a Constitutional Republic. This entails several aspects that differ from a democracy. To understand how they differ, let us first look at what a democracy is. In its truest form, a direct democracy means that citizens convene together to create and set policy based on majority rule (>50% must approve). There are no elected officials and each person gets one, equally weighted vote.
Off the bat, you can easily see that America is different, and that’s where the “Constitutional Republic” part comes in. Those two words outline where power is derived from and how the government is governed.
The Constitution, as I briefly touched upon in my last article “Protecting Rights vs. People,” is a document in which the government must adhere to. It is the Supreme Law of the Land that dictates in which way people are protected from the government and in which way the government is ruled by the people.
The Constitution specifically outlines that a Congress shall be set up and “shall be composed of Members chosen… by the People of the several States.” This essentially says that (1) there are a few people in governing positions and (2) those few people are voted in by people who share similar beliefs. A Representative.
Let’s tackle point one first. Having just a few people in government is monumentally more efficient than having each citizen vote and decided on every single issue. Simply in terms of allocation of time and resources, this makes far more sense, especially when you consider that having 330 million individuals vote on each piece of legislation would be virtually impossible.
Next is the actual representation part. Some believe that the Representative should be a “delegate” of the people and accurately reflect their desires, while others believe that they should be a “trustee” and vote in their best judgement while also considering their constituents’ needs. Again, the “delegate” role is somewhat unrealistic, so many elected officials assume the “trustee” role.
Now let me describe why this is good. The individual is (usually) ignorant, uncompromising, and uninformed. The trustee in theory is more informed and also has to work with opposing views to pass legislation. He is therefore more willing to compromise and consider the viewpoints of others as well as his constituents. He also considers the theory of Tyranny of the Majority, in which he understands that the majority cannot completely disregard the minority for eventually he will become the minority.
Let’s put this into Layman’s terms: Congress is majority Republican right now, however they cannot completely disregard the Democratic party’s wants. The Republicans understand that their majority privilege will not last forever, and eventually they will become the minority again (such as when the Democrats where majority in 111th Congress and are now the minority). The power shifts force neither party to over-utilize their power in fear that they’ll be trampled when they are the minority.
A lot of people do complain, however, the the Representatives do not listen to them enough. This is reflected in the fact that Congress has had an approval rating that hovers between 10-20% in recent years. I blame not Congress (fully), though, but rather the electorate. If you don’t like the people in power, vote.
More specifically, don’t vote for the incumbent. Too many people are not civically engaged and do not utilize their rights fully. Not only that, but people also need to vote on more positions. Most people only vote for Presidents and Congress, which is such a shame.
Your vote compared to millions of other of people does not hold much weight (which is why people feel as their vote doesn’t matter), but if you vote locally your vote will go further. If I vote for my local Board of Education, my vote is being considered against, say, 500 other electorates in my county. When I voted for President this year, however, my vote is being considered against potentially 6.8 million voters in North Carolina. Coming back from that small tangent; there is power in the people, just not too much to be disruptive to the process.