This could be argued of pretty much any Republican lawmaker who has endorsed the party’s voter suppression efforts and total supplication to an authoritarian president who won’t commit to a peaceful transition of power. But on Thursday morning, the senator from Utah went ahead and tweeted it himself. “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and [prosperity] are,” he wrote. “We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 8, 2020
Plenty of conservatives have rushed to Lee’s defense, citing quotes from the founding fathers warning of the “extremes of democracy” while pointing out that the United States is technically not a democracy, but a constitutional republic. “A lot of people will demonstrate they never took civics courses today by vilifying Sen. Lee — one of the sharpest legal minds in the Senate,” wrote Gabriella Hoffman in a tweet shared by Lee’s communications director. “He’s not calling for despotic or authoritarian rule. Quite the contrary. The U.S. is a representative constitutional republic. His words.”
Raising a finger and “well, actually”-ing anyone who calls the United States a democracy has become popular rhetorical maneuver among Republicans. But their sincerity here is increasingly questionable given the party’s broad support for a leader whose aspirations every day appear more tailored to autocracy than either a democracy or a republic.
What cannot be questioned is that diluting direct democracy has paid massive dividends for the modern Republican Party. Trump sits in the White House despite receiving millions of votes fewer than this opponent. With Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, the Supreme Court is on the verge of a 6-3 majority of Republican-nominated justices — despite the GOP nominee winning the popular vote only twice in the 8 presidential elections that are responsible for the court’s current makeup. Over in Congress, the GOP has used the filibuster, an anti-majority rule measure, to keep the country from swinging to the left. (That’s not a progressive conspiracy theory — it’s the opinion of Lee’s fellow former Utah Republican senator, Orrin Hatch.)
The net result is an American government that’s far more conservative than the American electorate. People like Lee want to keep it that way, believing liberty means wealthy property owners not having to pay taxes, and prosperity means their ability to get as rich as they possibly can, the less fortunate be damned.
The bigger picture here, however, is that it’s not a great look to be making semantical arguments about democracy, especially considering the Trump administration is working to disenfranchise millions, threatening the peaceful transfer of power, and trampling the rule of law by weaponizing his Justice Department and U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain. That’s the real threat to liberty, and pettifogging the issue creates a cloud where America needs clarity: that the people have a right to elect their government, and that anyone who disagrees with that is wildly unfit to serve.
Despite the particulars of how America’s representative system is structured, in a broad, historical, and very crucial sense, the United States is still very much a democracy, as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Thursday morning for Bloomberg. “All legitimate government authority in the U.S. ultimately derives from the same place — the citizens, acting as an electorate,” he wrote. “And that’s what makes it a democracy.”
Democracy — in some form — should be a given in the United States. Under President Trump, it’s not. And until that gets fixed, quibbling over which type of democracy we should be is beside the fucking point.
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