Have we forgotten that we are not a democracy?
Time and time again the concept of American democracy comes up. It’s always said with glee and pride.
“That’s what makes America so great,” people say. “We are a democracy.”
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government is not a democracy. It’s a republic, and we even said so in the pledge from Kindergarten to grade 12. How have we forgotten this?
The first part of why we falsely claim democracy is not knowing the definition of government systems. In a democracy, all citizens of a state equally vote on government legislation, policy, etc. The word democracy derives from the Greek words “demos,” meaning the people, and “kratia” or rule.
A democracy could do away with a lot unique facets of American politics. For example, there might not be political parties. Of course, conservative, liberal, and moderate ideals would likely prevail but we would have no need for a party system.
The electoral college couldn’t be any more antithetical to democracy — allocating a number of votes that historically lean toward one side of the spectrum isn’t rule of the people. Gerrymandering and all of the legal headaches about its sketchiness would also likely become a non-issue.
This common thought of the United States as a democracy refers is rooted in 20th century wars. In WWII, dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini had absolute power in their countries and wanted that to spread.
In the Cold War, the Communist government of the Soviet Union had ownership of goods and services — which seemed backwards to the free-market enterprise that the United States held dear. Because of this, U.S. citizens wanted to appear to be as far away from Communism as possible — so they over-stated democracy is over in their social and political spheres. Today, we still throw the term around.
For the most part, U.S. politics resemble a republic — a state in which supreme power is held by representatives for whom the people vote. An article from the Washington Post says that the United States is both a republic and a democracy because it contains elements of both direct democracy and representative democracy.
This implies that government systems exist like most things — on a spectrum. Just because these two types of government fall on the same side doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive.
Think of Bernie Sanders. He ran on the democratic ticket but has publicly described himself as a socialist, which led to the establishment of the term democratic-socialist. Still, he received staunch criticism for supporting socialist ideals, which have been historically viewed as the enemy of democracy.
If we do away with calling the United States something that it’s not, then we do away with perpetuating a fallacy. This leaves room for candidates like Sanders to run on platforms that cannot be dismissed as “too radical” because of their name. Politicians should understand the root of these grievances, and people shouldn’t protest without adequate knowledge of the systems that govern them.
On the political spectrum, Democrats and socialists both fall on the left side. They have similar views, but socialists believe in redistribution for inequalities and improving life for everyone while Democrats incorporate all of the left ideas into key stances like universal healthcare, equal marriage, and women’s rights to choose to have an abortion while preserving the capitalist economy.
We should just call a spade a spade and publicly admit we live in a democratic republic. Or just use the words in the pledge — a republic.
Senior staff columnist Dana Jones is a broadcast journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]