Washington Monument and Congress as seen from the Lincoln Memorial
Congress, tiny in the distance

In a recent conference call for work, an Israeli immigrant to Canada said the United States was a democracy.

I started to correct, “It’s not a democracy, …”

Laughter interrupted me.

The other participants made comments about the current state of US politics and more chuckles were heard. This went on for a minute or so. Finally, the moderator said, “Let’s get back to work.”

I never got to complete my statement which was, “It’s not a Democracy, … it’s a Democratic-Republic.”

There’s a difference, a big difference.

A Democracy is where everyone participates in deciding every big, and every little, decision. Everybody votes about going to war, about which side of the road we should use today, and about the exact wording on the side of cigarette packages.

Everyone votes. Everyone decides.

Well, at least everyone who shows up to vote, that is.

A few societies have tried real democracy but they have quickly discovered it takes a lot of time. Things like plowing the field and planting crops, cutting timber into planks and mending roofs and spending time with the family don’t get done while you’re off making the laws.

One of those early participants in a democracy might’ve said, “I need to get someone else to do this law-making stuff — my crops and my family need me back home.”

So they tried something different. They tried having representatives do the work for them. In a Republic, someone “represents” the people. Those “representatives” get together and hash out the details.

To be precise, then, a pure Republic is where interests are taken care of by representatives. They make the decisions for us.

The difficulty comes in how those “representatives” are chosen.

“Here,” you might say handing over a large pile of cash, “by an airplane ticket, get a hotel room and then go to Congress and make sure they make a law that lets my business flourish, and while you’re at it, create another law that taxes the hell out of my competitor!”

Because the rich can band together and hire representatives who will do things their way, a pure republic quickly degenerates into “rule by the rich.”

You can see remnants of that purest “republic” in societies where you can hire someone to be in the army on your behalf. They represent you.

Real republics don’t last because, well, the people revolt. They rise up and overthrow the “rule of the rich.”

“We need something in-between,” they might’ve said.

Painting of the signing of the US Constitution
Signing the Constitution

“We need to band together and vote for who should represent us. And then collectively we should pay them — cover their reasonable expenses, pay for their food and lodging and that of their families since the bread winner is off doing our business, not theirs — we should pay them to make the laws according to our interests.”

That’s a Democratic-Republic. That’s where the people — in November after harvesting their crops and getting their homes ready for winter — can take a break and collectively choose, by democratic majority, who will represent us. (It’s worth adding that it is through our representatives in the Electoral College, that we indirectly elect the President as well.)

He or she who gets the most votes will represent us. That’s a democratic-republic. The people collectively elect their representatives.

The United States is neither a democracy nor a republic.

Instead, we democratically elect our representatives who then go off and make laws we would’ve made. They are paid to do our bidding. They are our elected representatives.

I hire a plumber to fix my pipes because he has the tools and knowledge to do so. And I go to (and pay) a dentist to fix my teeth, again because he has the expertise. He’s a skilled professional. And I hire someone else, another specialist, to make the laws that will benefit me and my family.

And I tell that last specialist, a professional, my representative, what I want him or her to do. I tell them through the Constitution.

I say that I want them to

    “establish Justice,
    “insure domestic Tranquility,
    “provide for the common defence,
    “promote the general Welfare, and
    “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

And because that representative is going to be working for (!) several of us, we get together and vote on who it should be.

It’s a Democratic-Republic.

* * *

If you haven’t read the US Constitution and its Amendments, it takes about an hour. Not really very long when you consider your future and the future of your kids.

That hour will provide a good education in how our system works … or doesn’t work, but now I’m making a joke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *