Lately I have heard the word “Democracy” thrown about like beads at Mardi Gras, done so with reckless abandon. Here is todays Civics lesson:
The United States of America is a Republic and NOT a Democracy.
The Pledge of Allegiance say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands . . . ”
Furthermore, the word “Democracy” is NOT used in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights.
Here is a good comparative chart on the differences between the two.
In looking at the differences, I think one of the biggest differences is the ability of the majority to have direct control over policy and where the “majority can impose its will on the minority”. James Madison and other founding fathers talked about the “tyranny of the majority”. They were probably justified in their concerns.
Before moving on, it is important to define the term “minority” in the context of this opinion. The term minority in this context means a smaller group, less that 50% of the whole. That could be based upon age, gender, religion, race, geographical location, orientation, political belief, food preference, etc. In many cases, the “minority” are also part of minority groups but that is not an absolute.
For example, if there were 100 people in a room and 60 of them were African American and 40 of them were Latino, while both are part of identified minority groups, the African Americans would be the majority in the room, and the Latinos would be in the minority.
Another more innocuous example: The majority of Americans are carnivores and the minority are vegetarian.
Now, moving on regarding majority vs. minority. The world and our country are replete with examples of where the majority were or are wrong, sometimes based out of ignorance, sometimes out of malice, and occasionally both. For example:
Flat Earth: It has only been within the last 2,000 years or so where the majority of scientists shifted from their belief that the Earth was flat. Evidence provided information that the Earth was spherical and minds were changed and now the “Flat Earth Society” folks are well in the minority, thankfully!
Lynch Mobs: The US has many examples of lynch mobs, where the majority simply decided the fate of the minority. Group mentality can be dangerous and often can incite majority behaviour that is counter to what is right, legal, or ethical.
Integrated Schools: I think it is safe to say, that had Brown v. Board of Education not passed, there would still be parts of the country where the majority would vote to not only have segregated schools, but segregated everything. One of the concerns about a “democracy” was the protection, or lack thereof, of minority rights from the majority (again, not necessarily based on race as demonstrated next).
Gay Rights: At present we have elected officials all over the place, proposing legislation to restrict and promote gay rights and we also have legislators wanting to “let the people to vote on it”. While that may be populous thing to do, it shifts us from being a Republic as our forefathers set out, to a true democracy where the majority rule. This could move us down the potential path of a Theocracy or a dictatorship, where the majority set the rules that everyone else must adhere to.
Our elected leaders are there to do what is best for the country, the state, the county, and the city as a whole and not be bullied into making decisions because of a handful of vocal residents and they should not abdicate making hard decisions based upon the opinion of the majority.
Often times the decisions that are right, are the ones that are the most difficult to make.
Remember, if we go simply based upon majority rule, there may come a time when you and your beliefs are in the minority.