How is it that so many Americans know so little about the structure of their government and yet fail to resist the urge to opine on the subject with such authority? Outside of the boundaries of this discussion, but a lingering question nonetheless: Why don’t they know?
I find particularly irritating those who seemingly suppose their knowledge, their wisdom, and their piety exceeds that of the founding fathers of this nation, those who regurgitate their political party platform without so much as a thought weightier than a sigh, much less a critical analysis of the national impact.
These are the same people who demonstrate the inability to differentiate between peaceful protest and full-scale riot. These are the people who tell us that the “most malignant goal of the Electoral College was to keep power in the hands of wealthy, white, male, landowners.” They begin by assigning motive to the founders (occasionally skewed by projecting on them the content of their own character), and then they lament that the founders of the U.S. lacked perfection. At the same time, they fail miserably to recognize the flaws that haunt their own lives.
The men who crafted the Constitution were not perfect, but neither were they fools; and they knew considerably more about tyranny than those of us who have never been exposed to, much less subjugated by, a tyrannical government. They were well acquainted with various forms of suppressive authority, and they sought to incorporate the necessary safeguards to prevent the new country from slipping into those models. That’s precisely the reason they chose not to form a pure democracy.
James Madison understood clearly the inherent deficiencies in a straight-up democracy; he knew the propensity of men to coalesce for their individual benefit and devise some scheme or proposal that, while benefiting them, would violate the rights of other citizens or cause irreparable harm to the whole country. Alexis de Tocqueville referred to such behavior as “the tyranny of the majority.” Stated another way: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, 1887)
To avoid falling into the “democracy trap,” the framers of the Constitution brought together the best of two forms of government— a democracy and a republic — and set up the new nation as a representative democracy, a “democratic-republic.” But the concept of a representative government elected through democratic process seems to be beyond the grasp of far too many Americans. Thus, they continuously whine about the Electoral College, referring to it as “anti-democratic.” And so it is. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Electoral College are, by design, pro-democratic-republic, a fact that seems to escape the chronic complainers.
Beyond the founders’ supposed desire to “keep power” was the deep-seated belief that the new nation needed to be “fair and balanced,” in that governmental power would not rest in the hands of one or two geographic regions, but rather it would be fairly distributed across the entire nation.
Now, however, we begin to see the emergence of what Madison feared — the attempt by representatives of more heavily populated states to delegitimize less populated areas of the country. And thus begins to blossom “the tyranny of the majority” with a flagrant endeavor to upend not only the Electoral College, but to dismantle the U.S. Constitution, as well. One need look no further than the pompous, would-be king, Chuck Schumer: “Now we take Georgia and then we change America … and then we change the world.”
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, it’s reported that someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Sadly, we may well be on the brink of losing this great experiment called America if we continue to ignore our founding values.
As we approach this Thanksgiving, many of us will choose to reject the scoffers and thank God for the wisdom of the men who set this exceptional country on track because we agree: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
M.K. Sprinkle writes from Hampstead. Her column appears every other Saturday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.