We Are a Republic, Stupid!

I am seeing this more and more from the Trump fans who I meet in face-to-face encounters and online.  In the last month I have been told over and over again that America is a “republic” and not a “democracy.”

Of course we are a republic.  But we are also a democracy in the sense that the people play a role in electing their public officials.  We have become more and more democratic over the years.  The Electoral College, for example, largely votes according to the will of the people.  Unlike the original Constitution, the people now directly elect their United States Senators.  This was accomplished by the 17th Amendment in 1913.  Women (19th Amendment–1920) and African Americans (15th Amendment–1870 and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965) can now vote.  There are no longer land qualifications for office.  And we could go on.

So why are so many Trump supporters chiding me and others for calling the United States a “democracy?”  Could it be because Trump did not win the popular vote?

And by the way, if people are so passionate about defending the idea that we are “republic” I would challenge them to consider the moral responsibility that citizens have in such a form of government.  According to the founders (and the Greeks and Romans before them), a republican citizen will regularly sacrifice his or her own self-interest for the greater good of the republic.  They would vote for what benefited the nation, even if that might work against their own particular interest.  Just a thought.

9 thoughts on “We Are a Republic, Stupid!

  1. Depends on which sophistry one chooses. More people wanted someone other than Clinton. Basically, the attack on the electoral college is a delegitimizing tool, since Trump [wisely] ignored states where getting more votes would be merely cosmetic. Here in California–which provided Hillary’s popular vote margin–her victory was a foregone conclusion, and Trump’s campaign ignored the state completely. Neither was there much reason for most Republicans to even turn out–there were no statewide offices at stake, and our primary system left us with a choice between two liberal Democrats for Barbara Boxer’s senate seat.

    Hillary won the popular vote, therefore what? FTR, the GOP congressional candidates won 2 million more votes than the Democrats. There is no crisis or even question of legitimacy in Washington. Do what the GOP did after losing to a candidate who only got 43% of the vote in ’92–go out and wrest Congress away two years from now:Then your party will have its own legitimacy in how this country is to be governed. Anti-inauguration protests or sniping at the Constitution is not the way.


  2. Um….yeah, but Clinton beat out everyone else in the popular vote by a pretty decisive margin in an atypical race with three viable candidates. More people wanted Bill Clinton than anybody else.


  3. So why are so many Trump supporters chiding me and others for calling the United States a “democracy?” Could it be because Trump did not win the popular vote?

    Well yes, John, but it’s really because “you and others” are making a much bigger deal of it than when Bill Clinton won the presidency with only 43% of the popular vote in 1992. I don’t recall the other 57% planning anti-inauguration protests. Bill Clinton won fair and square according to the Constitution; Hillary Clinton lost fair and square by the same Constitution.


  4. John, I’ve been thinking a lot about this very matter recently. Notwithstanding the self-serving usage of the term “republic” by ardent Trump supporters, I think the difference is worth discussing. If you consider our federal government a democracy (or mostly democratic) I think you will have different expectations of it than if you think it is a republic. I suspect, that with the exception of universal white manhood suffrage in the 1820s, our nation’s historical moves toward democracy have been relatively much more culturally transformative in large urban areas than they have been in sparsely populated rural areas. In addition to the dispostion you mentioned, believers in a republic wanted the federal government to always be “small” in the sense that it should not have much impact on people’s daily lives. Such an attitude about the federal government is still strong in the rural areas and small towns and cities of the South, and I presume the midwest. People who call our federal government a democracy, I find, on average, have much greater expectations for the role of the federal government in our daily lives. The nature of their expectations, I think, are not unrelated to why our founding fathers explicitly did NOT want to create a democracy. All that said, I agree with your comments that our system is increasingly democratic, and I would say democratic in “spirit.” And I am comfortable with the implications of thinking that way. Many Christians however, seem to want to believe that a rigid adherence to the founders’ original intention to create a republic is some sort of “Christian” responsibility, or more intrinsically “american” view of our nation.


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