A democracy is a system of governance in which the people govern themselves. It is based on the premise that the people are able and willing to do just that. Govern themselves.
In a representative democracy, or republic, the people elect representatives for fixed terms to handle the day-to-day task of governing. In a constitutional republic rules and procedures are set forth to assure that the peoples representatives govern well, or at least do not govern badly. Most especially those rules and procedures are intended to keep majority rule from disenfranchising the minority. Not even an overwhelming majority in Congress can take away the right of a single person to speak her mind or worship her Creator.
In a constitutional republic there ought to be no barriers between the people and the peoples representatives. Anyone with a grievance should be able to bring that grievance to her representative for airing. Indeed, the Constitution incorporates in the First Amendment the right to petition the federal government for relief or restraint.
The sheer size of the U.S. population, which now exceeds 325 million, combined with the number of Congressional representatives which is fixed at 535, make the task of reaching one’s elected representatives ever more difficult. Even so, representatives have a solemn duty to see that their constituents have access to their services. If any representative fails in that duty, s/he is subject to removal from office in the next election.
A constitutional republic requires that certain conditions are in place for it to be truly responsive to the people. Most fundamentally that means that the elected representatives must be honest. Otherwise the trust necessary between the governed and those who govern breaks down. Representatives who lie undermine self-governance. When they lie routinely and repeatedly they destroy self-governance. A democracy becomes a sham. A place where a very small class of privileged officeholders are in control, not the people.
The election process is the way to rid ourselves of that privileged class. That process works provided it is free of lies and deception which in turn demands that the election returns are independently audited. At present, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, some states require independent audits. In general, however, state-level audits are left to state election officials which is the equivalent of a private company auditing its own books. Such internal audits provide no assurance that the will of the people has been faithfully reported. Without that assurance, the barrier protecting the privileged elite becomes reinforced.
There are two main types of barriers in place that frustrate the will of the people. Money is a serious barrier to getting elected, especially for the candidate who is running for the first time. Last year money spent by challengers to sitting senators in two relatively smaller states — Maine and South Carolina — exceeded $100 million in both instances. In the Georgia senate election in January both challengers spent more than $100 million and successfully unseated the incumbents. To raise that kind of money, deals are struck that effectively make for two classes of constituents. One with preferential treatment in Congress because they have money, a second with no such preferred standing because they don’t. The ideal that all human beings are created equal and treated equally is debunked in a system where money rules.
The personal character of the privileged few in Congress is a second major barrier. Honor and integrity is what we expect from our representatives, but that’s not what we have in Congress. Instead we have men and women elected to office who remain in Washington for 20, 30, even 40 years. They prevail because they learned early on that party loyalty comes before the will of the people. When they die or retire they are treated like members of a privileged class. They are called by their partisan colleagues true national icons.
What man or woman of genuine honor and integrity who puts the will of the people above party loyalty would seek to join the ranks of public elected officials when only 15 percent of Americans today approve of the way they are handling the people’s business? And if by chance they did win election to public office how long are they likely to remain apart from already established representatives who enter into partnerships with the wealthy, cavort with persons hostile to the United States, forge personal alliances with foreign powers, take care of family members, lie to protect their own reputation and lie again to demean others? Who re-write the rules of the Senate and the House to serve personal and partisan agendas? Who find gratification in telling others outside their ring of privilege what to do because they are convinced that they are smarter and better than anyone else? Who tell the American people to “trust us,” that their elections are fair and free simply because they say so? Perhaps we should call it for what it is – Congressional elitism.
We are losing our grip on the republic that Benjamin Franklin promised us at the conclusion of the Constitutional Congress in 1787 with this cautionary note: “if we can keep it.” The barriers protecting the privileged members of Congress are high and firmly in place. Are the 8 ft fences, topped with razor wire, that surround the Capitol temporary barriers or will they become permanent? How much longer will National Guard troops remain in Washington to protect the city from frustrated and rebellious Americans?
The Washington elite have the money, the partisan machine, and the reflex to destroy their adversaries with torrents of lies. They have deliberately distanced themselves from the people and attack all challengers to be able to hang on to their seats even when 85 percent of Americans disapprove of the manner in which they handle the people’s business.
Identity politics has fractured our national unity for the purpose of controlling us rather than representing us. To accomplish that purpose it has been necessary to separate us from the principles that the founding fathers set forth as fundamental to authentic self-governance. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [human beings] are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” By appealing to our darker nature, the architects of identity politics have persuaded us that the God-given right to Life is not an absolute duty of every one to respect and defend, and that Liberty is the right to do whatever one pleases including taking the life of another or attacking the personhood of another. Drive-by shootings, gang-banging, rape, road rage, mass shootings, vicious street assaults on the weak and unsuspecting, carjacking, and most damning of all, using children as sexual objects.
We the People have lost our way. Who will show us the way home?
Edward J. O’Boyle is a retired economics professor. He can be reached at (318) 381-4002 or email@example.com.