This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The "Republic" That Failed.

            Sometimes when I refer to America as a “democracy” someone will “correct” me in a patronizing and superior way, saying that, no, America is not a democracy, it is a republic, and that I should read the Constitution.
            I have read the Constitution.  Whether it describes a “republic” or a “democracy” is a matter of semantics.  I could find neither word used anywhere in it.  Conservatives who were afraid of democracy preferred to call it a “republic,” and still do.  Certainly the Constitution does not give us anything like a pure democracy, which would be unwieldy on a national scale even today, let alone at the end of the 18th century.  What we have is a representative democracy in which the will of the people is expressed through the election of representatives.
            The word “republic” gets sanctimoniously thrown around as a way of diminishing the democracy emphasis and replacing it with the idea that only some select few really are trustworthy enough to have power.  When the Constitution was ratified, remember, only white, male, property owners could vote.  Plus, the economy of much of the country was based on the uncompensated labor of slaves.  In fact, the original document does its best to protect this execrable and obscene institution.  Republic advocates point to these circumstances as proof that a democracy was not intended by the Constitution.  Rather, they say, the framers envisioned a paternalistic system in which a select few – white, male, property owners – managed the affairs of the many.  Something like that is what they define as a “republic.”  This is what they want to go back to.
            Fortunately, the ink on the Constitution was barely dry before 10 amendments were added to it.  Some hold that these amendments “limit government,” which is true.  But what they mainly limit is the ability of government to restrict the rights of people who are not white, male, property owners.  These amendments protected the rights of more and more people, and moved us dramatically in the direction of an inclusive democracy.  We have been continuing on the same trajectory ever since.  Most amendments to the Constitution have had the effect of broadening the rights of the people (such as amendments I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XIII, XIV, XV, XVII, XIX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXVI).  That means that the proprietary rights of the privileged class of white, male, property owners have also steadily been diminished.
            And make no mistake, this is what the hysteria and paranoia is all about.  The self-serving illusion of the “republic” managed by benevolent white, male, property owners is becoming increasingly untenable.  By 2050, whites will not be the majority in this country.  It is already impossible to win a national election without some support from non-whites.  They think they can reverse this tide by restricting voting rights.  But as we saw in 2012, this only makes people more steadfast in exercising those rights, even if they have to stand in line for 8 hours to do it.  They think they can reverse this tide by gerrymandering Congressional and legislative districts, allowing minorities to maintain their grip on power.  This will work for a while.  But eventually the people who do the work, create the wealth, pay the fees, and spend the money will rise up and put a stop to it.
            The so-called “republic” of privileged white, male, property owners that some wish to recover or reinstate basically failed, nearly at its inception.  It failed, not from some conspiracy, act of treachery, or external coercion.  It failed because it was unsustainable, not to mention unjust and unreal.  For no matter how some may try to point out how great things where in 1789 (for people like them), the rest of us are incurably infected with the blessed disease of democracy.  We do believe that God created all of us equal.  We do believe that all of us are entitled to a say in decisions that are made.  And we do believe that we are all in this together to care for, support, and encourage each other.  And we reject the idea that some are more equal than others.

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