With the 2016 US Presidential election in full swing, many candidates have fallen back
on praising American democracy. In an interview with Time, Hillary Clinton said “we have
to knit this democracy back together”. Clearly, the presidential election is the purest expression
of the democratic process… right?
Well, not exactly. In fact, not only is the election non-democratic, but America itself
is not a real democracy. It turns out that there are almost no modern countries which
would be considered “true democracies”. Instead, countries we considered democratic,
are actually forms of “representative democracy”, as opposed to a “direct democracy”. In
a representative democracy, citizens vote for elected officials, who collectively vote
in the place of citizens, and are expected to represent their best interests. Although
that’s a step above having a king or oligarchy you didn’t vote for, it isn’t a direct
democracy. A direct democracy enables citizens to vote directly on every law, ordinance,
and appointment. Only in Switzerland are there small regions with forms of direct democracy,
although the country as a whole is still representative.
In the United States, citizens instead vote for Congresspeople, who represent their constituents.
In the case of the presidential election, citizens don’t even vote for the president.
Instead they vote for their state’s position in the electoral college. This is where every
state is given a certain number of votes, and all those votes go towards whichever candidate
is chosen by the majority. The state’s electoral votes are intended to represent the state’s
population, but the country’s popular vote does not decide elections. In the year 2000,
Al Gore lost the US election but actually got MORE votes than George W. Bush!
So, doesn’t this subvert the founding father’s original intention? No! It was the founding
fathers themselves who made sure there was not a direct
democracy. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote that democracies were spectacles
of turbulence and contention, and incompatible with personal security or property rights.
The problem with a direct democracy is that it often leads to the “tyranny of the majority”.
This is when small groups are oppressed because the majority is unaffected by their oppression.
Instead, modern representative democracy allows disproportionate representation and protection
to those minority groups. There are also certain rights which are enumerated in the constitution,
instead of allowing the public to vote on them. This system combined makes the US a
constitutional republic, and not a true democracy.
In a nutshell, the United States, and other modern democracies, have no real reason to
be truly democratic. Not only does a representative government function more smoothly, it takes
care of those who would otherwise be ignored. With the exceptions of some local governments
which do see direct democracy from their citizens, the rest find it easier to choose someone
who represents their interests. So, why isn’t America a true democracy? Because according
to the founding fathers, a “true democracy” simply doesn’t work.
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And you should also be glad what while the US isn’t a real democracy, it also isn’t
a dictatorship. There are still a lot of countries that have dictators, and you can check out
this video to find out which ones do. Thanks for watching! Make sure to like and subscribe
for new videos every day.