Civics, American History, Political Science…apparently none are taught anymore, because the level of idiocy, ignorance and flaccid assumptions about our political structure are ubiquitous.
Checks and balances? Three branches of government? A Constitutional Republic vs. a majority-rule Democratic government?
One of the glories of American Exceptionalism (another phrase about which most are ignorant) is the magical balance between competing powers in our government. Sure, it’s mostly broken, but even the vestiges of its brilliant design have protected us from some truly horrifying and destructive tendencies.
Of Course We’re Not a Democracy
Insofar as “democracy” means “a political system in which government derives its powers from the consent of the governed,” then of course that accurately describes our system. But the word conjures far more than that. It is often used to describe rule by majority, the view that it is the prerogative of government to reflexively carry out the will of the majority of its citizens.
Those who claim to speak and act for “the people’ have an alarming tendency to do really bad things. The doublespeak of the totalitarian is filled with vague references to “the people,” which conveniently overwhelms the smallest and most important unit of society: the individual.
It is individual rights that are the bedrock of natural and God-given law. That amorphous and malleable “people” are an excuse for the worst tendencies of mob rule. “The People” are the ones rioting in our streets and enthusiastically supporting vicious policies of inequality: affirmative action, reparations, defunding the police, and on and on and on.
That ignorance of history prevents a sober understanding of “the people,” best expostulated in post-revolution France. The Reign of Terror was exactly that, and it emerged from direct rule by the people, unfettered by the checks and balances of our Constitution.
It is the individual whom I trust, and American Exceptionalism placed him at the forefront. Just look at the Bill of Rights; its laser-like focus is on protecting the rights of the individual from the depredations of government, and on protecting the individual states from an overbearing central government.
But when the rule of law can be overwhelmed by a simple majority, even the most romantic notions of democracies fail. It is our unique Constitution that protects our rights, and we owe it to our ancestors and our descendants to inculcate them with at the very least an understanding of our political structure, and why it has resulted in the greatest country in history.