Entertaining essay by Ed Burmilla for that classic line by people who want to preempt discussions of various failures of American constitutionalism, “wE’rE a rEPuBLiC nOt A dEMoCRacY”:
The most impressive thing about the ubiquitous comment-section incantation “We’re a republic, not a democracy” is its versatility. Those six simple words fill the very different needs of several key demographics in the ascendant right.
For glib elitist types who openly believe in their own superiority, it is a straightforward endorsement of paternalistic, Burkean, “your interests, not your will” representation. To Fox News Stepdads who have spent decades venerating the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, it is an appeal to authority—So was it written, by the great Men themselves!—with the condescending tone natural to the mediocre white guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about but is certain of its accuracy. And in the most common scenario, it is simply a way to create the appearance of having said something profound while saying nothing at all.
In the end, invoking republicanism is little more than a way out for the many Americans who honestly think they support government Of, By, and For the People but are perfectly happy with undemocratic processes that produce the outcomes they want.
In every usage it is a statement of simple fact relying on a definition of “democracy” that nobody uses. It is, in short, the essence of a dumb person’s idea of what something smart would sound like. Checkmate, libs.
I mean, say this for Madison, he was wrong about a lot of things but he was a lot smarter than his most fervent would-be admirers think he was.