Last week Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) tweeted, “We’re not a democracy.” He’s absolutely correct, we are not and have never been a democracy. The Senator goes on to declare that we’re a “republic.” What exactly is a “republic” though? In a republic, we the people don’t vote directly on legislation, we select, by some method, representatives to make the rules for us and enforce them on us. We select just a few of us to rule all of us. Rule by the few has a fancy Greek name – oligarchy, from oligoi meaning few and archy meaning rule. Saying we’re a republic is just a manipulative way of saying we’re ruled by the few, not the many. We’re ruled by the minority, not the majority. We’re ruled by the 1%, not the 99%. That’s what Senator Lee means when he says we’re a republic. A republic (“constitutional” or otherwise), is just an oligarchy in a fake mustache and glasses.
Unless it’s a democratic republic, it has no more political legitimacy than an oligarchy or a monarchy.
“Governments,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” To determine who’s rule the governed consent to, to determine who wields “just” power, we say we let the people vote. That would be fair, right? Everyone votes, everyone gets an equal say in their government.
But then we make the people fight through all kinds of bureaucratic red tape to vote. We limit voter registration locations and hours, increase the documentation needed to register and to vote, reduce the number of polling stations, and absentee ballot drop boxes – particularly in low income and minority communities, where population density is highest. Often, after you’ve fought through the red tape, stood in line for many, many hours, they can’t match your signature, or you’ve been purged from the voter rolls without warning, or your ballot isn’t counted for any number of reasons – the government prevents you from voting and then assumes your consent anyway. That’s how rapists define consent. “You didn’t fight hard enough, therefore you consented.” You cannot derive “just” powers from an unjust process. When Republicans say we’re a republic, they’re desperately trying to hide the fact we live under a Constitution explicitly designed to ensure the rule of the wealthy few, forever.
The common theme underlying virtually every Republican talking point is the people must never wield power. For example, when Republicans talk about the Electoral College, they recoil in terror from the dreaded “tyranny of the majority.” What’s the difference between “tyranny of the majority” and “majority rules?” Absolutely nothing. The first is just a derogatory way of saying the second. The Senate, the House, the Supreme Court – every branch of our government where more than one person holds power uses majority rule. Is the normal operation of the House, Senate, or Court “tyranny of the majority”? Why aren’t Senator Lee and other Republicans screaming about “tyranny of the majority” in Congress and the Court?
Neither the Senate, the House, nor the Court, represents the majority of the people. Just 6% of the US population selects 52% of the Senate. That’s the number of people who voted for the Senators elected from the 26 least populous states – Utah, the state Senator Lee represents, is one of them. If we consider the total populations of those states in aggregate, just 17% of the US population selects 52 Senators. If that isn’t bad enough, just 31% select 68 Senators. Let that sink in. Less than 1/3rd of the people select more than 2/3rds of the Senate (2018 data, rounded to the nearest integer). According to Senator Lee, and every other Republican (and establishment Democrats), this is a feature of our government – not a bug. Senator Lee isn’t against “tyranny of the majority” when it comes to Senate votes, or House votes, or Supreme Court rulings, because in those institutions, a tiny minority of the people control the majority of the power. In the end, it’s the 1% making the decisions about how everyone else has to live. It’s a lot easier – and cheaper – for the 1% to influence a small minority with their money and power than a large majority. Senator Lee wants to continue the existing tyranny of the minority, because tyranny of the minority is the only way Republicans can hold power, given the unpopularity of their agenda among the people.
Senator Lee doesn’t really care about liberty, freedom, or tyranny – I doubt he understands the meaning of the words in any adult way. The only thing Senator Lee cares about is raw power, and he’s happy to steal it from the American people here in Michigan and around the country. He and his colleagues from those 26 states are entitled to at most 17% of Senate power – the proportion of the US population residing in those 26 states – not 52%. More than 2/3rds of the power they wield is illegitimate on its face by the standards of the Declaration of Independence. We fought the Revolutionary War to the cry of “no taxation without representation!” We’re told we won, but what we got is taxation without equal representation – hardly what our ancestors fought for. We went from a monarchy to an oligarchy, called it a “republic,” then advertised and sold it as a democracy. Instead of King George and the British “nobility” ruling without our consent, we’re ruled by a tiny number of wealthy people who believe they’re entitled to rule because of their wealth – our consent be damned. Taking 52% of Senate power with 6% – or even 17% – of the population is robbing every other American, stealing at least 35% of total Senate power – 35% of the representation we’re entitled to in the Senate. For at least 94% of the country (really, everyone outside the least populous states, Wyoming), we still have taxation without equal representation. Senator Lee and other Republicans scream that taxation is theft, at the same time they’re carrying out the massive theft of political power from 94% of the country, and using it to try and force us to obey. According to Senator Lee, just 6% of the population has the power – through their representatives – to ban abortion, funnel gobs of money to already profitable corporations, and murder people by denying them healthcare, among other Republican priorities.
Senator Lee’s ideal America is a tyranny of the minority – so long as his people are the tyrants. His people are wealthy white men. We’ve had 50 states for 60 years. Over that time, we’ve held over 200,000 individual elections to seat 1,530 state and federal legislatures. With one exception that highlights the rule (Nevada 2018), every election cycle produced exactly the same results – not just bare majorities, but supermajorities of wealthy white men, a tiny minority of the population. What makes them a tiny minority isn’t being white or male – there are lots of us white men – what makes them a tiny minority is their wealth. They are the 1% (and their shills). They do not represent the people. Senator Lee and his Republican colleagues want a government that doesn’t represent the people because they know their policies are horribly unpopular. They want to dictate to everyone else how to live, how to love, and even how to die. They want women forced to reproduce against their will. Senator Lee and his tribe want one set of rules for the tiny minority of the wealthy and a much harsher and deeply dehumanizing set of rules for everyone else.
Senator Lee goes on to demand that “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are.” There is no liberty when the vast majority of the population doesn’t have an equal voice in government – there is at most an illusion of liberty. When 6% of the population controls 52% of Senate power, at least 94% of the population are ruled without their consent. Is that liberty? No, very much the opposite. It is literally tyranny. Does that sound like a system that will lead to peace? Definitely not, and if it does not lead to peace, it cannot lead to prosperity – except for the military-industrial complex, where you’ll find many of Senator Lee’s big-dollar donors. The only people who prosper under Senator Lee’s oligarchy are those who profit off conflict and war, not peace. Stealing 35% of Senate power from 94% of the people is a recipe for bitter conflict, not peace or prosperity. Sooner or later, the 94% won’t accept tyrannical rule anymore. It is a recipe for bitter conflict because we have been sold the illusion of democracy, and now we expect and demand an equal voice in selecting our legislatures, executives, courts, and other representatives. What matters isn’t what’s in the Constitution, what matters is what’s in the hearts of the people, because they are the ultimate authority on political legitimacy, as Jefferson reminds us – not the Constitution. Perhaps the one truly brilliant idea in the Constitution is that it can be changed through a political process rather than a military one.
Democracy means rule by the people. That is as much a definition of what it means to be a person in a democratic society as it is a definition of democracy itself. A person in a democratic society shares ruling power equally with everyone else – often in the form of an equal vote for some number of representatives. In Senate elections, I and everyone in Michigan count as just 1/17th of a person. Michigan has 17 times the population of Wyoming, but exactly the same representation in the Senate. It should come as no surprise that the Constitution dehumanizes people implicitly as well as explicitly. As originally written, black people were explicitly defined to be just 3/5ths of a person. In the Senate, as currently practiced, Michiganders aren’t even that.
When Republicans or other right-wingers insist we’re a republic, they’re demanding to rule us without our consent. That is the political equivalent of rape – an intimate act taken without your consent. And they intend to rule us particularly in regard to some of our most intimate acts, because they’re obsessed with controlling what we do with our bodies in our own homes behind closed doors. They’re politically raping you, and they expect you to like it. Senator Lee likes political rape. In his tweets he calls it “a good thing.” No, Senator Lee, it’s not a good thing. It’s predatory, abusive, and violent.
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