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ARE OUR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS ON THEIR LAST LEGS?

December 19, 2016

ARE OUR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS ON THEIR LAST LEGS?

Professor Sheila Kennedy of IUPUI in Indianapolis posed the question of whether democracy can survive Trump for the next four years in her post today and asked for commentary. Following, as slightly edited, is my response, which I have reduced to a post of my own for further publication.

While attacks on our democracy are nothing new (see David Duke, the KKK, the Dixiecrats, the Civil War, the current triumph of tea partiers and the libertarian superrich, the racist record of Trump’s current candidate for Attorney General et al. et al. et al.), Trump has brought it all together, politicized it, sold it to an unwary public, and now is stuck with keeping such campaign promises for the next four years (barring an electoral miracle a few days hence which would keep him out of office).

If he survives the electoral college vote, as is likely, and if he keeps his campaign promises, then yes, there is a severe question whether democracy can survive, or at least survive as presently structured as oligarchy in the form of Wall Street banks and corporate America (i.e., the likes of Goldman Sachs and Exxon-Mobil and the libertarian superrich and rentiers generally) fully and finally takes over America and all of its socioeconomic institutions, my greatest fear. I often refer to our democracy as “tattered.” If Trump keeps his campaign promises, I will likely have a new phrase to describe it, to wit: “torn apart.”

Democracy is a fragile arrangement that, as Professor Kennedy rightly notes, requires a tacit understanding of its practitioners that all are involved in making it work, that “self-government” means exactly what it says and that government by the few without consent of the governed (a majority of people, not counties and states) is per se anti-democratic. Trump is a minority president-in-waiting, his campaign promises were rejected by a margin of nearly three million votes, yet due to a quirky Constitution he will sit in the Oval Office and make and propose and execute policy for an unwilling majority. We have a structural problem in interpreting our Constitution.

Thus our Constitution is at odds with itself, i.e., election by electoral college versus majority vote of those to be governed. Athenian democracy was based on the will of the majority; there were no colleges of electors or geographic or other sector breakdowns of the total vote (though slaves and women could not vote). Our forefathers modeled our Constitution from its Athenian antecedent and added the electoral college requirement to prevent what they felt at the time to be a potential for political chicanery, which has left us with conflicting signals. Do we abide by Athenian majority rule or do we succumb to rule by geography?

Each view has its adherents, but I am of the strong opinion that the fundamental tenet in the establishment and maintenance of democracy is that of majority rule rather than how the vote is counted, of substance over procedure, of who received the most votes irrespective of where those voting live, and from this I deduce that since Trump was in fact not elected by majority vote he will thus serve as an illegitimate chief executive “elected” by a minority, an outcome which is anathema in either Athenian or Madisonian thinking and an insult and affront to democracy and those who bled and died for its maintenance and survival.    GERALD      E

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Dee permalink

    This is called “hitting the nail on the head.” Hoping for survival!!

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