I expect the title of this op-ed will generate enough hate mail to keep me busy for a month. How can anyone oppose democracy? If the Founders hated democracy, who am I to disagree?
The Founders recognized the inherent dangers of democratic government. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, called democracy “one of the greatest evils.”
Alexander Hamilton, better known for being a Broadway phenomena that one of the most significant individuals in the establishment of the United States of America, wrote that ancient democracies “never possessed one feature of good Government. Their very character was tyranny.”
James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, along with Hamilton, argued that there was nothing in a democracy “to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.” Over 200 years ago, Madison envisioned a future leader like Donald Trump.
Madison, in Federalist # 10, wrote that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short-lived as they have been violent in their deaths.”
Madison and most of the Founders believed republics were preferable to democracies because they protected against the tyranny of the majority. They created a system of indirect election of the president and checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Most Americans know that we pledge allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands,” and not to the “democracy for which it stands.”
Critics of democracy claim that it is unstable and subject to frequent change. As a result, in 2017, 159 of the 206 sovereign states use “republic” as part of their name.
20th-century Italian political thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca viewed democracies as an illusion. According to Pareto and Mosca, democracies portray themselves to be dominated by the rule of the people when, in reality, they are dominated by political elites due to the apathy of the masses.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote a century ago, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
The 2016 election illustrates the limits of democracy. The normally sedate masses can be aroused by a leader who offers simple solutions to complex problems. Trump convinced enough voters that unless he was elected, America was at its end as a world power.
Trump was also able to convince enough voters that he was the leader to transform America from its downward spiral and that he would “Make America Great Again.” As America’s political savior, Trump promised his political supporters that “I alone can fix it. I alone am your voice.”
Many Americans are convinced that Trump is a new kind of leader who will restore America to greatness. I am more inclined to believe we have selected a false prophet who will lead America down a path of danger and destruction.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.