“A Republic, not a Democracy” Redux

The Strzok hearing provides a return to this timeworn favorite.

To be honest, the clip of Representative Paul Gosar that I wanted to write about wasn’t the dentistry one that I have already commented upon, but rather the one below.  The previous post does also give my general views on the Strzok testimony, so this post can focus on the ever popular, “republic, not a democracy” bit.

Of course, regulars to OTB are aware that this phrase is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard to me.  I will note that his stumbling attempt to get out his thought on this is, I think, indicative of the fact that he is sloganeering and not engaging in some deep (or even shallow) understanding of the cliche he is deploying.

Some of my previous writings on this topic include:

Let me note two facts (which are discussed at length in several of the items listed above):

  1. Our system is “republican” at a fundamental level because it has no monarchy and no aristocracy (power is not handed down in hereditary fashion).  That is what Article IV, section 4 of the US Constitution means when it states “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”  We have an elected government that derives its legitimacy from “We the People” not the bloodline of a certain family. That makes us a republic.
  2. When Madison made the distinction between a “democracy” and a “republic” in several places in the Federalist Papers (again:  see the above links) he was making a distinction between small polities (in size and population) wherein all citizens participated in government, i.e., direct democracy, and larger polities (in size and population) that would require representative democracy (i.e., an elected government).  I cannot stress enough that by that definition, every single current country in the world called a “democracy” is a “republic” (even the ones with figurehead monarchs).  The issue is one about who governs and how they get into government in the first place.

If one wants to get into a broader political science/political theory discussion, one could address things like the use of the word “republic” over time (dating back to the ancient Greeks), as well as its more modern usages, many of which are not democratic at all (e.g., “The People’s Republic of China,” the “Union of Soviet Socialists Republics,” the “German Democratic Republic,” and/or the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”).  One could also get into the fact that we get the word “republic” from the Latin and the word “democracy” from the Greek and that therefore a lot of this discussion over time has revolved around translations and usages as much as definitions.  We would also need to get into the difference between the way the words have been used since the late 1780s when modern democratic governance was being born, and then evolved over the next two centuries (and, really, is still evolving), as opposed to how they were used prior to that time.

I can say with some authority that for those who study comparative democracies, the phrase, “the US is a republic, not a democracy” is so fraught with problems as to make it nonsensical.  It is a slogan used by people who almost certainly don’t really understand what the words mean.

When it comes to American political discourse, I would argue that people use this phrase for most of the following ways:

  1. A comment on simple majority rule:  They think they are making a point about the fact that our system is not one in which all that matters is the majority.  But, as I note in several of the posts above, there is no democratic system in the world that only takes into account majority preferences at the ongoing and total expense of the minority. No democracy is a zero-sum system where 50%+1 gets everything at the expense of the rest.
  2. A phrase to hand-wave away things like the Electoral College:  Most people, in my experience (and to include, IMO, Gosar), are simply trying to explain away weird elements (in comparative and historical terms) of the US constitutional order that really do not take majority will into account.  As such, if one wants to defend the notion that Vermont, and its ~600,000 persons is equivalent to the ~18,000,000 in Florida you can say “we have a republic, not a democracy” firm in the understanding that one of the Framers said something along those lines somewhere, so you don’t have to do any heavy intellectual lifting.
  3. That our institutions create a special kind of consensus.  This is the most charitable possibility.  That somehow letting states be more important than people creates some kind of representational balance.  The problem becomes proving that that is what is happening, especially with the kind of disjuncture we see between the largest population states and the lowest population states.  To what degree are we really seeing a worthwhile balance of interests that foster consensus, cooperation, and just outcomes versus to what degree are we seeing distortions of the public interest in government?  It hard, for example, to look at the outcome of the 2016 election and say it produced consensus.  Indeed, quite the opposite.
  4. A more sophisticated statement endorsing minority rule.  I have been meaning to write about this for some time, and it probably deserves its own, long, post. But one can make an argument, that yes, the constitution did not establish a “democracy” if by that term one means a system that 1) derives sovereign power the people, 2) derives members of government via free, fair, and competitive elections, 3) seeks to represent the views of the public, in its various forms, in that government, and 4) seeks to protect a series of key rights that would protect the numeric minority from the numeric majority at a given moment in time (e.g., freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, etc.).  Instead of such a system, one could argue that the US Constitution established a system of government that eschewed monarchy and aristocracy but was still designed to empower the minority (just a bigger minority than the monarchies if Europe empowered).  It was a system that empowered white males with a certain amount of wealth, especially as tied to land ownership.  Such a system could be broadly “republican” but still give power to less than the whole mass of persons in the country.  This would certainly not be a democracy.  It would be a kind of pluralistic authoritarianism.

In regards to option #4, one could argue, if one were so inclined, that the Electoral College and the Senate continue to conserve the power of privileged classes and only include others slowly (if at all) over time.  Now, most Americans believe, or at least give lip service to, the notion that our ideals are aspirational, that we are ever moving to a place where “We the people” means the whole of the people (regardless of social class, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.).  However, one can take a view that change should be slow and that the established elites are elite for a reason and so their power should either not diminish, or if it has to, that it should do so slowly (see, e.g., the work of Edmund Burke or even that of Russell Kirk).  If one is a white male (especially from a rural part of the country) one might think, either implicitly or explicitly, that that is what “a republic, not a democracy” means.  I do, however, think it unlikely that too many people would publicly defend such a position. Indeed, much of the tension in the entire conversation is based in the question of whether one thinks our government should be inclusive or not.  Should our government be representative of the population, in terms of the various interests of the country, or should it not? To be honest, I think a lot of people don’t want a broadly representative government for fear that they would personally lose power to some degree or because taxes might be raised.

What ideals are being spoken by this formulation? is a question that all who hear it should ask.

Let me note a bottom line here:  I keep writing about this not because of the academic esoterica associated with parsing the meanings of words over time (although, sure, there is some of that.  I am, after all, an academic).  But a key, if not fundamental, reason I think it is worth focusing on in a general forum like OTB is that this discussion gets to the root of what defines America and what our ideals mean. Are we evolving towards better representation and more inclusion, or are we really trying to maintain existing power structures? A belief in democracy is a belief that popular will can sometimes reorganize power.  If one wished to maintain power, one might not actually like democracy, despite the lip-service one may pay to it.

When you start your constitution with the words “We the people” you need to figure out what that really means.  This conversation gets to the heart of the question.  Does it mean what it meant in 1789?  If so, it means “We, the white males with some level of wealth.”  If it no longer means that, and I think that is doesn’t, then what does it mean?

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I think that when they are saying “We are not a Democracy” is precisely because they don’t like the democratic process and they want some kind of authoritarian rule that ignores what people want. 😉 They couldn’t be more clear.

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  2. MBunge says:

    The obliviousness! It burns!

    It’s clear that you believe that you and your ilk are the only honest ones, the only fair ones, the only ones who really understand what’s going on and when someone never outgrows or slides back into that sort of adolescent narcissism, there’s not much which can be done. You can’t convince a boy he’s wrong when his self-worth is tied up in being right. But a few points…

    1. YOU are the privileged minority and it takes an almost admirable amount of audacity to look at people who have less power, status, influence, and security and call them “privileged.”

    2. The Electoral College in 2016 did exactly what it was designed to do and exactly what the Founders intended it to do. You know that is the truth and no amount of fake “wokeness” is going to change that.

    3. The contempt you feel for your fellow citizens is shameful but even worse, it is stupid. This is something that, by now, has been pointed out multiple times but multiple people but you still refuse to listen. The rise of Donald Trump is the direct result of the failure of people like you. You are the people who have been running things. You are the ones who would not hear the complaints about stagnant wages, explosive income inequality, insane immigration policies, and imperial war-mongering. You transformed America into a place that not only rewarded those like you but punished those not like you, then became irritated when those not like you became reluctant to simply die and decrease the surplus population. So rather than acknowledge your failure and try to repair it by, you know, persuading people and winning elections, you retreat into masturbatory pontificating.

    It’s hard to dumb things down enough for you but I’m going to try. The probitive front-runners at the start of the 2016 Presidential campaign were Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, though Hillary was even more prohibitive than Jeb. Our political elites were perfectly content for the United States of America, a 21st century society of over 300,000,000 citizens, to spend at least 24 out of 32 years trading the White House back and forth between two families. They were content with a third Bush Presidency after the first one ended in one-term failure and the second was literally one of the most catastrophic administrations in American history. They were content with a publicly accused rapist becoming First Gentleman. That is the choice people like you wanted to offer the voting public. And when people decided to reject that choice and when your side lost because one of your kind, a woman who had spent her entire adult life in politics and was personally involved in four Presidential campaigns, was too dumb to understand how the Electoral College worked, you persist in thinking THEY are the problem?

    And I’m calling it right now. If Trump’s GOP wins a majority of House votes in the 2018 midterms, your enthusiasm for majority rule will “mysteriously” dissipate.

    Mike

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  3. MBunge says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: they want some kind of authoritarian rule that ignores what people want

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Mike

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  4. Kylopod says:

    When it comes to American political discourse, I would argue that people use this phrase for most the following ways

    Additionally, I would note that I think part of where this originates is as a trope taught in grade school, which some people remember and think that because they learned it so early it must be some kind of immutable truth. That’s one of the reasons I’ve compared it to the split infinitive rule. (I don’t remember being taught that one in school, but my parents do.) One of the reasons it persists more readily than some other schoolroom myths–say, the belief that Columbus proved the earth’s roundness–is that there’s a certain level of abstraction to it that makes it immune to a simple factual rebuttal. It’s not a question of fact but of fundamental definitions. It’s based on the notion that there are inherently correct and incorrect ways to define words, without considering that words evolve over time and may have multiple, conflicting definitions even within a single time. It’s especially problematic when you realize that at the time of the Founding Fathers, nothing remotely like a modern-day “democracy,” “republic,” or whatever you choose to call it, existed.

    I have noticed over the past decade or so that this type of comment most often comes from the American right; indeed, it seems to be something of a talk radio cliche by now. My guess is that it started with the 2000 election debacle, where Republicans saw attacks on the Electoral College (which had not previously been a partisan issue) as nothing more than Democratic attacks on Bush’s legitimacy as president. It snowballed from there as the GOP increasingly became the champions of policies that make the government less representative of voters, from gerrymandering to voter ID laws, and the line that the US is a “republic, not a democracy” became a convenient way to shoot down critics. It’s a vacuous retort that can be used to excuse just about anything, but it enables them to pretend their views are somehow what the Founders had in mind, and it has the false gravitas that comes with a “truth” we all learned in school.

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  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @Kylopod: Training children that they do not live in a democracy is in precisely the same vein as renaming May Day, a day remembered by workers all over the world for the murder of worker-activists by the Chicago police, as “Law and Order Day” by Republicans. It’s the systematic erasure of the country’s past to promote passivity and compliance.

    And it’s for that same reason Americans are taught about a Santa Clausized version of the Founders. If Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington were around to day saying the things they’d written then, they’d be called flaming communists by the Right.

    So instead we get portraits of Jesus handing over the Constitution and the gross misuse of cherry-picked writings taken far outside their context.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    When you start your constitution with the words “We the people” you need to figure out what that really means. This conversation gets to the hear of the question. Does it mean what it meant in 1789? If so, it means “We, the white males with some level of wealth.” If it no longer means that, and I think that is doesn’t, then what does it mean?

    In today’s GOP, it still means “We, the white males with some level of wealth.” with exceptions made for the odd person of melanin or gender differences but sufficient levels of wealth.

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  7. TM01 says:

    I really can’t wait to hear Kathy’s take on this.

    We already know she wants to limit the ability of the common people to choose their elected representatives by having an elite, privileged class pre select the candidates.

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  8. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    The obliviousness! It burns!

    The projection! It is obvious!

    stagnant wages, explosive income inequality, insane immigration policies, and imperial war-mongering.

    You support Trump, who as a Republican President is the leader of the party primarily responsible for all of the above.

    You transformed America into a place that not only rewarded those like you but punished those not like you

    This is, of course, exactly what Trump has pledged to do, and the main reason his supporters support him.

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  9. Kylopod says:

    Another point that occurred to me is that we tend to think of the names of the two major parties as arbitrary labels that have nothing to do with the democracy vs. republic distinction, and it seems like a coincidence that the Republicans today are the ones most often parroting this line “The US is a republic, not a democracy.” But it may in fact be a holdover from how these terms were described in earlier times, even if it was charged by the 2000 election (and supercharged by the 2016 one). In the 19th century the democracy/republic distinction did often have partisan overtones, and the phrase “the democracy” was sometimes used as an informal synonym for the Democratic Party. According to linguist Geoffrey Nunberg:

    But until the 20th century democrat was a charged term in American political life. In the age of Jefferson and Jackson, Americans were still aware that the word had been borrowed from French at the time of the French Revolution, when democrat was opposed to aristocrat, and the idea of “rule of the people” could evoke the alarming echoes of tumbrils in the streets. And the name of the Democratic Party itself (or the “Democratic Republicans” as they were called in Jefferson’s time) was derived from the clubs called “democratic societies,” which were modeled after Jacobin groups of Revolutionary France.

    That sense was still alive at the end of the 19th century, when William Jennings Bryan said that “between one who is at heart an aristocrat and one who is at heart a democrat there is a great gulf fixed.” Bryan made a clear connection between the small-d and big-D senses of democrat and democratic — in fact he sometimes used democracy as a synonym for the Democratic Party itself.

    It wasn’t until the 20th century that democracy began to recede into the American rhetorical wallpaper, stripped of most of its connotations of social and economic equality — this even as “the people” was starting to sound a little musty as a name for the common man. In fact nowadays the phrase “economic democracy” is only a tenth as common in the press as it was in the Roosevelt years, and almost wholly absent from political discourse, where it calls up phrases like “income redistribution” and “class warfare.”

    Once democracy was safely disconnected from its more radical egalitarian implications, it no longer conjured up the specters of mob rule and despotism that made writers like Kant and Burke so wary of the word.

  10. @MBunge:

    The contempt you feel for your fellow citizens is shameful but even worse, it is stupid.

    Arguing for a more representative democracy, as a I continually do, is an odd way of showing contempt for my fellow citizens.

    If Trump’s GOP wins a majority of House votes in the 2018 midterms, your enthusiasm for majority rule will “mysteriously” dissipate.

    You really haven’t been paying attention. And I am not sure that you even understand what I am saying.

    By the way, I have grown weary of your personal attacks. Henceforth, please make an argument instead of just attacking me, else I will just start deleting your comments. They are tiresome, repetitive, and often do not contribute to the discussion (you are not on point in this tirade).

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  11. @MBunge: One more thing:

    You are the ones who would not hear the complaints about stagnant wages, explosive income inequality, insane immigration policies, and imperial war-mongering.

    You are the one defending an electoral system that is unlikely to produce responses to any of this. You are the one defending a set of rules that are inherently conservative (small “c”) and that are unlikely to take into account those, to pick a major item in your list, who are suffering from stagnant wages. You really think we are on track to address income inequality?

    You simply don’t understand what you are talking about.

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  12. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You simply don’t understand what you are talking about.

    I suspect that this is beside the point. The problem with MBunge (and a bunch of others) is that he doesn’t argue in good faith.

    At the one hand, he is reproaching you for being part of a privileged minority that has been running things (which is bad), but the fact that not even a plurality of voters got their wish is good, because “the Electoral College in 2016 did exactly what it was designed to do and exactly what the Founders intended it to do.”

    Not understanding how the Founders thought the EC was supposed to work can be easily ascribed to ignorance, but simultaneously holding that minority rule is bad and that minority rule is good (depending on who the minority is), is blatantly and intentionally dishonest.

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: To quote an old Chinese Organic Chemistry teacher of a friend of mine, “Why you botha? Why you botha?”

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: It’s not a recent thing with the right. Back in the 60s it was a big thing with the John Birch Society. Although they didn’t seem to have any clear idea what they meant by it either.

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Madison meant wealthy white male at the Constitutional Convention. He was very explicit in that the primary purpose of government was to protect the “opulent few” from the majority, but in this he was a naive pre-capitalist. He believed the opulent few who governed the country would be well-educated and enlightened, making decions in the interest of everyone.

    By 1799 he had changed his tune. Instead of writing about protecting the opulent few, he’s by then writing about “the daring depravity of the times“, in which “[t]he stockjobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it, by clamours and combinations.”

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    In 20 years half the US population will elect just 16% of the Senate. Half the population will elect 84% of the Senate. That second half is far whiter, far more rural, less educated and older. Rustic whites have wildly disproportionate power. That is not fair, rational or good for the country.

    Among other things this problem of ghost states makes amendment impossible. Amendments are the constitution’s adaptive mechanism. That adaptive mechanism is rendered completely inoperable by the least adaptive members of the population. Failure to adapt leads to obsolescence, decay, eventual extinction.

    The Founders did not magically foretell a future where the urban/rural balance shifted this dramatically. The system is showing its age, like a well-designed subway system that was a marvel of its era, but is now increasingly incapable of handling the load. The system is not performing well. Things that need doing are not getting done. The beast is no longer adapting to a changing environment.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    It’s not a recent thing with the right. Back in the 60s it was a big thing with the John Birch Society.

    I did not know that. I myself first started hearing the talking point in the aftermath of the 2000 election. But checking the newspaper archive from my library now, you seem to be correct. According to one 1961 NYT article:

    At the closing session of the seventh annual convention of We, the People!, an ultra-conservative political action group, Mr. Welch said that democracy was mob rule or a government ruled by the majority whereas a republic was a government ruled by law.

    “The founding fathers knew what democracy was and didn’t want it,” Mr. Welch said. “You won’t find the word democracy in the United States Constitution or in any of the state constitutions. They also knew what a republic is and that is what they set out to get.”

    And here’s a WaPo article from around that time:

    Robert H. Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, declared last night that “the worst of all forms of government is a democracy.”

    The best government, he said, is “a constitutional republic,” which he did not, however, define.

    Finally, here’s an op-ed from the NYT critiquing Welch’s remarks:

    Every now and then some American gets up and says that the United States is a Republic and not, as some suppose, a democracy. The latest person to come up with this remarkable discovery is Robert H.W. Welch Jr., head of the John Birch Society, who says that Chief Justice Earl Warren “has taken the lead in the drive to convert this country into a democracy.”

    If the Chief Justice has done this thing he belongs in the society of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Lord Bryce and others.

    The Constitution does not say this is a democracy. It does say, “We the people of the United States.” The confusion which has tripped up Mr. Welch and many others perhaps lies between the old concept of a democratic community so small that it can be administered like a town meeting, and a Republic so large that the citizen must delegate some functions.

    But there is no question as to the essence of democracy, which as de Tocqueville said “consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority.” There are limitations on this sovereignty, even in the United States. The decisions of the Supreme Court are among these limitations. But what the people want, in a democracy, they can get.

    One thinks of something Thoreau observed: “The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy to a democracy is progress toward true respect for the individual.” And Whitman, speaking in what he called his own “barbaric yawp,” said: “I speak the password primeval–I give the sign of democracy.” And there is the Gettysburg Address. Can we impeach Lincoln?

  18. Andy says:

    Interest post, as always.

    A few observations:

    – You use “government” as a general term but based on the context it appears you’re speaking wholly, or at least primarily, about the federal government. If this is the case then I obviously agree as the federal government was not designed to be representative on an individual basis. But it’s important to point out there are different levels of government and the disparities you write about are largely confined to the federal government and not just “government.”

    – I would also add “federal” (federation, federalism) to your list of words many people do not seem to understand.

    – It’s odd you mention “white males with some level of wealth” and neglect the elephant in the room – the reason we don’t have perfect representation today at the federal level is because the state remains the core political unit in our system of government. The federal government was created to serve the needs of states, not the reverse. As you know, compromises were made to ensure a measure of equality among the states (not equality of representation among individuals) in the federal system which is how we got the Senate.

    – Despite changes over the last ~230 years that resulted in a more powerful, important and present federal government, it still remains a creature of and, ultimately accountable to, the states. Structurally, unrepresentativeness in the federal system is baked in and it will remain that way as long as the federal government is premised on the existence of states as semi-sovereign political entities.

    – If one desires to increase individual equality of representation at the federal level, then that requires changing the balance of power in our system away from states and toward the central government (an exception may be the case where states voluntarily break-up or merge to form more equal units – but that is a process that resides primarily with the states).

    -I won’t repeat the previous points I’ve made in many other threads about the inherent problems and consequences of attempting to actually achieve greater individual representation at the federal level, but would just point out that such change is extremely difficult, uncertain, comes with substantial tradeoffs, and will have lasting consequences that can’t be predicted in advance.

    – This last point is why I continue to support our present system, excepting a few changes like trading the electoral college for the popular vote in Presidential elections. Despite the flaws in our federal system, I strongly believe the various “cures” are worse than the disease. Additionally, for me the question isn’t one of “republic vs democracy” it’s federalism vs centralized control and a belief in the principle of subsidiarity.

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  19. Kathy says:

    From a historical perspective, it’s worth remembering the time the Founders lived, the Enlightenment, which was marked by very strong influences of Greco-Roman politics, philosophy, ideas, and arts.

    Then, and more so now, perhaps the best known republic was the Roman Republic, which existed for several centuries until around the first Century CE. The Romans regarded their system as a democracy. The Latin roots of “republic” are res meaning entity or concern, and publicus menaing the people’s. the Greek roots of “democracy” are demos meaning the people, and krata meaning power or rule.

    So “The people’s concern” on one side and “The people’s rule” on the other, it’s pretty much the same thing. And keep in mind in the Roman Republic, there was a franchise for all male citizens almost from the start.

    So, yeah, the whole distinction is meaningless. A republic is one form of democracy, plain and simple. It’s like a liquid is one form of fluid, but it would be stupid to argue that water is a liquid and not a fluid.

    Now, not only the meaning and usage of words changes over time, but also the way democracies work. We may rightly scoff at North Korea for calling itself a republic, but an ancient Roman would scoff at us for the same reason.

    After all, Rome had a participatory democracy. Citizens were expected to involve themselves, as far as they could, in the process of governing. of course most couldn’t, and the task fell mostly on the rich (largely because they had to finance their campaigns, and in many cases the expenses of their offices). But every citizen who lived in the city was expected to vote.

    And voting meant more than electing magistrates. Laws were voted on by the assemblies, ultimately composed of all citizens, even the poor. the simple explanation is that a magistrate would propose a law, and an assembly would vote on it.

    For anyone who thinks the Electoral College is a new idea, it isn’t. Its a development from way back. The Roman assemblies voted by “tribe.”(*) This were politically designated groups, rather than kinship ones. say there were 13 tribes, as an example, in a given assembly. The vote went thus: the first tribe would vote, their votes were counted and a result announced. So if the first tribe voted “against,” regardless of the margin, this counted as one vote against passing that law. also, given 13 tribes, the moment seven decisive tribal votes were cast, either for or against a law, voting would end.

    So if you reached seven votes against a law by the time the tenth tribe voted, that was that. And it did not matter whether the tribes voting against were divided 51-49%, while those voting for did so at, say, 70-30%.

    Anyway, a Roman who found most people vote only in elections (if they vote at all), don’t get involved in passing laws, and most who could afford to never entered a political office, they’d think we had no democracy at all. given Roman civic virtues, they’d think “representative democracy” was a term for being lazy and disengaged from the community.

    (*) If you think this system could keep minorities repressed, and could manipulate results, you’re entirely right. For example, all Italians given Roman citizenship were lumped into one “Italian tribe.”

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  20. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    “…for a democracy is, among most civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of governments…”

    John Winthrop, 1636

  21. Zachriel says:

    A country can be both a republic and a democracy. A republic means the government is representative of the people, especially one where the head of state is not a hereditary monarch. A democracy means that there is universal suffrage.

  22. @Andy: First, I utterly disagree that ” the state remains the core political unit in our system of government.” That was true under the Articles of Confederation. But the US Constitution starts with “We the People,” not “We, the States.” That matters.

    And as I constantly note: real estate does not have interests, people do. States are containers of people. As Michael notes above: the relative power of populations in the smaller states is increasingly getting out of balance. This is not what the Framers designed. Let me note and emphasize: if we want a system closer to what the Framers thought they were designing vis-a-vis states, then we should redivide most of the country into far smaller units. One cannot look at the original 13 and then looks at the addition of the next 37 and say that there was any thought or design as to the effects of drawing the boundaries as we did. If CA (and TX and FL) was divided up in states more the size of the original 13, we might not be having this conservation.

    Or, if the Senate was not 2 per, but had some adjustment for population, we might be better off.

    Indeed, yes, my point is predicated at least in part on the problems created by too much design reliance on states (the Senate, the EC, the amendment process).

    But as I have often noted: that reliance was about creating political space to adopt the constitution. It was not predicated on a real theory of representation or of government.

    I suspect, btw, that the Framers would be shocked that we are still using the Constitution.

    the federal government was not designed to be representative on an individual basis

    The House of Representative was, at least in theory. And it does not accomplish this goal.

  23. @CSK: In fairness, that is pre-1780s and almost certainly was in response to the ancient Greeks and Romans who defined democracy as mob rule by the poor.

  24. @Andy:

    Despite changes over the last ~230 years that resulted in a more powerful, important and present federal government, it still remains a creature of and, ultimately accountable to, the states.

    Starting with the Supremacy Clause in Constitution itself, I am not sure how you can make this claim.

  25. @drj: Indeed. In truth, I am have never fully understood what his position is.

  26. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    It’s odd you mention “white males with some level of wealth” and neglect the elephant in the room – the reason we don’t have perfect representation today at the federal level is because the state remains the core political unit in our system of government.

    Good point. States were seen as almost autonomous, independent countries. Indeed, to around that era, “state” pretty much meant an autonomous, independent political entity. as far forward as the USCW, Kentucky, indubitably a sate in the modern sense, declared itself neutral in the conflict (though that didn’t last long).

    Imagine if the various British colonies that that are now part of Canada, as well as those in the Caribbean, had joined the thirteen colonies in the continent that rebelled against King George. You might have wound up with a supersized USA, or, far more likely IMO, a bunch of smaller states, as happened in South america in the 1800s.

    BTW, the chain of events from the war of US Independence are quite interesting. French backing of the colonials helped to set off the French Revolution, which led to European wars, culminating in the Napoleonic wars, which set off independence movements in the Americas.

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  27. @Michael Reynolds:

    The Founders did not magically foretell a future where the urban/rural balance shifted this dramatically. The system is showing its age, like a well-designed subway system that was a marvel of its era, but is now increasingly incapable of handling the load. The system is not performing well. Things that need doing are not getting done. The beast is no longer adapting to a changing environment.

    Indeed.

  28. @Andy:

    the reason we don’t have perfect representation today at the federal level is because the state remains the core political unit in our system of government.

    Let me respond to the “perfect representation” assertion.

    Yes, you are correct (and I would agree) that federalism does mean some kind of skew in federal chamber (the Senate) in terms of representation. I get that, and I do not, as a theoretical issue, object per se.

    But, we could certainly have a more representative House. And the design of the Senate is a problem given the way population dispersal patterns have evolved. The EC is a total mess.

    One can, BTW, have a representative central government and still have federalism. Germany is a great example.

  29. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Starting with the Supremacy Clause in Constitution itself, I am not sure how you can make this claim.

    and

    First, I utterly disagree that ” the state remains the core political unit in our system of government.” That was true under the Articles of Confederation. But the US Constitution starts with “We the People,” not “We, the States.” That matters.

    I’m genuinely astounded you object to this.

    – The mechanics of how the Constitution works are predicated on states:
    — Changes to the Constitution require the consent of state governments, not a popular vote.
    — The addition of new states to the union requires the consent of the other state governments, not a popular vote.
    — Related to that is this: With the exception of DC, there is no mechanism for an individual to be an American without also being part of a state or organized territory or possession. The reason we grew from 13 to 50 states is because statehood is a requirement for joining the federal government/United States.
    — Both federal legislatures are composed of representatives based on geographical states.
    –The state predates the federal government – the federal government was created as a union of existing political entities and the debates about how that federal government should be structured at the Constitutional Convention revolved around the power of states, the federal government and “the people.”

    I have to run and do errands, more later.

  30. @Andy: I suppose that it may boil down to what you mean by “core political unit.” If you mean organizationally speaking, well then OK. If you mean as in the unit that truly “core” then I say that it is individual people.

  31. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Winthrop did indeed object to Graeco-Roman democracy, but made a further point of writing that there was no sanction in scripture for a democracy: The ancient Israelites didn’t have one.

  32. @Andy:

    The state predates the federal government – the federal government was created as a union of existing political entities and the debates about how that federal government should be structured at the Constitutional Convention revolved around the power of states, the federal government and “the people.”

    And the people predate those states. States are containers of people. States have no significance without the people in them.

  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    if we want a system closer to what the Framers thought they were designing vis-a-vis states, then we should redivide most of the country into far smaller units. One cannot look at the original 13 and then looks at the addition of the next 37 and say that there was any thought or design as to the effects of drawing the boundaries as we did. If CA (and TX and FL) was divided up in states more the size of the original 13, we might not be having this conservation.

    This would of course mean amending the constitution, something we are utterly incapable of doing because of the design of the system. The essential dilemma is that the people want their votes to matter and the system is increasingly indifferent to that desire. I don’t think this disenfranchisement can remain stable long-term. The history of this country is that the disenfranchised – the poor, women, African-Americans, those young enough to fight but too young to vote – find ways to make their will felt. Ideally that happens within the system, but a sclerotic, paralyzed system based on obsolete assumptions cannot respond. This is very dangerous stuff in a democracy. The notion that California will long tolerate having its future controlled by bible-thumping, patriarchal white rustics in Oklahoma is absurd. The disproportion is too great. Entropy is coming for the US Senate. We ought to do something to revitalize our democracy, but we won’t.

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  34. @Michael Reynolds: Agreed. Our constitution is perhaps the most difficult to amend in the world, making it almost impossible to address these issues.

    The essential dilemma is that the people want their votes to matter and the system is increasingly indifferent to that desire.

    Exactly. Worse, even if the franchise is provided, the outcomes of the vote is counter to the popular will (e.g., the EC or even the fact that it is possible to win control of the House without winning the popular vote nationally).

    Congress has not inventive to govern, let alone to pay attention to popular sentiment.

  35. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    Indeed, to around that era, “state” pretty much meant an autonomous, independent political entity.

    It’s worth noting that the original US states were occasionally described as countries. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison used to refer to Virginia as “my country.” John Adams said the same about Massachusetts. The term United States itself was originally a plural. (This is implicit in the language of the 11th Amendment: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”) Even today the word “state” is virtually synonymous with “country” in most contexts other than in federal systems. I think the evolution of the word followed the strengthening of the federal government, so that the way we use “state” in the US today is something of a relic.

  36. TM01 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    by bible-thumping, patriarchal white rustics in Oklahoma

    You see, this is exactly why a lot of people don’t want to change the current system. The total arrogant, conceited, condescending, irrational hatred and disdain for anyone not as Enlightened as you. You can’t just disagree. You need to insult everyone else.

    Those rubes in Oklahoma don’t want their futures controlled by a bunch of holier than thou elites who have never set foot outside of a big city and who think they know more about Everything just because they have those high falutin liberal arts degree.

    I rue the day that people like you and Kathy end up with the power that you desire over everyone else.

    You know how the disenfranchised made their will felt?

    President Trump.

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  37. teve tory says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This is very dangerous stuff in a democracy. The notion that California will long tolerate having its future controlled by bible-thumping, patriarchal white rustics in Oklahoma is absurd. The disproportion is too great. Entropy is coming for the US Senate. We ought to do something to revitalize our democracy, but we won’t.

    I think this is probably the truest thing i’ve ever read on OtB. And i don’t know what will fix it.

  38. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This would of course mean amending the constitution, something we are utterly incapable of doing because of the design of the system. The essential dilemma is that the people want their votes to matter and the system is increasingly indifferent to that desire.

    Last year when I was arguing about this, I made the following analogy: Imagine that the Founders had designed a system that divided people up by the first letter of their first name, and then assigned two representatives to each group. Then, 200 years later there would be calls to dismantle these groupings. The people who would cry the loudest in protest against such a move would be those with names like Quentin or Xavier.

    The fact is, when people are given power, no matter how arbitrarily or illogically, getting them to voluntarily give it up will never be easy. And that’s precisely the problem that any attempt to reform our system runs into. Just about everyone, at some level, realizes that stuff like the EC doesn’t make logical sense. After all, if it’s so efficient, why aren’t we implementing similar systems at other levels? Why aren’t we having governors elected by the dividing a state up into cities and giving the equivalent of “electoral votes” to each one, so that a town of 1500 gets disproportionate power compared to places like NYC or Detroit? Everyone realizes how ridiculous that would be when it’s not already the status quo. But people have this need to convince themselves the EC is defensible simply because it’s the system that’s been handed down to us. So they invent rationalizations for it after the fact. And the biggest problem with trying to get rid of it (whether through an amendment or through something like the current Interstate Compact project) is that ultimately it’s going to require the consent of at least some of the people who enjoy that disproportionate power.

    The system is doomed to remain in its current unrepresentative condition, because the people who benefit most from it have veto power over any proposed changes.

  39. teve tory says:

    Lately I’ve thought the only possible answer is to use their funding as a hostage. The poorest red states would turn into medieval hellscapes without welfare from the productive liberal states. You can’t fund all those medicare scooters on soybean profits, especially with the current idiot president.

  40. teve tory says:

    Obama is the great guy we were, and will be again. Trump is the dumb asshole we used to be.

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  41. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The thing about “States” is that states does not like to voluntary cede powers to a larger entity. That’s why countries that are created after a fusion of several countries(Like Germany) or large countries that are or were prone to separatism are federations.

    Federalism is about balance of power between political entities, not between “states”.

  42. Mikey says:

    @TM01:

    You know how the disenfranchised made their will felt?

    President Trump.

    This is, without the slightest doubt, the stupidest thing you have ever posted on this site.

    It may well be the stupidest thing ANYONE has ever posted on this site.

    Congratulations, I guess.

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  43. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    We either need a bunch more states or a bunch fewer. I’ve been riding this hobby horse for a long time because I think this is the essential stress point in the system. The state system lasted from 1792 until 1860 – just 72 years – at which point the state system caused a civil war. That is not a wildly successful system.

    After the war, the states bought us more than a century of racial violence and race hatred that ensured the wound of slavery would remain unhealed. Because the states were so often malicious, corrupt and incompetent, power flowed to Washington. Washington imposed voting rights and civil rights.

    Washington grew in power not despite the state system, but because of it. You can go right down the federal government’s alphabet soup of agencies, and with few exceptions, they exist because states were incapable of managing trade, the environment, education, welfare, housing, banking. . . states do not work. One cannot hope to make sense of a democratic system where it’s one man one vote in California, and one man 67 votes in Wyoming.

    Thus far our brilliant state system has caused far more trouble than it has solved. Hundreds of thousands of war dead, thousands more terrorized or murdered under Jim Crow, staggering wastes of potential, astronomical costs. . . and for what? For a system designed to ensure the survival of a slave-owning, patriarchal aristocracy. We made compromises necessary to pass the legislation (the constitution) just as we do with any other larded-up bill. The compromise was necessary then, but failed spectacularly in 1860. Now it is just an absurdity. In a a well-designed system we would adapt. The fact that we do not adapt just demonstrates the system failure.

    In the modern era Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago or NYC, are far more relevant political entities in terms of population, economic importance, cultural importance than Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota etc… But the population of the greater Los Angeles area (pop. 19,000,000) has less impact on the confirmation of judges, for example, than the population of Casper (pop. 55,000.) . That is ridiculous and undemocratic, unresponsive, and unstable.

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  44. Mikey says:

    @teve tory:

    soybean profits

    I just got back from a trip to visit family in Michigan. My sister and brother-in-law have a fair-sized piece of land in the southern part of the “mitten,” most of which they lease out to a soybean farmer. We like to spend time there because it’s very quiet and the kids get to zoom around on the little Kubota four-wheelers.

    Anyway, the day before we left, my brother-in-law and I spoke with the farmer. He was clearly very unhappy with Trump’s trade fuck-ups…er, policies. He said in no uncertain terms Trump’s trade war and China’s retaliatory tariffs on soybeans will mean it is not economical to even harvest them. They will, in his words, simply rot in the fields, which will of course be a huge economic blow to the farmers. “The Chinese don’t have to buy soybeans from us,” he said. “They’ll just buy them from Brazil.”

    But wait! The Trump administration has a plan to help!

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last month at a Chicago convention that the Commodity Credit Corporation is a “tool” he’s considering to comply with Trump’s instructions to “craft a strategy to support our farmers against retaliatory tariffs. The program, which was started to help farmers during the Great Depression, allows the Agriculture Department to borrow as much as $30 billion from the U.S. Treasury that could be used to buy crops from farmers that would go unsold in a trade war.

    So…Trump starts a needless and stupid trade war, which has a negative impact on one of his support constituencies, so now we’re going to blow the deficit up by another $30 billion by paying farmers to let their crops rot.

    All this from “the party of fiscal responsibility.” Bahahahahahaha…

  45. gVOR08 says:

    @drj: “Conservatism” is as much a psychological phenomenon as political. Conservatives need to view themselves as the best people, the elect. (I’d say “elite” but that term has lost all meaning of late.) As in ‘We’re the best people and we should run everything and have everything.’ (That line should be read with Bill Buckley’s fake mid-Atlantic accent. ‘Weaaah the best…’. For the Founders, given the times, that meant propertied white males. Now it has kind of devolved into conservative white males. And “republic” means rule by us, the better class of people, over the “mob”.

  46. Paine says:

    “A republic, not a democracy” is trotted out to justify trampling all over the individual right to vote. Objection to gerrymandering, voter ID, or the electoral college on the grounds that it violates basic democratic principles? We’re a republic, not a democracy. It’s an obnoxious line used in bad faith to excuse all sorts of rotten behavior.

    As for the EC and the Senate, for the sake of the long-term survival of the country the inequalities need to be addressed. Why on earth should California tolerate its presidential votes being written off every four years? Why should California and New York put up with being treated as equals to North Dakota and Wyoming in the Senate? The founding fathers have created this weird disincentive where states lose political power as they become more successful and attract more residents. It’s a ridiculous way to run things. Get rid of the EC and each state will have a say in proportion to their voting numbers, creating competition for voters and encouraging the expansion of voting rights.

  47. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    Even today the word “state” is virtually synonymous with “country” in most contexts other than in federal systems.

    Most countries that call their political subdivisions “states,” came to be after the US, or adopted the term well after the US. Mexico, for example, has states (indeed, the official name of the country is United States of Mexico, or United Mexican States; it says so right on my passport). Many also copied the US federal system, complete with a bicameral legislature representing both people and states. In most countries, this isn’t as much of a problem for some reason.

    Using plural for the US sounds odd, but I do know that’s how they were regarded way back when, most likely until around the end of the civil war.

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  48. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ve found Bunge’s last long rants instructive. This is Trumpism. He knows he and people like him have been screwed over. And he’s right, they have been, 90% of us have been. But he doesn’t doesn’t really understand just how he got screwed over and by who. He needs to blame someone, some “other”, but he’s fuzzy about who the “other” is. Republicans, who have largely been the establishment, the “elite”, for decades, have managed to convince him that Democrats, and liberals (and intellectuals) are the “other” to blame. It’s really a pretty neat sleight of hand.

    As you point out, he’s backing exactly the wrong people. I live in a very Republican area, I’ve worked with Trump supporters, I know Trump supporters. They’re mostly good people, many of their grievances are real. But how electing a Manhattan billionaire teamed with Ryan and McConnell was supposed to help is the step Bunge doesn’t address. I guess it’s because Trump kept saying he supported them, and they wanted to believe it. Like Roseanne said, “He talked about jobs.”

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  49. Kylopod says:

    @TM01:

    You know how the disenfranchised made their will felt?

    President Trump.

    Or in the words of Senator Richard Russell when protesting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “In all of the sanctimony about protecting the rights of minorities, let us understand fully that the bill is aimed at what has become the most despised and mistreated minority in the country — namely, the white people of the Southern States.”

    I take it that you agree with this sentiment, right? It would explain a lot.

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  50. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @teve tory:

    And i don’t know what will fix it.

    Some aggrieved group or cohort of groups will “burn the sucka to the ground” and hope that the Phoenix myth really works. A less dramatic response would be deliberately decide to start working on amending or replacing the existing document with one better suited to the complexities that we face now.

    Unfortunately, any current groups that will advocate for such a decision and deliberation are stuck on the notion that the current document isn’t working as they want it to for themselves and are generally unconcerned with the welfare of the whole nation–except to the extent that they believe that they, in fact, constitute “the whole nation” and that the people who disagree with them are simply zealots who want to “destroy the whole country.” This, by the way, is a theme that Glenn Beck harps on a lot without seeing the irony that he is the embodiment of what he sees is “wrong with the country.”

    To update Shakespeare: the fault lies not within our philosophies but within ourselves. To get a better system, we gonna need to become better people. Current belief structures within our society argue against that being possible.

  51. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    Using plural for the US sounds odd, but I do know that’s how they were regarded way back when, most likely until around the end of the civil war.

    Language Log had a discussion about when precisely the plural form died off, because there’s a misconception among some people that it happened around the time of the Civil War, when the textual evidence suggests it was more gradual.

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002663.html

    The Civil War was a crucial event that changed the perception of the relationship between the states and the federal government, but it didn’t necessarily affect the grammatical characteristics of the term “United States” right away.

    Also, I have a question: Is “Estados Unidos” singular or plural in modern Spanish? Does it make a difference whether it refers to the USA or Mexico?

  52. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    To update Shakespeare: the fault lies not within our philosophies but within ourselves. To get a better system, we gonna need to become better people. Current belief structures within our society argue against that being possible.

    This is why I’ve been so pessimistic since November. The problem is the voters.

  53. Michael Reynolds says:

    @TM01:

    You can’t just disagree. You need to insult everyone else.

    Says a Trump cultist whose cult leader insults everyone, every day, and lies about it. Like a meth dealer complaining about drug addicts.

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  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @teve tory: “Obama is the great guy we were, and will be again would like to be, but can’t bring ourselves to become. Trump is the dumb asshole we used to be are but hate ourselves for being.

    Fixed that for you.

  55. @Kathy: Indeed. The original US states were states in the sense of sovereign countries and the term was later adopted to mean political sub-units, such as in Mexico.

    @Kylopod:

    Is “Estados Unidos” singular or plural in modern Spanish?

    Plural. “Los Estados Unidos.”

  56. @Steven L. Taylor: BTW, also in Latin America a person from the US is not typically called “American” (because the whole hemisphere is America). They are often called “estadounidense” (United Statesian, more or less).

  57. @Michael Reynolds:

    In the modern era Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago or NYC, are far more relevant political entities in terms of population, economic importance, cultural importance than Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota etc… But the population of the greater Los Angeles area (pop. 19,000,000) has less impact on the confirmation of judges, for example, than the population of Casper (pop. 55,000.) . That is ridiculous and undemocratic, unresponsive, and unstable.

    Indeed. This math has to be accounted for in some way. Just screaming, “but coastal elites!” is insufficient.

  58. @gVOR08: Indeed.

  59. Ben Wolf says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The general discontents in Europe have not been produced by any increase of the power of kings, for monarchical authority has been greatly diminished in all parts of Europe during the last century; but by the augmentation of the wealth and power of the aristocracies. The great and general extension of commerce has introduced such inequalities of property, that the class of middling people, that great and excellent portion of society, upon whom so much of the liberty and prosperity of nations so greatly depend, is almost lost; and the two orders of rich and poor only remain. By this means kings have fallen more into the power and under the direction of the aristocracies, and the middle classes upon whom kings chiefly depended for support against the encroachments of the nobles and the rich, have failed. The people find themselves burdened now by the rich, and by the power of the crown now commonly wielded by the rich; and as knowledge and education, ever since the reformation, have been increasing among the common people, they feel their burdens more sensibly, grow impatient under them, and more desirous of throwing them off. The immense revenues of the church, the crowns, and all the great proprietors of land, the armies and navies must all be paid by the people, who groan and stagger under the weight. The few who think and see the progress and tendency of things, have long foreseen that resistance in some shape or other must be resorted to, some time or other. They have not been able to see any resource but in the common people: indeed in Republicanism, and that republicanism must be democracy. . .

    John Adams to The Boston Patriot

  60. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    Also, I have a question: Is “Estados Unidos” singular or plural in modern Spanish? Does it make a difference whether it refers to the USA or Mexico?

    Plural. And no. But Estados Unidos is used in the singular same as in English now.

    There is an old convention, not used much anymore, that abbreviations of plural nouns use double letters, and singular ones single letters. Thus the abbreviation for “Estados Unidos” would be EEUU, while “Unión Europea” would be just UE. As I said, it’s not used much these days, but I do remember seeing EEUU in the papers and in text books.

  61. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It may be worse than that. As of the 2010 census, one could assemble a 60-vote majority in the Senate from states that represent less than 23% of the population. Given that Mississippi, West Virginia, Kansas, and the Dakotas aren’t likely to outgrow California, Texas, and Florida, it looks like it WILL get worse.

  62. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Your earlier point about “We the people” is well taken. I used to emphasize that to my students. Moreover, as to the cardinal importance of the states: Every state admitted subsequent to the 13 original colonies has entered the Union as a state because it was voted in by Congress, with approval by the President. States didn’t emerge by some form of political parthenogenesis.

  63. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We either need a bunch more states or a bunch fewer. I’ve been riding this hobby horse for a long time because I think this is the essential stress point in the system.

    A large city(Not a large Metropolitan area, solely a single city) can be tens and tens times larger than a rural state, in any country. There is no way that can be balanced if you create more eliminate some states.

    And states with very little population makes sense in large countries with rural areas. The problem is the same number of senators for all states regardless of population.

    @Kathy:

    Many also copied the US federal system, complete with a bicameral legislature representing both people and states. In most countries, this isn’t as much of a problem for some reason.

    In Brazil there is a similar problem than in the US(There are three Senators for each state, regardless of population). The large and middle sized states are located in the South and Southeast, and the small states are in rural states in the North and Northeast.

    People in middle sized states complains that the largest states elect the President, the small states elect Congress and that they have nothing. I think that specially in large countries the formula of a very powerful Senate with the same number of senators for each state is problematic and undemocratic, and can be bring all kinds of problems, specially cynicism toward institutions and the political process.

  64. de stijl says:

    All y’all are missing the point that when a Republican sez the phrase, “the US is a republic, not a democracy” he is usually making a grade-school level insult about the names of the respective parties. Akin to “the Democrat party” you see used in the same manner. The unstated follow-on is the snide Nelson Muntz “Ha-ha!

  65. de stijl says:

    Given that we are becoming less representative the more we urbanize (acreage vs. people) *and* that we have an extremely hard to update Constitution and 60% won’t want to because it would result in less political power…

    So what happens next?

  66. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    estadounidense

    Emphasis on the ‘dense”

  67. @Kathy:

    I do remember seeing EEUU in the papers and in text books.

    Is EEUU not common in Mexico these days? It remains standard in Colombia.

  68. @Ben Wolf: Indeed.

  69. @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    The problem is the same number of senators for all states regardless of population.

    This is the main problem, yes.

  70. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    When I first saw you used “rustic” as a synonym for rural it caught my eye as old-timey and not common usage. Then you used it again and it got quoted a lot so it remained in my head. They actually used to be synonyms.

    You’re making “fresh” dope again. That’s even dopier.

    Jaywalking is called that because “jay” was a common term for a country bumpkin, a slack-jawed yokel (a “rustic” if you will) newly in the big city stunned by all the two story buildings and prone to crossing streets hapdangerly.
    http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/07/origin-of-the-term-jaywalking/

  71. Mister Bluster says:

    @Pud’s Boy Bungles: You can’t convince a boy he’s wrong when his self-worth is tied up in being right.

    You are one with your Supreme Leader Kim Jong Trump.
    “…He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

  72. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    BTW, also in Latin America a person from the US is not typically called “American” (because the whole hemisphere is America). They are often called “estadounidense” (United Statesian, more or less).

    Formally, that is so. Informally, no offense, the term most often used is “gringo.” The term “Americano” was used more in the past, but you hear it now and then.

    As to your other question, the EEUU abbreviation went away here at some point. I honestly cannot say when exactly. Perhaps newspaper publishers figured it’d save ink or free up space if reduced to a mere EU. And the papers here like their abbreviations and acronyms a lot.

  73. @Kathy:

    Formally, that is so. Informally, no offense, the term most often used is “gringo.” The term “Americano” was used more in the past, but you hear it now and then.

    Sure.

    As to your other question, the EEUU abbreviation went away here at some point. I honestly cannot say when exactly.

    Interesting.

  74. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:
    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Is “gringo / gringa” confined to white Americans (sorry, United Statesians)? I’ve never been able to suss that out contextually and have been reluctant to ask. Would a 3rd gen Chinese – American woman be a gringa or no?

  75. de stijl says:

    An Americano is a shot of espresso topped with hot water.

  76. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kathy:

    Formally, that is so. Informally, no offense, the term most often used is “gringo.” The term “Americano” was used more in the past, but you hear it now and then.

    “Americano” is widely used in Brazil. There is city, close to where I live, that is called Americana because it was founded by Alabamian slave holders that left the United States after the Civil War.

  77. gVOR08 says:

    @Ben Wolf: Thank you for the Adams quote. Very appropriate to our current situation.

  78. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I suppose that it may boil down to what you mean by “core political unit.” If you mean organizationally speaking, well then OK. If you mean as in the unit that truly “core” then I say that it is individual people.

    Yes and no. I’m mostly speaking about structure, but I don’t agree that an individual is “truly” the core political unit. Politics is inherently a social enterprise, no man is an island, etc.. People inevitably form political communities which then formalize the moral and material cohesive elements of those communities into structures be it a gang, tribe, state or a country.

    More broadly:

    When our country was founded, the core political unit was the state because that is what developed and existed at that time. The states, for reasons we both well understand, created a federal government where the state remained the core political structure. By design, “the people” were not given any direct authority over that federal government – power flowed through the states directly or indirectly.

    Fast forward to today and that structure still largely exists. There were some changes (election of Senators, universal suffrage, etc.), but the state still remains the core political structure in our federal system. For the most part, states still have the same power as before, but they’ve chosen not to exercise it.

    If I were to boil your arguments down to essentials and put it into my framing, I would say that you believe the current structure no longer aligns with the political communities those structures were originally created to support.

    In one sense, I agree with you – if the slate were wiped clean tomorrow I doubt our present political communities would recreate the present structures and system.

    But here’s where I diverge. I’m not convinced we’d necessarily create a more representative system either. American political affinities are increasingly based on ideology – and ideology often does not recognize boundaries or limits. Faction and ideology suggest there would be a competition for power, not comity in developing a fair system.

    Even in the best of times, replacing political structures is not easy. And I’m not just talking about the limits built into our Constitution – reordering political structures is historically very disruptive and violent. It is, literally, a competition for power. I would love to see a peaceful process that results in a more representative system. The realist in me recognizes that is statistically unlikely and I’m not ready to take that gamble.

  79. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Exactly. Worse, even if the franchise is provided, the outcomes of the vote is counter to the popular will (e.g., the EC or even the fact that it is possible to win control of the House without winning the popular vote nationally).

    Edit: I see you have another post on this already, will re-engage there.

  80. @Andy: Probably my best response is to point you to this post from 2011: The States and the Framers (Again).

    I would especially note this quote by James Madison from Fed 46 that is reflective of my basic position: “The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.”

  81. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would especially note this quote by James Madison from Fed 46 that is reflective of my basic position: “The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes.”

    I like that quote as well, but I wonder how you reconcile that with your advocacy for drastic changes to the purposes and power of those trustees/agents.

  82. @Andy: I don’t think that there is anything to reconcile.

  83. Rick DeMent says:

    A constitutional federal representative democracy.

  84. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    Is “gringo / gringa” confined to white Americans (sorry, United Statesians)?

    I can’t say of my own knowledge, but I assume so. I just don’t run into many non-white Americans in Mexico.

    I’ll tell you one thing. At a taco stand or restaurant, a “gringa” is a taco on a wheat flour tortilla with carne al pastor, onion, cilantro, pineapple, and cheese. And it is listed that way on the menu.

  85. TM01 says:

    @Mikey:

    Anyway, the day before we left, my brother-in-law and I spoke with the farmer.

    Maybe you should have tried talking to the people who have seen factories close and seen jobs move to Mexico among other places.

    It’s kind of late to start pretending that you care what happens to all those people in flyover country.

  86. Mikey says:

    @TM01: I’m FROM flyover country, asshole. I grew up right outside Detroit. Don’t try to preach to me about caring about the people there.

  87. Zachriel says:

    MBunge: The Electoral College in 2016 did exactly what it was designed to do and exactly what the Founders intended it to do.

    Preserve the power of the slave states?

  88. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Mikey:

    @TM01: I’m FROM flyover country, asshole. I grew up right outside Detroit. Don’t try to preach to me about caring about the people there.

    Represent! As a former Detroiter I am stunned how the economy was decimated by modern day corporate racists in the 70’s and 80’s

    @de stijl:

    Is “gringo / gringa” confined to white Americans…

    When I lived in Brazil, in Rio, “gringo” was slang for ALL foreigners. I enjoyed explaining this very much to my visiting peer from Mexico, as he too could now be a gringo!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gringo

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The system is not performing well. Things that need doing are not getting done. The beast is no longer adapting to a changing environment.

    This is the perfect summary of what we should expect for the next 2 years 6 months and 5 days. Sadly, we are not yet at the halfway mark.

    https://howlonguntiltrumpleaves.com/

  89. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Moderation: I imagine a stark white waiting room, void of all influence. But yet, rather than meditative, it is unsettling.

  90. gVOR08 says:

    I would have thought more a brightly lit white space that vaguely resembles King’s Cross Station.

  91. Pch101 says:

    “The US is a republic, not a democracy” is a right-wing assertion that the Republicans are legitimate and the Democrats are not. It shouldn’t be taken seriously.

  92. @Pch101:

    The “Republic not a Democracy” argument has nothing to do with political parties.

  93. Diane Roth says:

    @TM01: but what if I (not a rural Oklahoman but an urban Midwesterner) don’t want my future determined by them either? it’s a dilemma.

  94. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Somebody re-watched the Harry Potter movies this weekend.

  95. Pch101 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I see these assertions being made by the same folks who claim that the Nazis were socialist because the word “socialist” was in their title.

    They are juxtaposing the parties with the political theory. They are insinuating that the country belongs to Republicans, not to Democrats. It has nothing to do with tracts that they have never read.