Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Democracy, Republic, Trump and the Twenty-Fifth

Miami University (the one in Ohio) once had a rule worded that professors could be stripped of tenure for cause if their performance significantly deteriorated. One or two of us wise-asses asked if a sufficient defense would be, "Hey — what deterioration?! I was incompetent when you hired me."

I've been thinking about that joke when I hear assertions that it would be a denial of American democracy to invoke the 25th Amendment (section 4) to make President Donald Trump step down until he ... let's say "got better" because the sovereign American People knew what they were getting when they elected him. 

Ya gotta love that "democracy" appeal when talking about the Electoral College, a specifically undemocratic part of our "mixt Constitution" as originally written and still not screamingly democratic when candidates with fewer popular votes get more electoral votes and become president.

I'll defer to PoliSci and history folk on this topic, but my memory from high school civics class and my youth is that that United States is a Republic, not a democracy, and democratic aspirations on the Left are often for liberal democracy, where the sovereign will of the People as indicated by a majority or "power majority" is thwarted when that temporary "power" or actual majority are messing over minorities. 

Also, "majority decision" ≠ "majority rule," and the capital "R" Republicans have been practicing much too much majority rule, where a temporary majority does what it wants, without much concern for the desires of the minority party, or minorities more generally. Athens was much more democratic than the USA, and after its fashion so was Sparta — if, but only if, you were "Athenian, male, of age, and free" or Spartan born, not a helot-slave or resident alien (and if Spartan women were better off than in most Greek cities, that's a low bar). Well, and Sparta was a kind of democracy if you didn't mind spending most of your life as a Spartan damn it, a soldier under military discipline, or a female popping out and initially raising Spartans for military duty. (Plus that the inspiration to young Spartan males going off to battle with Mom's loving words for her precious boy, "Come back with your shield — or on it," i.e., honorably alive or honorably dead.)

But yet again I digress.

Donald Trump after his fashion and that of a big part of the 20th century, could claim (had he the wit and education) to be an ultimate democrat: the Leader embodying the will of the Nation, with the sovereign Nation performing that will though him without those republican checks and balances, i.e., without restraints. And the real American Nation is like that of Athens or Sparta or the real nations as they now imagine themselves as always having been (screw the messy facts of history): a single people based in "blood and soil," descent and race and religious faith and no outsiders allowed in to "sap and impurify" the Body Politic.  


There's a legend that Ben Franklin walked out of the close of the Constitutional Convention to be accosted by a lady who asked, "Well, Dr. Franklin, what sort of government have you given us?" To which he replied, the legend concludes, "A republic, madam — if you can keep it." We have a Republic, with democratic aspirations I hope we keep liberal. If we can keep it.

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