America Has Never Been A Pure Democracy, But That Soon May Change For One Suicidal Moment
America is not a pure democracy. Just as the Jacobins misconstrued the Founders' design, leading them to run astray in their failed French replication—into horrific orgies of blood and totalitarianism—pundits and politicians today similarly err in their definitions and in their conflations of ideals with reality, which are invariably are at odds with not only Hamilton and Jefferson's quasi-monarchist aspirations (heavy with distaste for the "swinish multitudes") but with the nation's founding documents that call for a regimented system of checks and balances.
In fact, "democratic" does not appear in either the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. Kuehnelt-Leddihn points out that the noun "republic" is also missing from the aforementioned documents. On this matter, the Constitution only states that "member states of the Union should have a republican form of government" (Leftism Revisited, p.66).
The United States of America is a representative [federal] republic. It qualifies as a indirect democracy, but this isn't justly reflected in the revisionist histories and stump speeches popular today or in the emulations exported to conquered third-world nations around the globe.
The Founders were actually quite suspicious of pure democracy. John Adams suggested that democracy would inevitably evolve into oligarchy and into despotism. [The Works of John Adams, vol. 6, p. 516.] He claimed that:
the people, when they have been unchecked have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed by an uncontrollable power. The majority has eternally and without anyone exception usurped over the rights of the minority.
In his conversations with Madison, Jefferson, and Kay, Adams reiterated that:
no democracy ever did or ever can exist;
no love of equality, at least since Adam's fall, ever existed;
no love frugality ever existed as a passion, but always as a virtue;
the word democracy signifies nothing more nor less than a nation of people without any government of all;
and that democracy will envy all, contend with all, endeavor to pull down all, and when by chance it happens to get the upper hand for a short time, it will be revengeful, bloody and cruel.
Much later, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg (1884-1951) echoed these sentiments and the suspicions of the Founders when he stated that:
The government of the United States is a representative republic and not a pure democracy. The difference is as profound today as it was when the foundations of the Constitution were set in the ages...We are a representative republic. We are not a pure democracy. . .Yet we are constantly trying to graft the latter on the former, and every effort we make in this direction, with but few exceptions, is a blow aimed at the heart of the Constitution.
Not all in the thirteen colonies shared Vandenberg's and Founders' antipathy for pure democracy, and this ideological schism contributed to the polarity within the early government. The essential historical struggle between the chief American political parties, dating back to Andrew Jackson, ostensibly has been, on the one side, to conserve and preserve the republic, and on the other side, to assimilate and promote democratic elements within it. The latter pursuit has not been in vain or without fruit; the expansion of the meaning of the prefix demo has since been modified to include women, blacks, and other groups previously denied involvement and a say in the process.
This dichotomy is no longer represented by the left and the right, proper, or by Republicans and Democrats. It now manifests as the opposition between the populist movement and the establishment, itself largely populated by the rich and by ideologically-consistent traditional liberals.
The representative republican ideal is as much seated in and relied upon by Pelosi as it is in and by Romney. This is why bipartisan collaboration was not a rarity up until now, with the exception to hostile periods under Nixon, Clinton, and Obama. It is, however, an ideal that has been tried and found wanting. Why? Unless blindfolded by the partisan's blue or red tie, it is apparent that the establishment Democrats have become aristocrats sure to inspire division with identity politics because Marxist divisions would paint them all as villains. Conversely, the RINOs across the aisle have enriched themselves into indifference and have altogether lost themselves in daydreams set in exotic locales abroad.
Populists both on the left and the right frame their struggle as “the People” versus “the establishment”. (What or who constitutes the establishment varies, depending on what ideology and prejudices the ideologue sieves through his populist framework.) The People seem keen to democratize America to the point where they can hopefully share in the establishment's power and wealth or at the very least be unyoked by the Washington and coastal elite. This aspiration is what Bernie Sanders and Trump supporters share in common.
Presuming Trump isn’t impeached before 2020, a second term seems inevitable, meaning the vox populi identified in conservative populism will have its say for years to come, echoed by a conservative Supreme Court and Senate. While that stands a better of chance of working within the representative republican system because of its present complementary nature and the conservative penchant for the maintenance of law and order, the President's rhetoric about swamp things and the fourth estate is sure to continue to sour public opinion about the integrity of the system and its proponents. This may only strengthen the populist left's argument for revolution, regardless of whether it'll be bloody or dry. Furthermore, once unseated from its present throne of power, right wing populism will see the system that shored it up as the shoals against which it must crash.
Jefferson suggested that “everyone by his property, or by his satisfactory situation is interested in the support of law and order." People will support a political system so long as it seems to tend towards fairness and to provide opportunities for social and economic mobility. However, the People—for a multitude of reasons, including automation, globalization, unchecked immigration, etc.—have recognized that the system isn't working for them. They: are disenfranchised; are bereft of savings; rent and are unable to own property; enjoy no job security, never mind a career path; and they would love to see the status quo dismantled.
Michael Moore, patron saint of poisoned water wells, hospital waiting lines, and the rust belt, has decided to shill for the establishment while waxing poetic about the poor. Nevertheless, he was absolutely right in 2015 about Trump: people wanted to vote for him in droves because he symbolized the Molotov cocktail they could throw at the system. His victory as a populist would signal the "biggest fu^& you" in American history, and it did. But it was neither the end of the movement or its full realization. It was simply the beginning—the first of many Molotovs.
American populists all seem to have little confidence in the present political system, and are keen to cut out the middle men in their representative republic (e.g. upending the electoral college). They want to drive closer to direct or pure democracy. Populism tends, after all, to be anti-aristocratic, anti-monarchical, and inevitably anti-republican, and tragically almost always produces a new and often totalitarian establishment (see: The French Revolution, the resultant Jacobin Terror, and the rise of Napoleon and the nation state or the contrasting promises and realities of the Red Revolution). Romantics on both sides of this new dichotomy care only about that promise of fleeting freedom that comes once the ancient regime is destroyed; curiously it is more so on the right that evolution is desired, whereas the left craves revolution.
The establishment, supported by the mainstream media and by big business, didn’t pay much attention to the Occupy Movement, which was the lighting before Trump and Sanders’ thunder. Instead of addressing the concerns of the working poor and the middle class, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all played right into the populist framing; acting as caricatures of the villainized establishment, bailing out the banks (too big to fail) and sending the children of the poor to fight pointless wars to appease extranational elites. Bush's Floridian victory over Gore, for instance, rooted out the left's confidence in the system, while Obama's healthcare initiative (part of what inspired the right's prototypic populist movement, the Tea Party) underlined Washington's preference for big cities over the flyover states.
Jefferson stated in 1785 that "The mobs of the great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body." Washington's opportunity to boost the country's political immune system has passed. While today American remains a representative republic, in a very short period of time, it could very well transform into something unrecognizable and or something even more unhealthy.