An attack on….?

I have a peeve. Actually, I have many, this is just one, but it is a big one.

It is when one person states that there is a threat to our democracy, and another person replies “this isn’t a democracy, it’s a republic.”

Well yes. And no.

What is the difference between a democracy and a republic? First, let’s take definitions into account. According to Merriam Webster:

 : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority

b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections


a (1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president (2) : a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government

b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (2) : a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government

Let’s see… system of representation, check. Periodic elections, check. Supreme power resides in a body of citizens, exercised by elected officers and representatives, check.

You see, the United States is actually a combination of republic, and democracy. It is both a democratic republic and a representative democracy. It is not just a republic, and it is not a direct democracy.

There are many types of republic, not all of them democratic or free. Take, for instance, one party republics like Republic of North Korea, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the Soviet Union). There are Parliamentary Republics like Iraq, Poland, and Ireland. Lebanon, Ethiopia, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, and Iran are all republics, however, not all are democratic and few resemble what we are accustomed to in the U.S.

What are the characteristics of a democratic republic (or, a representative democracy, because really, they are the same thing)?

According to the U.S. Department of State:

• Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens, directly, or through their freely elected representatives.

• Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule and individual rights. Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.

• Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under law; and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in the political, economic, and cultural life of society.

• Democracies conduct regular free and fair elections open to citizens of voting age.

• Citizens in a democracy have not only rights, but also the responsibility to participate in the political system that, in turn, protects their rights and freedoms.

  • Democratic societies are committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
  • Today, as in the past, the most common form of democracy, whether for a town of 50,000 or a nation of 50 million, is representative democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good.

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This is why it is a little disconcerting that far right leaning organizations insist on reducing our representative democracy down to simply a republic. Why? because, by taking democracy out of the equation, we erase the rights and responsibilities inherent in a democracy. Responding to the concerns that our democracy is threatened by simply saying “we are not a democracy, we are a republic,” shows not only a complete lack of understanding of how our system of government works, but also implies that those loss of rights do not matter, because we are not a democracy anyway. It gives individuals the excuse to turn away and remain apathetic. It is deceptive, to say the least.

We are a democracy. We are a republic. We are both a representative democracy and a democratic republic and they are one in the same. We must not, by any means, allow democracy to be taken out of the equation, because without democracy, we could be anything. Without democracy we are nothing.