Instigator / Pro

The United States has never been a democracy


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Since the election of 2020, supporters of former President Donald Trump have become notably more willing to assert their belief that voting in America is suspect. That Trump won an election he lost. That "millions of ballots" were uncounted or miscounted. That voting by mail was fraught with abuse.

Despite the lack of evidence, and the judgments of election officials from both parties and judges appointed by presidents from both parties, election denialism has become not only a thing, but a movement. And when critics call this an attack on democracy, some election deniers respond by saying the U.S. is not a democracy, it is a republic.

Round 1
What justifies claiming the United States not being a democracy?

1. We start by defining the term "democracy":
- Oxford Languages:
(AA) a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

(BA) government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
(BB) a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
(BC) political or social equality; democratic spirit.
(BD) the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

2. We continue by looking for indicators that would constitute evidence of the existence of a democracy.
The following is a list of multiple possible evidences:

(CA) public opinion has significant impact on lawmaking.
(CB) each individuals voice is of equal power.
(CC) the population is called to a free election at regular intervals

3. How do these indicators compare to the United States?
- public opinion has significant impact on lawmaking (CA):
In 2014,  Princeton University researched the relationship between the senate passing a law and its support in public.
"The preferences of the avarage american appear to have only a minuscule, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy"
Furthermore, population per legislative representative in the USA (~ 750.000 citizens) is higher than in any other OECD-country (2nd at ~ 250.000), which erodes to impact of each individuals opinion.

More issues in this field are:

(DA) "winner takes it all" principle - degrading the impact of a large extend of votes to zero.
(DB) Gerrymandering - befitting one political party despite possible opposing majorities.
(DC) composition of the supreme court by presidents and for a lifetime - gateway for political exploitation for the sake of power.

- each individuals voice is of equal power.(CB):
This insignificance of power does not apply to all citizens and can be differentiated by net income:
"Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy."
Lobbying is an integral part of a modern participatory government and is legally protected. In the U.S., the right to lobby is protected by both the 1st Amendment and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995,3 and additionally by the inherent need for participation in our democratic environment.

- the population is called to a free election at regular intervals (CC):

4. Final Words
Minority rule is a majority problem. The insignificance of the average citizens opinion is of such big irrelevance in lawmaking, that we are dealing with an oligarchy rather than democracy.

Every political system is built upon inputs and outputs. In a democracy, the input is the voice of all citizens, the output the resulting laws. The more similar these sides are in their substance, the more democratic the system. Multiple filters disturb the translation between input and output and a minimum tolerable value of similarity, from which we can call the system democratic, must be defined. The mentioned studies and statistics highly suggest that by defining the average citizens opinion as input, this value drops near zero in the US. By replacing the field of input with unrepresentative, top-1% income elites, the value of input-output translation rises.
This is done through structural corruption, among other issues, and usually referred to as oligarchy. I conclude that the United States is rather build upon oligarchic than democratic structures.
Semantics of 'democracy' vs 'democratic' vs 'a democracy'.

I am not here to directly disagree with every definition of 'democracy' but I would like to note that the title of this debate refers to 'a democracy'.

Pro defines democracy as follows (I will put a comment beneath each to show either that America fits it or that the definition doesn't apply):

a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
This is what the US has except the 'whole population'. It says 'or all the eligible members of a state' and as we know it's the same members who are not considered able to consent to sex and able to qualify for operating vehicles or dangerous machinery that are ruled out from voting; issue is informed consent and trustworthiness combined. The US does qualify as having all eligible mmebers of the nation-state (all US States combined) as influencing the government via elected governors and president himself (mayors too, depending).

government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
This is what the US has but as mentioned prior, the 'free electoral system' rules out prisoners and children voting because of issues regarding informed consent and trustworthiness.

(BB) a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
The US has not only got equality of rights and privileges, it goes above and beyond this in a legal sense. It has a written constitution and tries to ensure equal opportunities for people, if not equal outcomes. Pro doesn't remotely prove otherwise and the default is that all are equal under the law.

(BC) political or social equality; democratic spirit.
Again, the only ones ruled out are children and prisoners.

(BD) the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.
I do not believe this is a definition of 'a democracy' and think this more about the vaguer 'democracy' as a general concept, I think this doesn't apply to this debate.

I will like to offer another set of definitions of 'a democracy':

government by the people
especially rule of the majority
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 political unit that has a democratic government

This is much clearer, I feel, on what precisely qualifies a nation-state as a democracy and surely the US government qualifies as this and has for many decades eve.

To understand this we must leave 'definitions' and go into the branches of US government to comprehend how it is indeed democratic overall.


Branches of the US Government

The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power:
  • Legislative—Makes laws (Congress, comprised of the House of Representatives and Senate)
  • Executive—Carries out laws (president, vice president, Cabinet, most federal agencies)
  • Judicial—Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)
Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches:
  • The president can veto legislation created by Congress and nominates heads of federal agencies.
  • Congress confirms or rejects the president's nominees and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances.
  • The Justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
This ability of each branch to respond to the actions of the other branches is called the system of checks and balances.

Be clear here on how this works:

It is a triangle:

This image should help you understand.

The elected President (executive branch) appoints judges of the Supreme Court and can veto decisions made by the Legislative branch in extreme circumstances. Note this is an elected official.

The Supreme Court (judicial branch) isn't elected but is appointed by the elected President, they are able to deem law made by the legislative branch (Senate and House) unconstitutional but also have to answer to the Senate if an appointment by the President is seen as too bias-driven or corrupt in nature.

The Senate and House (legislative branch) is also known as Congress are even more key to disproveing Pro than the President himself/herself:

Age, citizenship, term duration, and residency requirements
  • Must be at least 25 years old.
  • Must be citizens for at least seven years.
  • Are elected to a two-year term.
  • Must be residents of the states they represent.

Every 2 years, the representatives of the House are elected (every even year if you care to know). They are responsible for:

These even possess the power of Impeachment:

Power of impeachment
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states that the House “shall have the sole power of impeachment.” This power applies to the offices of president, vice president, federal judges, and other federal officers, as the Library of Congress’ Constitution Annotated explains. Grounds for impeachment are “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The House determines whether to impeach and if an impeachment is called for; the Senate decides whether to convict and remove the official from office. This follows a pattern established in the British government and American colonial governments dating back to the 17th century, as the Senate website explains.

So, even if a President becomes so blatantly corrupt they can eventually impeach him/her, Bill Clinton was officially impeached while Nixon resigned in the face of near-certain impeachment coming his way. These are 2 clear-cut examples of the power of the Legislative branch to enact democracy if the elected President happens to truly act against what the elected House of Represntatives see as democratically valid.

Let's now inform you of the Senate and how the overall Congress is formed:
U.S. Senate
  • 30 years of age
  • A citizen of the United States for 9 years
  • At the time of election, be a resident of the state
How many members of Congress are there?
There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Senators remain for 6 years, not 2. When the death or perhaps long-term incapacitation of a Senator occurs the following happens:

The Seventeenth Amendment allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term or to hold office until a special election can take place.

Take note that the governor is an elected official themselves:

In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state. The governor is not directly subordinate to the federal authorities but is the political and ceremonial head of the state. The governor may also assume additional roles, such as the commander-in-chief of the National Guard when the role is not federalized. The governor may also have the ability to commute or pardon a criminal sentence.

In all states, the governor is directly elected and, in most cases, has considerable practical powers. Notable exceptions with weak governorships include the office of the governor in Texas, though this may be moderated by the state legislature and, in some cases, by other elected executive officials. Governors can veto state bills. The specific duties and powers vary widely between states.

So, I believe I have directly proven that the US is a democracy. Any non-elected branch of government answers to an elected branch eventually, initially or both at once.
Round 2
Argumentative Guideline and Response to Counterarguments
Contra's points have not managed to transform my position. I will respectfully respond to all arguments and introduce new ones into the debate.

1. Statement on Contra's Arguments

1.1. Consents
- Definition of the term "democracy":
Contra noted, that democracy goes beyond holding elections on a regular basis. It is indeed commonly used to describe rule by majority, the view that it is the prerogative of government to reflexively carry out the will of the majority of its citizens.
1a government by the people
especiallyrule of the majority
1b 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
2 political unit that has a democratic government

- Explanation of the governments branches:
Contra has explained the Constitutions three branches:
The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power
Individually, none of these powers would have 'too much power', but competences overlap. For example, the president is authorized to replace judges in supreme court.

1.2. Disagreements
The following is a small chunk of all the contradictions that I noticed in Contra's statement:

(1) State of Equality in the United States:
Assigning the equality of every individual into the constitution is no indication for it being actually realized.
The US has got equality of rights and privileges
In fact, the opposite seems to be the case - in all three pillars of state power:

- Legislature: Access to ballots is getting tightened by Republicans for years, intentionally targeting ethnic minorities (that are more likely to vote Democrats). Countless more examples are given within this statement.
- Judiciary: Judges in the U.S. seem to have one of the world's most correlative rulings on the skin color and religious believe on those sentenced.
- Executive: Minorities are a lot more likely to get arrested and killed. The cause is likely to be a mixture of both indirect correlation and racism.

(2) Rule of the Majority:
This is a mandatory element to democracies that Contra believes fully applies to the United States:
1a government by the people
especiallyrule of the majority
There is much evidence contradicting this assumption. In order not to repeat myself, I will now refer to already given points appropriate in content:

- The Princeton Study, 2. (1)
- Becoming president without a majority, 2. (2)
- Remaining president without a majority, 2. (3)
- Disruptive filters between majorities and lawmaking, 3. (2)

Looking for a statement on both points in Contras response.

2. Recall: Decisive Arguments Contra did not address
(1) The average citizens opinion is almost worthless in the senate and beyond:
Studies sought and found a near-zero correlation between the average citizen's opinion and laws passed by the senate.

(2) Minority of votes can get the next president into office:
The strategic redrawing of electoral district boundaries packs as many voters of the opposing party as possible into one district in order to minimize their political impact per head.
This system is highly undemocratic, but successful: the last republican presidents have all lost the popular vote (Donald Trump, George W. Bush). Former presidents, such as Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and John Quincy Adams heavily depended on similar methods to win the election.

(3) ... and majority can get him out:
Numerous polls on both of Trump's impeachment proceedings suggested that the majority of the population opposed their president.
Nevertheless, both proceedings failed due to Trump-loyalists in the House of Representatives. Pursuing personal interests was of greater relevance than the will of the majority.

3. Introduction of new Pro-Arguments
(1) Issues of the two-party-system:
- Set of only two parties fails to represent most citizens opinions, urging them to only choose the 'least worst'.
- Continuous polarization and radicalization by design: cutting the population in the half leaves a big cliff in between. Events like January 6th justifies declaring it a substantial threat to democracy.

(2) Disruptive filters between citizens' opinions and enacted laws:
Direct democracies involve all citizen in the formation of laws. Hardly any country makes use of such direct decision-making processes, for good reasons.
But how indirect may a democracy be?

For passing a bill in the House of Representatives—the body most reflective of current majority views— the Constitution requires the legislation to get also passed by the Senate—where each state is represented equally (regardless of population!), where members have longer terms, and where (under current rules) a super-majority vote is typically required to bring debate to a close.

Once passed by both houses of Congress, a bill still doesn’t become a law until it’s signed (or acquiesced to) by the president—who of course is elected not by popular national vote, but by the electoral college of the states.

And then, at last, the Supreme Court—a body consisting not of elected officials, but rather individuals appointed to lifetime terms—has the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. What could be more undemocratic?
I laid out a clear definition of a democracy and explained how the US has a government system that does enable the populace to ultimately strongly influence the outcomes of who is in it at least.

I win.