We have the wrong idea about democracy. We equate it too often with justice and tolerance, and we disrespect its fearsome power.
We forget how often hatred and fear, greed and the lust for power have swayed the will of the people. Democracy, like all other forms of government, is a beast that can gobble up freedom and individuals like a lion devours its prey.
Our founders knew that. They did not trust kings, committees, themselves, or even the people to safeguard the rights that they hoped to make inalienable. They rejected monarchy and despotism outright, along with the notion that they, themselves, should rule the new country. Even when they turned to democracy, they did so with misgivings.
In the end, they did not give us a pure democracy. Rather, they made it a representative democracy, with elected officials who would make most of the decisions. Additionally, they created a constitution that limited the power even of that government in important ways.
First, our founders separated the power of government into three branches. Only Congress could make laws, and only the House of Representatives could propose new taxes. Only the administrative branch could enforce laws, and thus could moderate the will of Congress by prioritizing that enforcement.
Only the judiciary could decide whether the acts of Congress and the actions of the administration were consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. Only the people, through an elaborate process, could amend the Constitution and thus constrain the judiciary.
Still, they were not satisfied. They gave Congress the right to impeach and remove elected officials, and they created a Bill of Rights that protected certain individual freedoms and a free press from any action except those taken by an overwhelming majority of the people.
Our founders were far from perfect. Their personal biases and shortcomings created a county that embraced slavery, that subjugated women, killed and stole from indigenous people, failed to protect children, and tolerated views of government that led eventually to the Civil War.
They were, however, exceptionally wise. The framework they built allowed us to overcome even their own faults to move steadily toward the ideals they envisioned.
Our founders did not let their personal biases and interests, immediate issues or a desire to support the heroes of the day to sway their judgment, and all the generations that followed have benefited from their selflessness.
President Donald Trump is offering to meet the immediate goals of millions of Americans, of people who do not feel that our government has been responsive to their wishes. It is tempting. All he is asking is that we set aside those pesky restraints that our founders put in place. Elected officials backed by considerable numbers of constituents are prepared to make that bargain.
It is far, far too high a price to pay. There is no person, no party and no form of government we should trust with unrestrained power. The institutions that have brought us forward are not a “deep state” that we should disdain and dismantle.
The free press is not the enemy of the people. Impeachment and removal from office is not overturning the will of the people. Most of all, the wisdom of our founders is not a resource that we should cast aside.
— Hines is the chairman of the Limestone County Democrats. He can be reached at email@example.com.