Is American Democracy Doomed?

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James Madison

After the siege of the Capitol, the question remains, is American Democracy doomed? And to answer that question one must go back to the Founding Fathers — namely John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.

These three wrote a series of articles to sway public opinion towards the creation of a unified nation of states through the Constitution and a strong national Government, you may have heard of it, its called the United States of America. These articles, known as the Federalist Papers, outlined what Hamilton, Jay, and specifically Madison, saw as the prospective dangers to democracy. Key amongst them were factions. When different groups of people with different interests start yelling at each other, everything sort of devolves into chaos — and this is what America has become, a country of factions. The Federalist Papers were written before the official unification of America. Although we now call it the ‘United’ States, they are more divided than ever, and this was Donald Trump’s intention — to destabilise the nation, to incubate discontent amongst citizens, to breed hatred in the heart of the Republic — and he succeeded.

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President-Elect Joe Biden (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If it weren’t already obvious from his Victory Speech, President-Elect Joe Biden wishes to reunify America, and perhaps he can learn from the initial policies that brought about the United States. The chaos we have today is the kind Madison was trying to avoid by creating a Federal Republic, he was acutely aware of how one faction could tyrannically impose their will on others. Madison in Federalist №10 defines a faction as, “A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” How then do we resolve the factionalism of American society? One may consider inclusivity, but there seems to be a general consensus of the Trump faction that they do not want to be included in a larger whole, they want to remain dislocated from the rest of America (with many White supremacists even suggesting fully white States, separate from the USA as a whole), instead of coming together and unifying under Biden or any other leader. Madison suggests we might destroy the faction’s cause, but he realised that to destroy a faction’s cause is to destroy the liberty that let’s factions exist in the first place. In other words, giving everyone, “the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.”

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Therefore, Madison offered to limit the faction’s effects, and this seems to be the method being taken up. Donald Trump has been banned off every social media platform, and those who sieged the Capitol are, rightly, being treated as terrorists, being put on no-fly lists and arrested. That being said, although everyone is quite glad not to have to listen to the grotesque ramblings of Trump, his ban has raised concerns. Madison believed the role of Government to be the development of mechanisms for controlling factionist fallout, and Madison proposed one solution was to provide a space for the rabble to express their grievances, while making sure the system kept it contained. This would then act as a pressure valve for public sentiment, letting people air their grievances might reduce the likelihood of, oh I don’t know, a violent insurrection. This is a huge mechanism of the Constitution’s design — letting all the chaos and anger of a democracy be expressed, without giving in to the actual unfiltered will of the people. Perhaps this is what platforms like Twitter serve in our modern day, a way for governmental discontent to be voiced, but with nearly zero repercussions on said governments. But by removing Trump, are we just increasing the likelihood of more attempts at violent coups, as not only is Trump ‘martyred’, but his supporters feel they do not have a place on the platform?

The truth is, those of the alt-right enjoyed particular freedoms under Trump, namely freedom of expression of their racist, misogynistic, bigoted, xenophobic views with little repercussions, hence they are hesitant to unify, because they would have to give up these freedoms they love so much. Back in Madison’s attempt at unification, one issue, alongside sharing debt at a Federal level, was the South being hesitant to give up their freedoms around owning slaves, while Biden’s reunification will struggle with Americans not willing to give up being assholes. Just like the anti-Federalists of Madison’s era, these Trump supporters do not see the significance of being in a stronger united whole if it means their individual freedom to say and do these atrocious things is encroached upon. To quote Executive Director of the American Historical Association, James Grossman, “Everything has a history, and what is happening at the U.S. Capitol is part of a historical process that needs to be understood.”

I am a young writer interested in providing the intellectual tools to those in the political trenches so that they may fight their battles well-informed.

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