The textbook outlines what it believes to be the three main principles on which American democracy is based. These three principles are Political Equality, Plurality Rule and Minority Rights, and Equality before the law. It is important to actually understand what each of these principles actually means in this context, and so we will briefly go over each one.
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The first principle listed is Political Equality, which basically says that all law-abiding citizens that are adults are allowed to vote and participate in the political process equally at every level, and their votes all count equally. This is fairly simple in concept, and it is easy to see how this is a core value of American democracy. Next we have the twin principles of Plurality Rule and Minority Rights. These principles reflect a delicate balance that has had to be struck in America since its inception; a balance between ruling based on the will of the majority while keeping the voice and interests of the minorities preserved. In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison says that “the majority…must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression,” as that can often be the disposition of a majority, effectively mob rule .(Madison, 1787)
In American democracy, the republican system is what is really vital to preserving this balance, as it prevents changing laws to oppress minorities with checks from very difficult to modify state and national constitutions, and by giving all states equal representation in the US Senate, which helps to give much smaller states the same voice as large populated states. The voice of the majority is important however, as they need to be appeased as well. Thus stets get seats in the House of Representatives based on their population, and laws that are enacted are passed by popular approval. The final principle the book listed was Equality Before the Law. This is a fairly easy to understand principle, much like the first one; it basically says that all (with a few exceptions) American citizens are given equal rights under law and that they all have the same rights within the legal process. Some of these include protection against unjust search and seizure, the right to a speedy and fair trial by jury, and protection against quartering troops in citizens homes. These rights are very explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights and other Amendments to the Constitution, so it makes sense that the book lists this as one of the principles.
Although this is a fairly solid list of principles, I believe that they may have left out a few key elements. There are two principles which I believe the textbook missed out on. These are not quite as succinct and broad as what the book has to offer, but I believe that these two principles are Balances/Checks of Power, and the right to dictate how you live your life without government oversight or control (to a certain extent). Balances and Checks on power are one of the most important parts of the system of America, from the balances and checks between branches of government, to those within them, and state/national constitutions all checking the power that any one group has. Although it is debatable to what extent these balances and checks are currently enforced, it is undeniable that this idea of checks and balances is central to American democracy. The second principle is what one may categorize as part of the American culture and ideology, one where citizens lead their lives privately and tell the government what to do, not the other way around. This can be seen as one of the key features of the American Revolution, as many of the American colonists wanted the government to have less say in what they did while the citizens had more say in what the government does. These are what I believe are two important principles that the author missed out on and should be included when talking about American democracy.
Many people have different views on what they would consider to be the most important political problem we face in the United States today, and although many could be very based on individual policies or ideologies I believe there is one major problem facing America today; the sacrifice of freedoms in the name of safety and security. Although many of these efforts may be good intentioned at heart, the forfeiture of freedoms is always dangerous and deadly in many ways. Any freedom that is given up by the individuals is given to the government, and gives the government more control in general. No matter how many checks and balances there are in a a government, the old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is still very true. If we allow the government to take away our freedoms that allow it to keep it in check, there is nothing to stop it from following many governments of the past into a tyrannical regime.
Why are we so willing to give up these rights then? It is shown that through human history, everyone has always feared danger and insecurity, and often even in our own country times of insecurity have caused us to forfeit rights. After Pearl Harbor, the government created camps for Japanese American citizens, a major violation of rights caused by fear and a want of security. Additionally, after 9/11, the Patriot Act was introduced, an act which opened up citizens to massive constant surveillance and created a lot of shortcuts to due process, all in the name of security. The solution is not an easy one, and requires wide adoption, but it is possible. In order for people to have the knowledge to not consent to the removal of their rights, they need to study their history, especially American history. If we can all be more aware of the consequences of giving away our freedoms, we can stop this proud nation from falling into corruption and tyranny like many regimes of old.
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