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I've been pondering the old debate about whether the US in a democracy or not. Generally, right-wingers tend toward the “not” side of this, and left-wingers toward the “democracy” side, a dichotomy paralleling almost everything else in the conservative vs progressive universe we inhabit. But if we define a democracy as a body in which individuals vote equally to determine the issues, how do we rate?

Clearly, the American People as a whole do not constitute a democracy. There is no structure that allows all of us to vote democratically to determine any issue. But that doesn't mean that our federal system is undemocratic, au contraire: it is just chock full of democracies.

For example, the Electoral College is a democracy. Each member of the EC gets one vote. The House of Representatives and the Senate are each democracies. Even the Supreme Court is a democracy. In each of those cases, it's one member equals one vote. In deciding constitutional amendments, the set of all state legislatures constitutes yet another democracy: one state, one vote.

At the state level, there are some mechanisms that are democratic: The elections of US representatives and state legislators involve district-wide democracies. The elections of senators and governors generally are based on state-wide democracies. In states that have them, voter referendums such as initiatives and recalls can be statewide democracies.

So, even though “we the people” are not a democracy, we do have a lot of them, and we even get to participate in some of them from time to time. But it's rather frustrating that there is no instance where we, that is, all Americans, can be a unified democracy, even for the election of the president. The present system in which artificially and unequally divided segments of our People are the actors in our American democracies gives a strong undemocratic flavor to our system. I think that this inequality is the source of most of the political strength of the right wing, and that it victimizes many of our fellow citizens trapped in segments with fewer resources and less economic and political power. It divides us as a people. It weakens us as a nation.

Well, beyond dismantling most of the structure of our system, from state sovereignty to the EC and Senate, we're probably stuck with it. Oh well.

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