I’m flabbergasted and flummoxed by a few things regarding the general public’s knowledge of government. Specifically, I’m fascinated, and not in a good way, how little people actually know about the structure of our government. This also pertains to the media as well, especially when they report on things of import like the Senate filibuster or pieces of legislation that don’t fit their particular narrative.
The media is supposed to be the one group that understands things and reports them accurately to the populace so that the people have the proper information truthfully told so as to make an informed decision when it comes time to cast their vote. Sadly, this is not the case and has not been since, well, our inception. Thomas Jefferson’s newspaper attacks against Alexander Hamilton (Jefferson actually made his “newspaper guy” part of the government while Hamilton fed his “aides” damaging information as well) underscore that point. That aside, I want to address the structure of our government—what the founders did and most importantly why they did it. Without this basic knowledge, one will not understand why the filibuster (as it is in the news a lot lately) and things like it are so important.
First, remember this…and say it over and over in your head. The United States of America is NOT a democracy. We are a federal republic with elements of a democracy – one in which at the federal level is much less a true democracy. This is a significant topic that will require much explanation, but in the end, our federal government is not a democracy.
Second, the entire purpose of the United States Constitution is rooted in supporting the ideals and ideas set forth in the Declaration of Independence. If one is unsure of what the Declaration says, and there are many that only know the all men are created equal part, familiarity with that document is paramount to understanding why the Constitution exists. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote extensively about this in the Federalist Papers, which few have read. Truthfully, it’s a book (originally written as a series of newspaper articles under the pen name Publius) that is quite tedious and rather dense regarding the reasoning for supporting the Constitution, but it’s excellent nonetheless.
Finally, and this is important, the founders not only didn’t like democracy, they did everything they could to avoid creating a government centered on democracy. They saw democracy as little more than mob rule—the majority forcing their collective will on the minority. This, according to them, was to be avoided at all costs. Hear the words of Alexander Hamilton in this regard: “No man can be safe, nor know when he may be the innocent victim of a prevailing faction. The name of liberty applied to such a government would be a mockery of common sense.”
The structure of our government was created to force opposing sides to compromise—let cooler heads prevail—before enacting legislation. This is the purpose of the Senate almost in total, which is why the filibuster, as an example, is sorely needed and should not, under any circumstances, be removed.
The filibuster has been a bone of contention in the Senate for a while. The original intention, simple majority to cut off debate and go to a vote, was in both houses of Congress. Aaron Burr, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton, was Vice-President at the time the simple majority rule went by the wayside per his recommendation (1805). Since that rule was now gone, the filibuster replaced it to stymie debate on a topic. Cloture wasn’t adopted until 1917 (Cloture is a vote to stop a filibuster so a measure can be voted on) because of World War I. The Democrats were forced to compromise with the Republicans on whether to bring back the simple majority rule – and cloture was the result – forced compromise. THIS is the entire purpose of our structure of federal government.
As stated earlier, I used the filibuster as an example because of the arguments raging by Democrats – who would like the filibuster removed – and the Republicans – who would like it to remain. Both use it to block legislation they don’t agree with. For the record, the Democrats used the filibuster 327 times to the Republicans 1 in 2020. The reason why is obvious; Democrats didn’t hold the Senate then, but they do now, so their outlook has changed. Former President Trump wanted to end the filibuster in order to get his policies through but the Senate Republicans didn’t do it. Now, the Senate Democrats wish to end it and the Republicans again don’t wish to, this time for their own obvious reasons.
The point here is that the entire structure of our federal government is based on the idea that the minority needs to, and indeed must, have a say in our federal government. They cannot be overruled and stomped under foot of any majority or majority party. This is also why there is the electoral college and other such measures built into our Constitution—so that those in the minority have power too. One must remember that the founders experience with being crushed under the boot of government was acute—the King George III and the various imposed acts of Parliament being the architect of that experience.
The federal government represents states, not individuals. States represent individuals. As such, the federal government must have shackles. Alexander Hamilton said as much when he stated during the Constitutional Convention, “A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.”