Letter: Founding fathers would gag at Auxier’s definition of ‘Republic’

By and


The founding fathers were not interested in absolute solutions. They were not attempting to answer the fundamental questions of government once and for all during those sweaty days in Philadelphia. As rational and intelligent men, they realized that it was impossible. They were attempting to create a system which would grant the citizens of the United States the opportunity to ask themselves those questions and enact their own answers — without turmoil and bloodshed, but through peaceful, democratic institutions.

This is why they chose to make the United States a republic — because the idea of a republic is so vague that it allows for tremendous debate. It can mean almost any system of government where the public has some control over the way power is distributed. People can (as they have throughout history) decide for themselves what it means to have a republic, and in our country’s history, we have had a continual, robust conversation over exactly what this word means and whether or not it’s worth anything to us. The founders would be proud of us in that regard.

What they would not be proud of is Tiara Auxier’s column (“The United States is a republic,” March 3) in which she savages a hapless schoolteacher over some minor quibble of definition.

The issue here isn’t that America is a republic. The issue is, what does this mean? To Auxier, it certainly doesn’t mean what it meant to the founders. It means a very specific set of backward institutions, among which the electoral college is only the most egregious example. It means being “isolated from the whims of society” — ironic when you consider that republicanism is explicitly all about opening power and influence to “the whims of society.” But above all, to her it means that we are Not A Democracy.

This little bit of logical contortion (we are democratic, aren’t we?) is immensely important to someone as wrong-headed as Auxier because it allows her a free hand to denounce all kinds of legitimate arguments in our grand conversation about the nature of our republic as incorrect, blasphemous, unpatriotic or stupid.

The schoolteacher complaining about the electoral college is not uninformed. He understands the nature of our constitution and our system of government certainly better than Auxier does. He understands that as long as our republic stays fluid and open to interpretation, it will continue to remain relevant.

When we adopt strict constructionism and original intent, we stifle debate and place ourselves, as citizens, on a path toward alienation from our government. That alienation, not debate and conversation, will truly be “the downfall of America.”

Kyle StegerwaldJunior, History