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Earl Frounfelter: Defining democracy, then and now
Guest Commentary

Earl Frounfelter: Defining democracy, then and now

There's a lot of talk today about how "our democracy is in danger." The fact is it always has been. Democracy means government by the people, and it can be direct, if all the people get together and vote to make all the decisions.

Another form of democracy is a republic, in which all the people vote to elect representatives who then enact the laws in the people's name. That is what this country has. Those are the definitions of those words. But the phrase "our democracy" is a lot trickier. When you add a pronoun, you can subtract whatever you want. 

"Our" is the possessive form of the first person plural, meaning something belongs to "us." How do you define "us"? The White men who wrote the original rules for our country in our constitution defined "us" as free adult White men who owned property. They made the rules that men just like them would be allowed to vote and to run things. They had no intention of including "all of the people" in this process. The fact is they did not create a democracy as we define it today, because they did not want that.

What do we want now? It appears that many of our fellow citizens are in tune with the founders of the country, in that they want to define "our democracy" as including only people they define as like themselves, in terms of skin color or in terms of where one's parents or grandparents were born, or in terms of what language one's parents first spoke.

This is an opinion that any person in this country is free to hold. That is one of the rules set down in the Constitution. Actually, it is the very first rule that was added, or amended, to the original Constitution. It was the first of 10 amendments added in order for there to be enough agreement among the founders to adopt the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

Since it was adopted there have been 17 more amendments. Several of those make it illegal to enforce as law the opinion that only people "like us" can be allowed to vote. You could look it up. People of color, see No. 14. Women, see No. 19.

The danger to democracy in this country today is that is appears possible that the electoral college, which was put in place to allow slave owners to have more of a vote than people who did not own slaves (not unlike the U.S. Senate), will allow a minority of voters to elect a government that defines "our democracy" in a way very similar to the way the founders intended.

As long as the electoral college and the U.S. Senate exist in their current forms, and as long as we fund our elections with private money, it is highly likely that a well-funded minority will continue to make the rules for all of us.

Earl Frounfelter is a resident of Santa Maria.

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