From the time I was in elementary school, I have been taught about our form of democracy. The courses were variously called civics, government, and political science. And the definition of democracy was covered in history courses, English courses, and geography courses. In grade school, on Friday afternoons when the Weekly Reader was distributed to us, we encountered frequent articles on our democracy and how it compares with others. In college and graduate school years, students of history and literature delved into the complexities of the arguments for choosing a republic as the form of democracy America would take.
The definition of democracy is standard and hardly varies a word among the many dictionaries one can consult, as exemplified in Merriam-Webster: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.
What brings all this to mind is that in the comments under some of my posts in which the word democracy has been used, people have posted "we are a republic not a democracy." On a few occasions, I responded by saying that a republic is a form of democracy, but then I let it go. One can endure only so many WTF moments. I kept asking W(here)TF did this dudely go to school and is he acquainted with dictionaries or any other educated use of the English language? I did not really want to know the answer to that. When people have pride and confidence in ignorance, the potential for the future is not pleasant to contemplate. World history is full of examples of what happens when ignorance and its attendant prejudices and hatreds rule. Belligerent ignorance is like carbon monoxide. It resides where brain cells do not, and it kills what brain cells there are if left undetected.
As I browsed through the listings on a blog aggregator recently, my ignorance detector alarm was set off in its most strident WTF mode. The summary statement for a blog said: "Historian David Barton talks about the fact that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and why that it is important."
What set the alarm off is that the sentence makes a republic and a democracy two discrete and opposing entities. It suggests that a republic is not a form of democracy, but a form of government that militates against democracy. Immediately it raised the question of what kind of "historian" would make such an erroneous and wrongful use of terms that are so clearly and historically defined. If such a historian held a position in a reputable college or university, he could be fired for incompetence, scholarly slovenliness, and, possibly, mendacity.
The misuse of the terms raised the specter of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984, The job of people who worked in the Ministry of Truth was to purge words of their established and historic meanings, so that the concepts that the terms name from history and usage would not be perpetuated for subsequent generations to know. If the concepts named in language are eliminated, people will not know about them or be tempted to practice them.
The first task was to find out what gave David Barton credentials as a "historian." It turns out that he is, in fact, a propagandist for fundamentalist religious organizations that find the First Amendent's prohibition against the establishment of an official state religion an onerous concept to live with. The purging of the term republic from its meaning as a form of democracy sets up a definition that could give elected representatives authority over the will of the people. Investing the authority of the government in a republic to the exclusion of a democracy would give the will of the representatives authority over the will of the people. While the First Amendment prohibits the making of a law establishing a religion, elected representatives could rule over the people and impose the their favored religious notions as the law of the land.
David Barton's academic credentials include a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oral Roberts University and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Pensacola Christian College. From the standpoint of academic qualifications, Barton does not have the earned credentials to call himself a historian. Assessments of his scholarship by reputable professional scholars range from a restrained "shoddy" to an outright "fraudulent."
He is identified as a fundamentalist right-wing activist who belongs to a faction that claims that the United States was actually founded to be a fundamentalist Christian nation and that separation of church and state was never intended. The idea of separation of church and state, they claim, was foisted on the nation by recent Supreme Court decisions.
Anyone who is familiar with Early American history and/or literature knows that the founding of America was done in the midst of a vicious and violent religious turmoil, as protestant and catholic denominations fought for their right to be and to observe their religious precepts. The founders were not a group of religious zealots seeking ways to impose their brand of religion on the emerging nation. They were a diverse group of men searching for a way for people of equally diverse cultures and beliefs to coexist and function as a nation.
The breakdown of affiliations of the members of the Constitutional conventions is:
|Dutch Reformed/German Reformed||6||3.7%|
And this does not indicate that two of the most influential shapers of America's ruling documents, Franklin and Jefferson, were Deists. The main author of the First Amendment was James Madison whose role is recalled by Ken Davis, a real historian, in Smithsonian Magazine:
In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.
“Who does not see,” Madison wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”
The ploy of the fundamentalist right-wing which would like to return the U.S. to the intolerant and violent theocracy which banished dissidents, such as Roger Williams and pressed to death people it designated "witches," is to eliminate and falsify the real facts of history. In accomplishing this task, it also tries to change the meanings of the fundamental words that describe and record the government we have established.
The First Amendment is not the only one under assault by those working for a totalitarian take-over of the government. Orwell wrote his books as a warning of what can happen to free nations. The right-wing is using it as a manual for its take-over.