On October 29, the University of Chicago’s Alumni & Friends group hosted an event called “Burning the House Down: A 2020 Election Eve-Reality Check.” In the event’s description, President Donald Trump is presented as a “threat“ to democracy: “Will Donald Trump and populism continue to threaten democracy if elected in 2020? Or, will Joe Biden bring normalcy back to the presidency and keep our democratic house from burning to the ground?“ In August, former Attorney General Eric Holder shared similar sentiments, claiming that “democracy is on the ballot” in this year’s presidential election. And the Guardian’s Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief David Smith has piled on with similar claims.
The sentiment is clear: either elect former Vice President Joe Biden, or American democracy will die. The hypocrisy and confusing logic of these statements is obvious. According to Democrats, electing Trump would destroy democracy via the use of democracy (and democratic voting). There is allegedly only one true candidate on the ballot: Biden. And, above all, Trump must not win.
In case the democratic vote of Americans does not align with the interests of the Democratic Party, Democrats such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—who did not take her loss well in the 2016 election—have called for Biden to “not concede under any circumstances.” This is par for the course, as both Clinton and 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have not accepted their recent losses. In contrast, the White House has stated that Trump will respect the results of a “free and fair election.” Unsurprisingly, many conservatives are therefore questioning Democrats’ willingness to accept election results. And while the Democrats’ rhetoric may seem like typical partisan politics, the fact that Democrats are already advocating against the acceptance of this year’s election results serves as a grim omen for November 3rd.
The Democrats’ threats to disregard election results are hardly surprising. Not only did they call into question the results of the 2016 presidential race and the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, they disputed the results of both the 2000 and 2016 elections. Sadly, 2020 is looking no different. While I do not believe that democracy will die if either Trump or Biden is elected, I do agree that democracy is on the ballot—just not in the way that Democrats think. Democracy is on the ballot precisely becauseDemocrats will not admit that Trump winning re-election to the presidency could be a legitimate choice of the American people. Instead, according to Democrats, a Trump re-election would prove the failure of American democracy. This would cause many Americans to flood the streets, as seen during this summer’s riots—except the riots following a Trump re-election would likely be far more widespread than previously witnessed.
It’s important to emphasize that the installment of a tyranny of the majority—the natural consequence of rioting in the streets—would be antithetical to the foundations of American representative democracy. Yet, sadly, violent behavior is already being planned for in my Hyde Park neighborhood, where the University of Chicago resides, by a group called Chicago YLF.
As the election and events surrounding it are already being viewed as contested, Democrats continue to engage in blackmail in order to scare voters into supporting Biden. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett was nominated, there were threats to “burn Congress down.” Riots have plagued the country for months, and the arrival of federal troops was met with demands for them to leave. The liberal media’s negative coverage of the Trump campaign and protection of the Biden campaign has been used to try to convince voters that a Trump victory is impossible, just as was erroneously predicted in 2016. Biden has bizarrely claimed that, if Trump wins re-election, the suburbs will flood and burn; and Biden suggests that his election would single handedly stop the “climate crisis,” implying a messianic control over natural disasters.
Meanwhile, violence and mob rule are the left’s contingency plan if Trump wins and the Democrats’ blackmail fails. This rhetoric is unequivocally wrong. More than that, it’s dangerous.By engaging in such behavior, the Democratic Party challenges the American faith in our election results and encourages Americans to vote based on fear of what would come if the president wins, rather than policies or facts.
The aforementioned rhetoric and tactics of the Democratic Party also illustrate a shocking disregard for the history, and reasoning behind, America’s founding. Thus, in order to clarify my argument, a brief civics lesson is imperative. First and foremost, the United States is a representative democracy. Voters elect representatives who act as legislative proxies. The president is, in turn, charged with enforcing laws passed by Congress. While this system has changed drastically over time (such as the direct election of senators under the 17th Amendment), the founding principle of representative democracy is still the centerpiece of the United States political process.
This system was first presented by James Madison in The Federalist 10. Madison’s argument boils down to the following: political factions are a danger to the country. Both the causes and the effects of factions, therefore, must be mitigated. Since removing the causes of factions is not an option—because there will never be an absolute consensus and removing liberty is unthinkable—the effects of factions must instead be limited by a representative government structure. Madison and our other Founding Fathers knew that a pure democracy would fail, because it would give sole power to the majority to form a tyranny. For this reason, they decided that America should embrace representative democracy, in order to defend liberty and mitigate the negative consequences of powerful political factions.
According to the Madisonian model, America must not only be a representative democracy, but it must also be large. After all, the larger the republic, the harder it is for sizable factions to form. When republics are too small, elected officials become too closely tied to their constituents and they may not be able to achieve legitimate policy goals; in small republics, elected officials are at the mercy of their constituents’ whims when it comes to passing bills, since the small number of people controlling each officials’ election causes the candidates’ actions to be reviewed with significant scrutiny. Large republics are more effective, because the large number of delegates inhibits the creation of an effective oligarchy. And large republics force officials and constituents to debate, persuade, and differentiate truth from fiction and hyperbole, as they prevent a small group of people from monopolizing power—and instead force governmental officials to be faced with criticism of their policies. Madison concludes by arguing that a large republic is the best way to prevent tyranny, because its government structure inherently mitigates the effects of factions.
In light of recent violent riots, the preceding discussion of American history and civics is crucial, because it shows the extraordinary degree to which such riots are antithetical to the expectations of our representative democracy. While peaceful protests are obviously protected by the First Amendment, as they should be, violent riots challenge the very system that Madison devises.Why is this the case? Pure democracy is defined as “a government by the people” emphasizing “rule of the majority.” This is the fundamental flaw of democracy that Madison rectifies in The Federalist 10: in a pure democracy, the mob rules. If there is a large enough cohort of people who agree with a certain stance, there is effectively nothing that can be done to stop them from organizing and terrorizing the minority into submission. Madison prevented this by forming a large republic, so that factions have more difficulty forming and the public is not directly invested in the legislative process, partially eliminating the rule of the majority. This system is created to uplift the minority on issues and to allow for more nuanced stances, rather than binary opinions. Riots break the system of representative democracy, as they allow for the most violent and vicious to ram their policies through with force.
The movement primarily associated with recent American riots, Black Lives Matter, has been able to break both rules set out by Madison. First, despite the fact that we do live in a large republic (which is far larger than the one Madison lived in), Black Lives Matter has capitalized on the Internet and garnered support from across the country, effectively negating our large nation’s ability to mitigate factions. Second, rioting in the streets breaks the representative system. Since people are rioting in the streets to get policy goals implemented, not petitioning the government or running to represent the people, the use of representation in government to block against the tyranny of the majority is no longer applicable. Ideas are no longer discussed on debate stages or in Congress; demands are made as the streets burn. This allows for tyranny to reign, asprominent Black Lives Matter leaders have called to “burn down this system” and replace it “if this country doesn’t give [them] what [they] want.” The destruction of the American system, predicated upon giving in to the demands of those rioting in the streets, completely shatters the barrier of elected officials standing in the way of the majority’s tyranny. Given the lack of action by Democratic officials against the rioting, two possibilities remain: give in to the mob and enact its legislative desires, or have the system torn down. Instead of living in a civilized republic, there is a push by the left for mob rule.
The violence from Black Lives Matter and the left, which has mostly been contained in urban areas over the summer, will envelop the entire country if Trump is re-elected. Black Lives Matter protesters and rioters were angry over the George Floyd incident, and there were incredibly strong reactions to the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination, and confirmation, of Barrett. However, those were isolated incidents. The idea that Trump, who is seen by the left as the centerpiece of all evil, should remain at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would cause a meltdownof proportion that is impossible to predict. This would likely be the final springboard for the “burn down the system” mentality that the left has recently adopted, and could lead to mass-scale violence that would send the United States into utter turmoil.
This is not to say that everyone opposed to Trump is going to riot or support the riots, should Trump gain re-election. That would be a gross generalization. And peaceful protests are a lawful, and crucial, form of participation in American civics. However, to say that there is nota segment of the left that is ready to “burn down the system” and challenge the very core of the American experiment is to deny reality.
Madison envisioned a republic in which both the majority and the minority possess a voice in political discourse. He aimed to create a republic where no majority could inflict its will on the minority without winning the battle of ideas, and where the heart of America was a discussion—not a riot. However, what we are seeing now is Madison’s worst nightmare: people rioting in the streets, policy goals supported through violence, and a political group—Black Lives Matter—that refuses to have discourse with anyone who disagrees with them, instead preferring to label opposition and critics as “racist.”
Democracy, in its purest form, is what will underlie this entire election. As long as Biden doesn’t win in a landslide, the Madisonian nightmare of faction will come alive as people riot against the mere thought of the American people choosing Trump again. Democrats say democracy is on the ballot, and they could not be more right.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Chad Berkich is a Senior Editor for the Chicago Thinker. As a senior at the University of Chicago, he is majoring in mathematics. He is a Christian and conservative, and his other interests include superheroes and science fiction, video games, and rock music. He was the president of the University of Chicago's chapter of College Republicans for the 2022-2023 school year.