McClaughry: Saving our democracy

John McClaughry

Ever since the deplorable January 6, 2021 attempt by supporters of outgoing President Trump to seize the U.S. Capitol, the political left has raised and amplified the cry of “our democracy under assault”.

Last Thursday in Philadelphia President Biden devoted a speech to delivering, in the words of the supportive Washington Post,  “a dark message about threats to the very fabric of American democracy”, posed by what he has called the “semi-fascist MAGA Republicans” loyal to the former President. 

The speech came a week after an NBC News national survey asked voters “What do you think is the most important issue facing the country?” “Threats to democracy” ranked first with 21%. (“Climate change” came in fifth with 8%,.)

Let’s step back from the partisan speech making, shelve our personal views for a moment, and take a long look at just what “democracy” means, historically and now.

“Democracy” has long been associated with the Greek city states of the 4th Century BCE. The philosopher Aristotle, in his major work Politics, considered what sort of political constitution was best to produce government where all share in the benefits of justice and goodness. He analyzed rule by the One (tyranny), the Few (the rich aristocracy, four varieties) and the Many (the common people, four varieties of democracy.)

America’s Founding Fathers, educated in the classical and British traditions, were republicans. They were opposed to rule by a Monarch, but also basically distrustful of democracy, rule by a majority, even though that majority did not include minors, women, slaves, indentured servants, criminals, aliens, and for many, those who owned no property. Those exclusions left democracy to less than ten percent of the population.

Our Declaration of Independence does not include a defense of “democracy”, a concept then viewed as alarmingly close to anarchy (no rule at all) and mob rule (“ochlocracy”). What the Founding Fathers wanted was liberalism: governments that protected the unalienable rights and liberties of the people. Those rights were declared in many state constitutions like Vermont’s of 1777 – a splendid example – and in the Bill of Rights in the national Constitution.

The Founding Fathers loathed Tyrannical rule, especially from abroad. They agreed that Democracy was essential to balanced government, along with the influence and wisdom of Aristocracy and an independent judiciary to impartially rule on controversies. The people were given the right to democratically choose their Representatives, mindful of the admonition (in the Vermont Constitution) to “hold them at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”

Now fast forward 246 years. All Americans still have their local, state and national democracy. People in all fifty states can freely establish their eligibility, go to the polls (or request a mail ballot), and vote their preferences, protected by state and (with the 15th Amendment) federal law. Yes, ballots are in some places miscounted or tampered with, but that’s not proof of a faulty system, just malfeasance and illegality never absent from human behavior.

So where is the threat to democracy? The real threat is to the rule of law.

The rule of law is cast down when a mob attacks the Capitol to prevent the Members of Congress from declaring the results of the Presidential election.

The rule of law is threatened when even well-intentioned government officials seek to infringe or limit rights guaranteed in our constitutions. The Supreme Court protected the rule of law this June by striking down a New York law that gave arbitrary control to the police to decide who could or could not exercise the right protected by the Second Amendment.

But there’s another never-ending and more ominous threat to the rule of law. It’s the threat of government employees deciding what the law shall require, even when our democratically elected Congress and legislatures have not enacted those requirements.

In this year’s West Virginia v. EPA decision, the Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to the assumption of unlegislated authority by government bureaucrats, saying “it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d).[of the Clean Air Act]. A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

Finally, there is the really terrifying threat of a President – an Obama, Trump, or Biden -simply declaring an “emergency”, and decreeing results that are far beyond his lawful authority. A current example is President Biden’s cancelation of as much as a trillion dollars of student loan debt.

Our democracy is not seriously threatened by communists, organized crime, street riots, or even “semi-fascist MAGA Republicans”. What is constantly threatened is the Rule of Law, essential to preserving our democracy.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute and the co-author, with Frank Bryan, of The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale.

Categories: Commentary

4 replies »

  1. This is a well written and thoughtful article but for omitting the rule of law disobeyed by the Democrats and legislatures in 2020 among many other instances.

    There is more than enough evidence the rule of law was broken allowing mail in ballots, shutting down polling places and disallowing Republicans their right to oversee the voting. The Dominion machines, rejected by Texas for ease of access to change votes, also were unlawfully connected to the internet. The documentary 2,000 Mules showed at minimum 2,000 instances of massive fraud, then add to that Facebook and the Biden administration now openly admitting to colluding to suppress Republican votes. Arizona and Wisconsin have both found enough fraud to suggest a recall, and the rule of law eschewing left-wing mainstream media fill the airwaves with disinformation and propaganda – which was illegal until Obama rescinded the act disallowing propagandizing the American public.

    Were it not for all of this you don’t have a January 6th event Mr. McClaughry. The event has also been proven to have been fomented, not by radical patriots, but by well placed Antifa and other agents working with Capitol police.

    Citing the “rule of law” as opposed to the lawless party that breaks is like blaming the guns for the crimes committed with them.

    These high-minded and stately “we can return to normal” overtures, though diplomatic, reveal a denial about how far the left has gone in their ideology. They are communists masquerading as Democrats. They reject the ultimate Law Giver so why assume they would respect a nation’s laws. They won’t.

    Perhaps the people fleeing to the center and right will hear this but the militant left has left the ranch. They have officially declared America “Crazy Town USA” and it’s the type of crazy that can’t be reasoned with. They are criminally deluded and the arms and legs of an elite who share their depravity while wielding the power and desire to rule us all – by their own rules, not ours.

  2. Well John, apparently you missed this:

    Article I Legislative Branch
    Section 4 Congress
    Clause 1 Elections Clause
    The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

    The “Founding Fathers” also recognized that the greatest threat to our freedom would not be from foreign governments but from within our government.

  3. And just what is a semi-fascist MAGA Republican?


    And that means I believe in the rule of law in America and I believe in our Constitution and our constitutional rights.

    It’s also very obvious at this point in time to anyone that wants to search for the truth that voter fraud took place in the last presidential election and it’s being exposed on a daily basis.

    I believe Arizona is now one of the states that it’s calling out the fraud committed at the hands of the Dominion voting machines.

    And realizing for a long time now that there has been doubts about the programming of these machines to favor one person over the other why Vermont would even be involved in purchasing new machines to count our votes.

    The most disturbing thing I have seen in the state of Vermont is when Governor Scott and Senator Joe Benning, who both are Biden supporters, what even make the claim that voter fraud does not exist.

    I’m pretty sure it was Tom fitton of judicial watch who pointed out that Vermont is ripe for voter fraud..

    As a Republican I have to denounce both of these people just based on the fact they are willing to lie to the voters in the state of Vermont to purposely gain power by being elected to political office again.

    This should concern Vermonters regardless of political affiliation.

    No one should support voter fraud in any way shape or form.. to do so is the complete deterioration of our state and the United States of America.

    Not only has Senator Joe Benning denied voter fraud has taken place in spite of the fact he has been sent many articles to prove different.

    Mr Benning goes on to call Patriots, in the state of Vermont and across this wonderful nation that we are fighting to preserve, INSURRECTIONISTS, WHITE SUPREMACISTS AND RACISTS.

    Senator Benning has proven himself to be an unworthy candidate for election to the office of Lieutenant Governor in the state of Vermont when he refuses to speak the truth and deny the destruction of our state and our country at the hands of those that would sell us out.

    That is the reason hard working, law abiding Vermonters have decided to start a grassroots movement to elect Gregory Thayer as our lieutenant governor.

    We are encouraging everyone to write in Gregory Thayer on your ballot to begin to bring some proper representation under the golden dome in Montpelier that allows Vermonters to survive and our own state without being called names that we are not worthy of.

    I don’t care what side of the aisle you are on Gregory is a wonderful man that will represent every Vermonter with the integrity and honestness we expect from a candidate.

    Gregory has credentials that will allow him to make decisions to save Vermonters money and work on the overtaxation that we are forced to try to survive under in the state.

    Gregory is the most qualified candidate to step up to fill the office of governor and represent everyone in the state of Vermont if anything should happen to Governor Phil Scott.

    Please join us in electing this fine gentleman to office and sending a message to the Republican party and the Democrat party that we will no longer be forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

    We have a voice and please let’s make it heard loud and clear when we go to the polls to vote.

    Please go to our web page and check out this fine candidate at…

  4. I agree with John that the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan (aka take from those who pay their debts and give to those who don’t) is an action not supported by the Constitution that grants Congress the “power of the purse”.

    What for me is even more tragic is that unless those who understand the Biden Administration has declared the Constitution null and void in the matter of student loan forgiveness can find someone who has “standing” to file in federal court to show harm has been done to that individual as a result of the Executive Action, the loan forgiveness program will occur.

    So the Biden Administration can illegally act in a manner that increases the federal debt by up to $1 Trillion dollars and there is nothing that can be done.

    Yes democracy is under threat but not for the reasons the Biden Administration has duped the citizenry into believing.

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