Denver State Capitol Building with Mountain View in Adobe 1998 Color

Recently America has been treated to the sound of non-stop whining from Trump and his supporters. The Orange Menace complains that the systems for selecting delegates in some states are undemocratic. They do not, he sniffs, reflect “the will of the people.” It isn’t fair!

It’s easy to dismiss the self-absorbed belly-aching of this sixty-nine-year-old spoiled brat who thinks he should be president. It certainly merits dismissal, but, sad to say, many of the American people apparently accept it as valid. Of course, it’s an article of faith to the true believers of the Trump cult, which now seems to include such members of the babbling class as Sean Hannity. This situation is a sad commentary on education in America over the last half-century or more. Many Americans have apparently never confronted the fact or the reason that our government is not supposed to be a democracy.

The Founders considered democracy a bad form of government. James Madison, the most brilliant political thinker of that generation, famously wrote in 1787 in Federalist Number 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Shocking, isn’t it? So what kind of government did the Founders give us? That is exactly the question a woman asked Benjamin Franklin as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1787. He replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

People Who Understood the Foundations

What’s the difference between a republic and a democracy? Let’s look at what the Founders had to say about that. Madison, again in Federalist 10, described democracies as governments in which the people rule directly. By contrast, as John Adams wrote in 1775 in Novanglus Essay Number 7, a republic is “a government of laws and not of men.” So the Founders established a system of government in which the people would rule indirectly through representatives, and the whole government would be hemmed in by a fundamental law–the Constitution–that would protect individuals and minorities from infringement of their rights, and would also protect the majority itself from the consequences of passing fits of public foolishness. Thus bills were to be passed by a House of Representatives, elected by the people, and by a Senate, elected by the state legislatures, which were in turn were elected by the people, and before those bills could become law, they were to be signed by a president, elected by electors, who were elected by whatever system each individual state set up. The Founders were skeptical, to say the least, that the common people would know what was best to be done, but they believed the people would know how to choose wise men from among their numbers who would know what to do at the next level. It was to be government of, by, and for the people–through representatives–within the limits of the Constitution.

Why does it matter what these men thought in the 1770s and 1780s? There are many good reasons why it matters, but I’ll just mention here that their system has worked better than any other frame of government devised by man before or since. How many countries now enjoying freedom and self-government have done so with a constitution older than that of the United States? Depending on how you define some of those terms, the answer would be “very few” or “none,” and none of them have enjoyed as much freedom as the United States.

And what has this got to do with the way Colorado or any other state chooses delegates to the Republican convention? Political parties did not exist at the time of the founding, but the systems for choosing delegates and nominating candidates are very much patterned after the thought of the Founders. Each state chooses its own system. In some, delegates are awarded proportionally on the basis of the voters’ candidate preferences in a primary election. In others, the majority winner in such an election gets all the state’s delegates. In other still, such as Pennsylvania, voters cast their ballots for individual delegates, who may or may not vote for a given candidate. In states like Colorado, citizens meet in caucuses and elect delegates to district conventions. The district conventions choose some of the state’s delegates to the national convention and also choose delegates to a state convention, which in turn chooses the rest of the state’s delegates to the national convention.

The 1860 Republican Convention, which nominated Abraham Lincoln on the third ballot

The 1860 Republican Convention, which nominated Abraham Lincoln on the third ballot

Are these systems complicated? Sometimes, but no more so than many features of our Constitution, and, of course, they’re meant to be operated by adults. Do these systems make the people’s input indirect rather than direct? Absolutely. That’s what they are designed to do, just like our entire constitutional system. Could representatives within such a system sometimes do wrong? Of course, just like the rest of the human race, but generally not nearly as wrong as a mass of ill-informed people. Think how the propensity of college-age young men (some of them) to get into trouble rises with the square of the number of guys in the group. A rampant mass of the common people, who haven’t been paying any real attention to their government until they found a situation that made them good and mad, and then determines to have its way in the matter regardless of law . . . is called a mob, and mob-rule is a very bad thing.

Indeed, the Trump cult, with its fanatical, zombie-like determination to elect as president a man utterly devoid of integrity is Exhibit A for why the people should rule indirectly rather than directly and should operate within the secure guardrails provided by the Constitution. In short, it shows why a republic is better than a democracy.

So, yes, the system of selecting delegates in Colorado and in a number of other states is not democratic, and that is a very good thing.