'Maybe We Should Be': Rebuke and Ridicule After Mike Lee Says 'We Are Not a Democracy'

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) questions Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation in the Dirksen Senate Office Building June 3, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

'Maybe We Should Be': Rebuke and Ridicule After Mike Lee Says 'We Are Not a Democracy'

"Some of us are fighting to build a true representative democracy, and then some are Mike Lee."

Covid-19 infected Sen. Mike Lee has received sharp pushback this week following tweets saying the U.S. is "not a democracy."

"Maybe we should be," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quipped in response to the Utah Republican.

The latest controversial remarks from Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, came in a series of tweets Wednesday into Thursday during and after the first vice presidential debate.

"Democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that," Lee wrote in a separate tweet.

"The word 'democracy' appears nowhere in the Constitution, perhaps because our form of government is not a democracy. It's a constitutional republic," he wrote in another. "To me it matters. It should matter to anyone who worries about the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of the few."

According to Eric Levitz of New York magazine's Intelligencer, "Many commentators took Lee's point to be more asinine than authoritarian." Levitz continued:

These days, American conservatives love few phrases more than "we're a republic, not a democracy." In almost all cases, this statement is a non sequitur. In contemporary political discourse, "democracy" is defined as a system of representative government in which lawmakers are subject to popular elections. Few outside of anarchist spaces advocate for Athenian-style direct democracy, sortition, or any other non-republican form of democratic rule. Certainly, Kamala Harris did not advocate for such things at Wednesday night's debate. To the contrary, she spoke of democracy twice--first to tout Joe Biden's commitment to protecting the troops "who are sacrificing their lives for the sake of our democracy," and second, to express her ticket's commitment to a peaceful transfer of power after November's election. It is hard to find a reason why Lee would take offense at these statements that are neither stupid nor sinister.

Typically, Republicans invoke America's status as a "republic" to justify the arbitrary structural advantages that our archaic constitutional framework happens to award their party. When Democrats ask why the vote of an American who lives in Wyoming should count for orders of magnitude more than the vote of one who lives in California, Republicans reply, 'Because we're a republic not a democracy." Never mind that population disparities between states were nowhere near as large at the time of the founding as they are today, or that there is no theory of republican governance that advises giving the residents of one arbitrarily bounded territory more voting power than the residents of another. No logic is necessary: Like a sorcerer's spell, one can intone "we're a republic, not a democracy" and poof--every counter-majoritarian institution that benefits your political party, be it a gerrymandered legislative map, the Electoral College, or a felon disenfranchisement law, is magically transformed from a legal reality of dubious legitimacy into a noble safeguard of American liberty.

In his assessment of Lee's statement that the country isn't a democracy, author and Vox journalist Ian Millhiser tweeted that while the senator Lee was "accurate," the "problem is that Republicans celebrate the fact that our system believes that some voters should count more than others rather than trying to fix it."

Other observers, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and the coalition of Democratic attorney generals, put Lee's comments in the context of growing concerns over the Trump administration's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should Biden win the election and over the GOP's attacks on election legitimacy.

Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker, a Democrat, weighed in on the remarks as well.

"Some of us are fighting to build a true representative democracy," Booker tweeted, "and then some are Mike Lee."

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