As political activity has begun to heat up in recent weeks, I have done some reflecting on the government. When the last election came around, I was in middle school, and politics never weighed heavily on my mind. However, as I inch closer to the date when I officially will become a voting adult, I have tried to think more about the politics and government in our country.
The word democracy is thrown around constantly in reference to our government and the ideals of the United States. The term democracy first arose in the city-states of Ancient Greece (most prominently, Athens). Aristotle considered democracy “rule by the many,” which made sense at the time but Greece consisted of a direct democracy, where all male landowners would be participants in governmental decision making at town meetings. Today, democracy is more often considered “rule by the people”. The most common form of democracy in the U.S. is an indirect democracy, in which the people elect officials to represent them and their ideas.
So, on that note, I would like to pose a question. Is today’s democracy actually rule by the people? Does the common person have a say in our government, as the majoritarian theory might suggest, or is it up to the elected officials to run our country, as the elitist theory implies?
While this is a tough question, and I’m sure there are many different opinions on this matter, I think I have formulated a few of my own answers as of late. When it comes to a polarizing issue, such as abortion, healthcare, religion, gay marriage, etc, then politicians are often listening to the voices of those who voted for them so that they can be re-elected. There are so many different avenues today for Americans to express their opinions and/or frustrations, including radio talk shows, television, Facebook, Twitter and a host of other social media, that the opinion of the populate should become evident. People want their voice to be heard. Moreover, if a politician makes a decision that goes against the majority of his voters’ beliefs, he will hear complaints about it, and it could affect the outcome of future elections. So, in a situation where a popular topic is in question, then the majoritarian theory is true, and, in fact, elected officials will tend to behave how the electorate would want them to.
But, those are just the instances where the average American knows the topic at hand. Consider all of the intricacies and matters of government that are simply unknown to the typical American. For every one of the commonly known issues, there are dozens of items that elected officials deal with outside the scope of public awareness. These stay kept under wraps. In such circumstances, I believe that the country is ruled by the elitist theory, in which elected officials choose to use their own judgment to decide what decisions they think are best.