Like many of you, I watched the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45thPresident of the United States. And like many of you, there was much I appreciated in the ceremonies and also things that concerned me.
But what really caught my attention were the remarks of New Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. After painting a very grim picture of the state of the nation, Schumer said this:
“Despite these challenges, I stand here today confident in this great country for one reason: you, the American people.”
Senator Schumer’s words echoed Barack Obama’s words at his final press conference as President, “At my core,” he said, “I think we’re going to be OK . . . . I believe in the American people.”
Now when Schumer made his remarks, I joked to the Colson Center board members watching with me, that “William Jennings Bryan just woke up from his grave and said, ‘Amen!’ and Winston Churchill just woke up from his grave screaming, ‘No!’”
Okay, it’s an obscure reference. Bryan was the classic populist politician of the early 20th century that led the prosecution at the famous Scopes trial. Bryan, known as the “Great Commoner,” was certain that the majority and popular opinion could be trusted at all times—whether in matters of politics, religion, or the teaching of science in the public schools. His overconfident faith in the American public, and in his own abilities as an orator, are at least partly responsible for the Scopes Trial being the embarrassing episode that it was.
Churchill, on the other hand, knew better. He knew the majority could be wrong, and that mob rule was a very real and constant threat. So did our founding fathers, which is why they gave us a republic, not a pure democracy—and placed limits on both the majority and on the government itself. It’s why, for example, we have the electoral college.
Chuck Colson tackled that issue back in 2000, shortly after the election of George Bush. You’ll remember how supporters of Al Gore called for the elimination of the electoral college, just as Clinton supporters are now.
Chuck offered a much-needed civics lesson.
“This country was never intended to be direct democracy,” he said, “nor was it intended that the president be elected by direct vote. And there was a very good reason for this, one greatly influenced by… biblical values.”
In a republican form of government, the people elect representatives to govern. Power between central authority and local authorities—as well as between branches of government—is to be balanced. In an ideal republic, elected officials rise above polls and public passions and act in the best interest of the nation.
Republics are also based on a constitution—a rule book, if you will—that protects the rights of individuals not only against a monarch, but from mob rule. It’s why, for example, the right to free speech can’t be voted away by a simple majority. To do that—heaven forbid—Congress and the states would have to amend the Constitution.
“In this,” Chuck said, “the Founders were deeply influenced by the political understanding developed during the Protestant Reformation. Scottish cleric Samuel Rutherford wrote Lex Rex, or, the Law is King, which enshrined the rule of law over the monarch and over the people.
All of this necessarily safeguards against the depravity of man. Because all men and women, from princesses to paupers, individuals and groups are, as John Calvin taught, predisposed to sin. So he not only argued against the “divine rule of kings,” but also against direct democracy. Like the American founders two hundred-some years later, he “advocated a republican form of government with representatives chosen to lead for us—limited government, with powers balanced.” This, Calvin believed, “would best meet biblical objectives.”
And he’s right. Will we be okay as a nation? That’s my prayer. But it’s not because I trust the people. After all, it’s right on the money: It’s in God we trust.