Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has written a new essay defending absurd, politicized changes the board is making to the social studies curriculum for public schools. We have discussed in the past many of the points she touches on in the essay. But we haven’t said much about one in particular — the insistence by far-right board members that students learn the United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy.
By majority vote the board in March decided that “democracy,” “representative democracy,” “democratic republic” and similar phrases should be replaced with “constitutional republic” throughout the standards. Says Cargill in her essay:
“The United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. The Pledge of Allegiance correctly identifies our form of government as a republic, and the State Board of Education members expect students to recite that pledge and understand its meaning. This reference to constitutional republic refers to the form of government our Founding Fathers instituted.”
Well, yes. But.
The Soviet Union was a “republic.” So is communist China. Castro’s Cuba? A republic.
What’s the difference between those “republics” and the United States?
Democracy. People in this country choose our government through free, democratic elections.
But the far right in this country finds the word “democracy” increasingly distasteful. Last year David Barton — the political propagandist appointed by right-wing board members to a panel of social studies “experts” (even though he’s not) — objected in his review of the standards in place since 1998 to using the term “democratic” to describe America:
“Because America is correctly identified as a republic and not as a democracy, the derivative of this is that ‘republican’ rather than ‘democratic’ is the proper adjective – that is, we have “republican” values or “republican” process rather than ‘democratic’ values or process.”
Yes, we are well aware of the technical and definitional differences between a pure “democracy” and a republic governed by representatives of the people. But we wonder how much the salience of this issue is related to Barton’s status as the former vice chair of the Republican Party of Texas — and to the status of a majority of board members being members of the Republican, rather than Democratic, Party.
And by the way, let’s all remember that some decisions in this country are decided by popular referenda, especially in certain states. So there is a strong strain of democracy in America.
But there seems to us to be a sniff of contempt for the rabble out there when we hear far-right pooh-bahs prattle on about America as a republic, not a democracy. We’ve noticed that this prattle seems to get louder when they don’t like the results of democratic elections. Go figure.
And then there’s this: in March the state board’s far-right faction changed a standard in the high school government course dealing with the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic society constitutional republic. The original standard focused the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech and press. But far-right board members insisted on adding “and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
The right to bear arms in a standard teaching students about the expression of differing opinions? Perhaps that helps us understand a bit more clearly the phenomena of right-wingers who insist on carrying firearms to events featuring elected officials, including the president of the United States.