Qwhen nineteen schoolchildren aged 7 to 10 and their two teachers were massacred with assault rifles by an unbalanced man on May 24, in Texas; when, a few weeks earlier, a white supremacist, armed with the same rapid-fire rifle, assassinated ten Blacks in a store in a small town in New York State, the ritual does not change. Pollsters ask the same question and get the same answer: more than 60% of Americans demand a federal law restricting arms sales.
It’s been going on for years. All supporters of such a measure, the Democratic presidents have never had the required votes in Congress – because of the Republicans. A majority of Americans feel aggrieved, unrepresented. She wants stricter control of arms sales, such as maintaining the right to abortion. She risks not having the first and losing the second. Does democracy in the United States betray the majority?
When it is not speculating on an upcoming civil war, the oldest of Western democracies, the one that presents itself as a model, wonders about the relevance of its institutions: they would no longer be able to translate the will of the majority of citizens. In November 2020, Americans voted for a Democratic president. But, majority in the Lower House, Joe Biden lacks support in the Senate, while, largely composed by his Republican predecessors, the Supreme Court today displays an ultra-conservative profile.
The Spirit of Philadelphia
The problem is that this situation – on arms sales as on many other issues – is not contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. The Founding Fathers, those who met in Philadelphia in 1787, created a balanced democracy. They dread the danger of absolute one-man rule as much as the prospect of a tyrannical popular majority. One of them, James Madison (1751-1836), who will be the 4e president, does not only want the separation of powers (executive, legislative, judicial), he organizes the balance of powers. Those of the president are compensated by those, no less important, of Congress, which is under the supervision of the Supreme Court. All of this in a federal system where everything that does not expressly come under the “centre” is the responsibility of the States.
Over the years, this complex “Madisonian” mechanism has evolved rather in favor of the White House. But its operation remains imbued with the spirit of Philadelphia: the will of the majority must be tempered, framed in order to protect the minority. Thus, the president is elected by a double college (popular votes and grand electors); each state, regardless of its population, has two senators; Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.
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