CNN Scandalized By The Idea America Is a Republic, Not a Democracy

News & Politics

With President Biden arguing that former President Donald Trump is a threat to democracy, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan decided it would be a good idea to try to help make that case. On Friday’s CNN News Central, O’Sullivan was seen on the road with Trump voters, where he was aghast at the idea that they view America as a republic, not a democracy.

In one clip, O’Sullivan was speaking to a couple when he declared, “Obviously, there’s a lot of criticisms of Trump that he is bad for democracy. That he’s bad for American democracy.”

A woman interrupted him to assert, “Can I say something? We are a republic. We’re not a democracy,” while a man echoed her sentiment, “We are a republic. We’re a representative republic. We’re not a democracy.”

It was a pattern that O’Sullivan would highlight through other Trump supporters, but O’Sullivan was distressed, “But for centuries, America has celebrated its democracy.”

He then played a clip of former President Ronald Reagan declaring “Democracy is worth dying for” and George W. Bush claiming “Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy” to try to make the point that Republicans have left those two men behind and embraced craziness.

The clips of Reagan and Bush were juxtaposed with Speaker Mike Johnson, and Fox News hosts Will Cain and Pete Hegseth claiming America is a republic, not a democracy.

The whole premise is silly. Reagan and Bush were using democracy as an antonym for dictatorship, whereas others use democracy in a more literal sense, where the rights of the people are not protected from the emotions of the masses or of the legislature of the day.

Regardless, O’Sullivan sat down for an interview with author Anne Applebaum and asked, “Is America a democracy?”

Applebaum claimed, “America is a democracy. It was founded as a democracy.”

There is no way around it: Applebaum is simply wrong. Nevertheless, O’Sullivan lamented, “I’ve heard a lot of conspiracy theories — I hear a lot of things out on the road. But to hear Americans — people who would describe themselves as patriots — say that America is not a democracy — that stopped me in my tracks.”

Seeing a grand conspiracy at work, Applebaum replied, “You are hearing people say America is not a democracy because there are people around Trump who want them to be saying that. Who have been planting that narrative.”

Later, she claimed that for people who care about literal definitions, “democracy” and “republic” aren’t all that different in today’s world and claiming they are is just an excuse to empower Trump:

These words were used in different ways in the 18th century. And it’s true the founders didn’t want direct democracy, by which they meant people gathering on the town square. They wanted representative democracy. But I think the reason why this conversation about language has risen now is because there is a part of the Republican Party that would like to rule as a minority, and they need an excuse for why that’s okay. And so, they have begun to say we’re not a democracy; we’re a republic — and it’s not 100 percent clear what that means, but I think they mean we want Donald Trump to be able to do whatever he wants.

Applebaum can “think” as much as she wants, but the idea that America is a republic and not a democracy and therefore politicians can’t legislate away the First Amendment’s religious liberty provisions, the Second Amendment, or any of other part of the Bill of Rights or Reconstruction Amendments has been around for a while.

Here is a transcript for the June 14 show:

CNN News Central

6/14/2024

7:56 AM ET

DONIE O’SULLIVAN: Obviously, there’s a lot of criticisms of Trump that he is bad for democracy. That he’s bad for American democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I say something? We are a republic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are a republic. We’re a representative republic. We’re not a democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not a democracy.

O’SULLIVAN: One thing we’ve been hearing at Trump rallies like this over the past few months is that America isn’t really a democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2: America is not a democracy; it’s a republic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Look, it’s not a democracy, Okay? Democracy is actually not as good as you think it is.

O’SULLIVAN (voice-over): But for centuries, America has celebrated its democracy.

RONALD REAGAN: Democracy is worth dying for.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy.

O’SULLIVAN: But some Republicans and pro-Trump media are pushing the idea that America is not a democracy.

WILL CAIN: The United States of America is not a democracy. We are a constitutional republic.

MIKE JOHNSON: The United States of America is not a democracy. You don’t want to be in a democracy.

PETE HEGSETH: We are not a democracy. We are a republic.

O’SULLIVAN: Is America a democracy?

ANNE APPLEBAUM: America is a democracy. It was founded as a democracy.

O’SULLIVAN: I’ve heard a lot of conspiracy theories — I hear a lot of things out on the road. But to hear Americans — people who would describe themselves as patriots — say that America is not a democracy — that stopped me in my tracks.

APPLEBAUM: You are hearing people say America is not a democracy because there are people around Trump who want them to be saying that. Who have been planting that narrative.

O’SULLIVAN: Is America a democracy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 4: No. I don’t — I think we’re a republic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3: Well, not right now but — we’re a republic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 4: Yeah, we’re a republic.

O’SULLIVAN: What’s the difference?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3: I feel like democracy — let me think this through. That it’s government controlled. I don’t see freedom in democracy; I see freedom in the republic.

APPLEBAUM: Honestly, the word “democracy” and the word “republic” have often been used interchangeably. There isn’t a meaningful difference between them.

O’SULLIVAN: So much of the warnings and criticism about Trump is that he is a threat to democracy. That he is anti-democratic.

APPLEBAUM: Absolutely. If they can convince people that we don’t have a democracy, then it’s okay that Trump is attacking democracy because it doesn’t really matter.

O’SULLIVAN: So why — like, why has democracy become a bad word?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 5: Because it’s being used in a way to change the flavor of our country, which is a republic.

APPLEBAUM: These words were used in different ways in the 18th century. And it’s true the founders didn’t want direct democracy, by which they meant people gathering on the town square. They wanted representative democracy.

But I think the reason why this conversation about language has risen now is because there is a part of the Republican Party that would like to rule as a minority, and they need an excuse for why that’s okay. And so, they have begun to say we’re not a democracy; we’re a republic — and it’s not 100 percent clear what that means, but I think they mean we want Donald Trump to be able to do whatever he wants.

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