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Seth Cotlar


Sep 22

17 tweets

This new podcast from the Times is really good. I have one friendly amendment to add to this one, and it has to do with the very specific history of the phrase "we're a republic, not a democracy" which is, unfortunately, not mentioned here.…?

American democracy is under threat. But for some candidates and voters, democracy isn’t even the destination anymore.…

The Republic

Here the political reporter being interviewed by the host remarks on how arresting it was to hear someone who was running for office say that the US "is a republic, not a democracy." It is shocking, but the genealogy of that slogan helps us understand why it's come back.

The simple version of the history is this: "we're a republic, not a democracy" was injected into the US bloodstream by the John Birch Society. Here's founder Robert Welch bragging about this in a 1970 booklet about the organization he founded.

"a republic, not a democracy" was not only a slogan on JBS mailings, but it was also the theme of a widely reprinted pamphlet by the JBS from 1961. Here are the opening and last 4 pages of it.

In 1965 Roger Pearson wrote a book (under the pseudonym of Edward Langford) with the title "This is a Republic, Not a Democracy." He dedicated it to Welch. Pearson is a British anthropologist and a prolific white nationalist writer.

As you can see from the concluding paragraphs of Pearson's gloss on Welch's slogan, he disliked democracy because it implied racial equality. Pearson thought Welch was close to getting it, but not quite, so Pearson spelled it out.

In my research into Walter Huss, a white nationalist minister who became the chair of the OR GOP in 1978, I've run across many mentions of that "republic, not a democracy phrase." Here's one from Huss's favorite news outlet, The Spotlight (an antisemitic conspiracy rag).

Here's a short thread on another piece of literature in Huss's papers that uses the "republic, not a democracy" line. This one was produced by a Southern California fascist organization named "Western Front."…

Seth Cotlar


Jun 09View on Twitter

When historians say that the "we're a Republic, not a Democracy" talking point has its origins on the American far right, this is the sort of thing we're talking about. If you read the first side of this flier you might think, "ok, seems reasonable enough." But stay tuned...

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Here's another example from Huss's files. You'll note that this was sent to him by Betty Freauf, another grassroots far right activist in Oregon. Late in her life Freauf published an article about how "Hitler was one of the good guys, like Jesus."…

Here's a longer thread on Huss's friend, and former chair of the Marion County (OR) Republican Party. She worked for many years at the information desk in the central rotunda of the OR State Capitol.…

Here's a Member of Congress being harassed by a group of Proud Boys just days after his workplace had been violently attacked on January 6. Note how they're screaming "we're a republic, not a democracy!"…

.@Rep. Lou Correa stands his ground against Proud Boy insurrectionists at Washington Dulles Airport. Proud of him!! Retweet if you stand with Congressman Correa against tyranny!! 👊🏽 #ImpeachTrumpAgainNOW

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To sum up, "we're a republic, not a democracy" is not so much a statement of principle as it is a far right, often racist and antisemitic, meme. It's pure revanchism, gussied up with some shallow founder fetishism.

Many many years ago, back when Trump was still pro-choice and donating to Democrats, I wrote an essay on how people in the founding generation used the terms "democracy" and "republic." Here it is, if you're a nerd like that.…

Oops, I broke the thread it seems.…

Here's an excellent 2019 op-ed from Jamelle Bouie that also traces some of this history. (Link is to a non-paywalled version as a gift from me.)…

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Sorry to go on, but I just remembered that the person who held Betty Freauf's former position of Marion County (OR) GOP chair in 2020 also was a fan of the "we're a republic, not a democracy" meme, as well as the John Birch Society.…

And if you won't take my word for all of this, then you should take Larry's.…

Lee's statement that "we are not a democracy" has a long genealogy on the American right, and is not that different from what others have said recently. /1

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Here’s @Nicole Hemmer weighing in on this history.…

Seth Cotlar


Teaches US History at Willamette Univ. Wrote a book on Tom Paine and the Americans who hated/loved him. Working on a book about the long history of the US Right

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