Some people upset with what they saw during Wednesday’s vice presidential debate may have yelled at their TV or turned it off. Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee took a different approach, launching a Twitter storm that attacked — of all things — democracy.
One tweet that especially created a firestorm on social media was: “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
So, “rank democracy” can thwart liberty, peace and prosperity?
When Lee’s spokesperson, Conn Carroll, was asked if Lee could explain his thinking, Carroll simply pointed to a quote from James Madison in Federalist Papers No. 10, one in a collection of essays written to promote ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
“Democracies,” it says, "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
During the debate Wednesday, Lee tweeted often about comments he didn’t like. But several focused on democracy.
“We’re not a democracy,” he tweeted in one.
In another, he said, “The word ‘democracy’ appears nowhere in the Constitution, perhaps because our form of government is not a democracy. It’s a constitutional republic. To me it matters. It should matter to anyone who worries about the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of the few.”
Lee — who is in self-quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 — also tweeted, “Government is the official use of coercive force — nothing more and nothing less. The Constitution protects us by limiting the use of government force.”
People on social media quickly took aim at Lee’s comments, especially the tweet saying that “rank democracy” threatens liberty, peace and prosperity. They turned #rankdemocracy into a popular hashtag.
Among them was Steve Schmidt, a Republican political strategist public who worked with President George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
He tweeted, “The attainment of liberty, peace and prosperity can only be achieved through democracy. This isn’t an abstract, academic argument that @SenMikeLee is making. It is the authoritarian argument in a nutshell. Astonishing statement from a United States Senator. It would be fun to run against this guy. Someone should think about it.”
Suzanne Attix tweeted, “Senator, who do you define as ‘rank’? People who don’t support corruption? People who want a POTUS who’s every utterance is not a lie engineered to preserve his own power? People who care about human decency & the welfare of all people?”
“Mmmkay” added, “This is what we’re up against now, Utah. Lee actively attacking Democracy. Mike Lee would rather have ‘prospefity’ than democracy. I’d love to see @SpencerJCox get some courage on this and call it out.”
“Deanna Biden/Harris 2020!” replied to Lee’s tweet saying, “So embarrassed to live in Utah. You, a fascist, do not represent me. And your liberty, peace and prosperity, whom is that for? Certainly not me, a lesbian, not people of color, and not women. You have no problem denying Covid and potentially infecting others, disgraceful.”
“Strider” tweeted, “Every newspaper in Utah should be calling for Mike Lee to resign.”
“MarkPersons5” tweeted, “#Utah Senator admits he is against Democracy — Prefers unrestricted greed vs. Representative Government.”
“Magpie” added, “Sen. Mike Lee also hates the First Amendment. He wants a major local news station, OWNED BY THE LDS CHURCH, as ‘too liberal’. Lee is part of the ‘radical right’, to borrow a phrase.”
“Wheelman” tweeted, “@SenMikeLee I’m on the side of #RankDemocracy Difficult, sometimes dissonant, loud and messy-democracy. Rank democracy can thwart elitism, cronyism, and selective freedoms that exalt the few over the people.”
Not on social media, Jonathan Chait wrote in the Intelligencer magazine online, “Lee is articulating a view that has long been in vogue on the American right but which Republican politicians were generally hesitant to express openly. The premise is that liberty is a higher value than democracy, and they define liberty to mean a right to property that precludes redistribution.”
He added, “That is to say, the far right does not merely view progressive taxation, regulation and the welfare state as impediments to growth, but as fundamentally oppressive. A political system that truly secured freedom would not allow the majority to gang up on the minority and redistribute their income for themselves.”