SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — This week’s terror attack in New York City revived tensions over our nation’s democratic norms. 

Are we really a government for the people, by the people?    

When we the people formed a more perfect union under our Constitution back in the 1780s, our founders set up a republic.

But we’re really more than a republic. After all, China, North Korea and Iran all use this term too.

In reality, our system is a democratic republic, so there should be as much emphasis on the demos – meaning “the people” in greek – in democracy. 

And here’s where it gets complicated. 

Our government’s legitimacy rests on the idea that the governed consent to the government running the show.

Logically, this means the governed need to be part of the decision on who gets to hold office by voting in elections.

But for much of American political history, major groups were excluded from the voting process – women and African Americans were the best-known examples – but even landless whites were denied voting rights for a time. 

Today, calls for exclusion center on other groups.

Dr. Rachel Jackson, a Stanford University researcher explains.

“Specifically to democratic principles, individuals feel they can’t speak freely about any beliefs or concerns they have lest they seem anti-American in some way or some form,” Jackson said. “Some individuals may not feel comfortable engaging in political activity.”

In the present political climate, politicians stoke fear of these groups because it is a good voter getter. The battle of feelings has replaced the battle of ideas.

All sides on hot-button issues can cross the line between disagreeing and demonizing political opponents. 

In reality, our republic requires everyone to work together.

This doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean finding a common core of purpose and identity as people living together as one nation, divisible in views but indivisible in democratic commitment.