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When Sen. Mike Lee tweeted ‘We’re not a democracy,’ Twitter became the battleground for the republic

The Republican senator from Utah ignited a debate after the vice presidential debate with tweets about his views on government and the Constitution.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, announces he will serve as a co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Utah at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee created an uproar on Twitter for his tweets during and after Wednesday evening’s vice presidential debate, particularly his declaration: “We’re not a democracy.”

The senator, who is in isolation in Washington, D.C., after testing positive for the coronavirus last week, began the live tweets by welcoming the candidates to “the most beautiful state in America” and spoke about Utahns’ voracious Jell-O appetites.

Two minutes laters, the tweets turned more serious.

“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 wrote.

During the next 28 minutes, he sent out five more tweets that ranged from his musing on governmental powers to defending his maskless public appearance that is suspected to have led to the senator catching the coronavirus.

“We’re not a democracy,” Lee wrote more affirmatively at 7:34 p.m. By Thursday afternoon, the statement had more than 22,000 likes and nearly 9,500 retweets.

And then after midnight, Lee doubled down, writing “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity (sic) are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” The early Thursday morning tweet had around 29,000 retweets later in the afternoon — with many expressing opposition to the senator’s views.

Twitter reacts

Steven Schmidt, a former senior presidential campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain who co-founded the Lincoln Project, said: “The attainment of liberty, peace and prosperity can only be achieved through democracy. This isn’t an abstract, academic argument that Sen. Mike Lee 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,” Schmidt said, tagging the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who do not support President Donald Trump.

Sen. Lee responds

Several digital outlets reported on the Twitter debate over Lee’s views on democracy.

Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll told Vox in an email: “At a time when Democrats want to pack the Court, eliminate the Electoral College, and turn the Senate into the House, it is very good that Americans are re-reading The Federalist Papers to rediscover why the founders put these specific republican checks on democratic passion into the Constitution.”

Lee explained his tweets on Thursday in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

“I get why people use the term,” Lee said about the term democracy. “I also understand why a lot of people would think of it as either a non-issue or not something to be concerned about. But as I think about it, I think it’s a big deal, because in many ways, the whole idea of having a constitution itself, particularly a constitution that establishes a constitutional republic like ours, is materially different and distinct from a democracy.”

More Twitter reaction

“Majority rule is a huge problem for a party with an agenda opposed by a majority of Americans,” wrote Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, on Thursday morning.

Mark Hemingway, a senior writer at RealClear Investigation, offered a nuanced view of the Lee’s tweet.

“How many people dunking on this tweet would put their First Amendment rights up for a vote? The idea direct democracy can be bad without curbs shouldn’t be terribly controversial,” he Hemingway wrote

Carissa Byrne Hessick, a University of North Carolina law school professor asked, “Has someone already pulled together what I am sure is a very long list of quotes by Senator Lee saying that ‘unelected judges’ shouldn’t be making various decisions?”

Ibram X. Kendi, an author, professor and director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, wrote, “Democracy is the objective. It is the only way to bring liberty, peace, and prosperity to all people. But some people are thwarting democracy, concerned only about securing liberty, peace, and prosperity for themselves.”

The Examiner pointed out the Democrats and Republicans have called America — which is republic — a democracy.

“One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man,” said Republican President Ronald Reagan during a 1984 speech honoring the 40th anniversary of the World War II D-Day invasion.