In this election season I have heard many allegedly learned people refer to the United States as a "democracy." While democratic elections are an aspect of our governmental system, our nation is most assuredly not a democracy. This may seem a minor point, and to many in the media who routinely get it wrong it clearly is, but it lies at the heart of what has made our country great over the past two centuries.
Alexis de Tocqueville rightly pointed out nearly 200 years ago that democracies have a tendency to end in despotism. As such, he praised the American system which is rightly called a republic. In a republic as in a pure democracy, citizens enjoy the right of "voicing" their political positions by voting for the candidate(s) or positions they support. However, in the pure democracy where the only rule is majority rule, minority rights necessarily have no protection.
In a democracy, majority persecution of minorities (blacks, homosexuals, women, etc.) is given state sanction so long as it is supported by half of the voting age population plus one. Our founders understood the dangers inherent in such a system. As such, they designed a system that recognizes and protects certain inalienable individual rights given by God (not government ... because what government gives government can take away) that are not subject to the results of majority election.
I am sure I am one of the few people who cringe when I hear TV talking heads (and even our president) refer to the American system as a "democracy" but it is a distinction with real meaning especially for those who fit into one of modern America's multitudinous minority categories.