How to be an American Citizen

By Lauren Gideon

The original article, “How to be an American Citizen: The Relationship between the Represented and the Representative,” was published in The Cultivated Patriot.

There is a lot of confusion these days (and dare I make us all nauseous and use the word “misinformation”), drowning the American citizen. We don’t always know what is going on, but even more than that, we haven’t been trained in what to do about it. The battle cry of our generation is “Just DO something!” If that doesn’t make you snicker a wee bit, this installment might be for you.

Republic or Democracy—What is the difference?

As American citizens, we live in a republic, meaning we have a representative government. Most often, though, the United States is falsely described as a democracy. This distinction could fill up this entire paper, so instead, I will summarize. In both systems, the ultimate power is held in the hands of the voter.

Direct Democracy

In a direct democracy, however, the voter would literally vote on every issue. There is no assurance that what the voter votes for is moral or just. It is truly an expedient representation of the will of the people. Thomas Jefferson, who was initially endeared to this style of governance, was disenchanted by it over the course of his service as Governor of Virginia. While unverified, he is credited with saying, “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.” So, while mob rule is expedient and gives ALL the “power to the people” ALL of the time, it can potentially be very dangerous. Consider the unbridled mob-like mentality of the past several years on ALL sides of the political arena.

“Democracy is nothing more than mob rule,
where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.

Republic—Representative Government

A republic is still organized with the citizen as the highest authority. However, a republic is less efficient and expedient. Our power as citizens is vested in those we choose to represent us. We vet, we interrogate, we debate, and then we select. Our selection is our seal that the individual we’ve chosen is the best person for the job that we could find within the population for that office. This process is THE exercise of the citizen’s authority in the framework of a republic. This description is by no means a marginalization of the citizen’s role. In the “Just DO something” age, it’s essential first to define what we should be doing.

The exercise of this role is much more complex than scribbling in an oval with ink a few times a year (much less every four years!).

Who are our Representatives?

Our representatives represent us in the office and exercise authority on our behalf.

Ideally, how should you select a representative?

Find someone with sufficient knowledge, who understands that knowledge, and has wisdom in applying that knowledge. Another way of articulating the qualifications: do they possess true principles? Building on those principles, can they reason well? Lastly, could they strategically apply those principles to any potential circumstance? That is how we ought to select our representative.

Two Seasons of a Representative

This process has two seasons: first, the selection (a primary and general election), and then the term in which they do the representing.

During the representative’s term, we should support and encourage the candidate the majority thought was best suited for the role.

Support means we consider the principles we base our decisions on. These become the mechanisms of conversation and sometimes persuasion. We winsomely advocate for applying these principles on issues based on the merits of goodness, justice, and wisdom (or lack thereof). We thereby partner with those representing us.

Terms have different lengths, but they all have limits. Like all healthy assignments, there are seasons of assessing, or “performance reviews,” if you will.

Who performs the reviews, you ask? The voters. Can we all agree that there are qualifications for the heavy responsibility of giving performance reviews? You would need to know the standard or “ideal,” and you would need to know the merits on which the representative was selected in the first place. And you would also need to be engaged enough to know what transpired during the term and WHY. The assessment is a layered puzzle that will take more than a yard sign, a piece of literature, or a social media post to perform. But as the sovereign in this great nation, “We, the people,” have this high calling and responsibility to rule our country well. We need to hold ourselves individually accountable to the measure this office deserves.

“We, the people,” have this high calling and responsibility to rule our country well.

Our Responsibility as an American Citizen

Juxtapose the calm, calculated, time-consuming, discipline-requiring paradigm as stated above with the suggested playbook of our age. Verbs enlisted to the cause include yell, scream, e-blast, force, fight, rally, bully, protest, and “make your voices heard.”

If you don’t join the mob, this will mean to others that you aren’t yet awake enough. If the wicked have succeeded in this vein, isn’t it time we “borrow a page from their playbook”? And if your representative doesn’t bow to your beck and call, he’s “forgotten who he works for.” After all, “We the people” make our demands. If enough people want something, a representative should be bound to give it to them. And if our representative doesn’t, we choose vindication over virtue.

Which Playbook do we use?

If the stakes are high (as the last commentator I listened to told me they were), ought we use the most effective playbook for the task? Yes and no. I am not confident we have a modern example of a diligent, virtuous approach to politics by which to form a fair comparison. Perhaps there still is wisdom in the path of diligence, and, to a degree, we can generally anticipate that we will reap the seeds we sow.

Additionally, the wicked have always prospered, and they will until the end of this age. So, to take a page from the wicked’s playbook to achieve a moral end is inconsistent and incompatible. Also, is it just those “other” people who are tempted to be tiny tyrants?

Tyranny is All Around Us

If dominance is how the team moves the football down the field, would they give up their tyrannical ways once they reach the end zone? Victory would mean nothing less than a regime change where one tribe steals the scepter to wield how they see fit. To quote my colleague, “Tyranny is awful except for my tyranny… which is ok.

To get back on track, I am not assuming that we will always see eye-to-eye with those who represent us, especially if we are “on-ramped” into this cycle somewhere in the middle. It would be imperative that we identify what season we are currently in with each individual representative.

Do our Research!

As an American citizen, we need to do our research, and then enter into a relationship with these civil servants who represent us. We can get to know them, their background, and their priorities. Like any new relationship, we ought to find what principles we have in common. Then, when we meet a division of opinion, we appeal on the merits of goodness, justice, and wisdom. We build our reasoning on something timeless, outside of mere opinion, on some truth that both can identify. Provide authoritative sources. And then be professional!

When this fails, it will, at some point—we need to evaluate. What level of division is it? Is it a deal-breaking disagreement? Should it be? Or is it an area of minor consequence? Review season is coming, and you will take your role more seriously this time. After you have made your appeal to your representative, and once primary season is at hand, it’s time for the community to reevaluate if they (and, more importantly, truth) are best represented by the current representative. This can not happen in a vacuum.

The constituents must compare notes, events, circumstances, choices, and actions. They must focus on winsomely persuading their neighbors to vote based on what is good, just, and wise. They must consolidate their voting power to find the best representative for their community.

We will Reap what we Sow

As American citizens, we vet, we interrogate, we debate, and then we select our representative. We remember that our selection is our seal that the individual we’ve chosen is the best person for the job we could find within the population that is being represented by this office. And from the last term, we realize we will reap what we sow.

When the primary season is over, what’s done is done. And it’s back to the season of civil relationships.

Read other articles written by Lauren here.

Lauren Gideon profile smiling at the camera

Lauren Gideon is the Director of Public Relations for Classical Conversations. She co-leads and teaches through an organization committed to raising citizenship I.Q. on U.S. founding documents. She and her husband homeschool their seven children on their small acreage, where they are enjoying their new adventures in homesteading.

the Argentine flag blowing in the wind on a sunny day

Liberty in Argentina

By Lauren Gideon

It has been about a month since the 2023 elections. As is typical of any election in my lifetime, there was much enthusiasm, effort, passion, and good intentions leading up to the big vote. The races with the most attention in my state were the school board races. You can read my thoughts about those races here. While this election cycle had notoriously low turnout, the results were still jolting to those who had invested so much and anticipated more favorable results. 

Temper Your Election Expectations

Elections always carry this sober-‘day-of-reckoning’-aura for those invested in the civic process. The time for head scratching commences. “Where was the red wave?” “Where is that ‘silent majority’?” “Do they not care enough to vote?” “Do they even exist?” “If they do exist, does it even matter if they don’t care enough to participate?” 

Unfortunately, I’m usually the person who brings the wet blanket to the party. Despite the narrative at the cheerleading events, I don’t anticipate any significant change in one election. I don’t believe in a silent majority or a “take back our schools” mantra. Why? Those are collectivist slogans employed by those who usually have one primary objective; “How do ‘we’ out-muscle our political opponents.” Since we know power takes numbers, we prefer empty collectivist battle cries to the substantiative truth claims that can be divisive and hurt our potential democratic control. Conservatives claim to be anti-Marxist, while many have also reduced the human experience to a binary power struggle. 

Both Parties Want the Same Thing

Recently, I was across the table from a successful activist. He pulled open his laptop and pointed to all the areas shaded red on this U.S. map. He enthusiastically told me how several locations had flipped colors but cautioned my enthusiasm because the margins were tight everywhere. “Do you know what this means?” he asked with optimism in his eyebrows. 

“Yes,” I replied. “It means that what these two colors offer is not that different from the other if people are so easily swayed back and forth.” His eyebrows fell. “You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”

To overly simplify, both parties are out to dominate their political opponent through means of political power. The real question is, “What flavor would you like your tyranny?” Because we, Americans, leverage our tyranny through democratic processes, we have given it our blessing because of our nation’s misplaced loyalty to democracy ahead of the preservation of individual liberty. The tyranny of the majority is a cruel reality.

Did Argentina Beat Us to the Punch?

Simultaneously happening in the opposite hemisphere, Argentina has decided to elect a self-professing libertarian (or liberal in Argentine vernacular). Javier Milei, who takes office December 10, is the president-elect who ran a campaign on promises to reduce the scope and size of the Argentine government and “lead the country with a plan of free-market reforms.” 1 Milei says,  

“Liberalism is defending the right to life, liberty, and property. The institutions of liberalism support private property, labor mobility, the division of labor, social cooperation, and free markets with limited state intervention. It is serving your fellow neighbor by offering better goods and services. This is what we believe.” 2 

While published smear ads are a dime-a-dozen, Milei’s success does invoke a measure of curiosity. Why was this message successful? Is it merely because of Argentina’s economic crisis, or is there a degree of attractiveness to this different political tune? 

Now, it is too soon to draw conclusions about Milei himself. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious. However, if we take the human element out of the picture and assess the principles at play, is there a chance that a new (or, dare I say, “old”) theme is brewing? A theme where people are tired of choosing their flavor of political control. Could minds be opened to an alternative paradigm?  


Suggested Resource from Cato Institute: Is Javier Milei, Argentina’s Next President, A Libertarian?


Individual Liberty is the Unifier

I think a case could be made that there is a new opportunity for a bipartisan unifier—individual liberty. Could the idea of self-governance be attractive once again? Can both sides lay down their commitment to control and “fixing” their fellow human? Could we settle for the timeless virtues of justice, civility, and freedom of conscience? Could we promote a paradigm where citizens have the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail, the right to pursue their happiness, and the right to reap the consequences of their actions? That would be a tough bridge to cross for both political ideologies. 

Christian conservatives need to remember that while we do have an obligation to seek justice in this life (Micah 6:8) with historical and biblical principles to guide us, there is a higher court. In this court sits the Judge of Judges, who decides what injustices will be made right. In our misguided effort to bring heaven down to earth, we often take on responsibility that isn’t ours to bear. In doing so, we trespass into the life, liberty, and conscience of our neighbors—the very things our founding documents were established to protect. 

In the book of Daniel, we read about Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king who ruled Babylon. After witnessing the miracle of the salvation of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Nebuchadnezzar makes a decree regarding the speech, the expression of the conscience, 

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:28-29)

However, this chapter began with King Nebuchadnezzar mandating that all Babylonians worship the Idol he had set up, 

“You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” (Daniel 3:4-5)

Which mandate was to honor the king’s appropriate sphere of governance? Answer: neither. 

In both scenarios, Nebuchadnezzar trespassed beyond his sphere of authority into the private property of the human soul. Juxtapose this paradigm with Joshua’s invitation,

And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Now, before a whistle-blower calls foul—no one in our present moment is blatantly mandating a religion or religious practices. Consider how political ideologies have gone beyond their appropriate spheres. Consider where boundaries of life, liberty, property, and conscience have been trespassed. No matter how well-intended, is justice being upheld? Consider that at the beginning of time, when all things were as they ought to be, humanity was given three things: breath in their lungs (life), a beautiful garden (property), and choice—choice so critical it could save their souls or send their souls to hell (liberty). 

Who afforded them these things? God himself. If we don’t afford the same to our fellow man, we have elevated our judgment above God’s and made ourselves god in His place. We have trespassed onto a throne that does not belong to mere mortals and have violated the first commandment, “Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)

In the twenty-first century United States, are the parties, the politicians, and the people still loyal to the idea of Liberty and Justice for all? 

Lauren Gideon is the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for Classical Conversations. She co-leads and teaches through an organization committed to raising citizenship IQ on U.S. founding documents. She and her husband homeschool their seven children on their small acreage, where they are enjoying their new adventures in homesteading.

  1. Schotgues, Marcus. “Five Things to Know about Argentina’s New President.” The Epoch Times. November 21, 2023. https://www.theepochtimes.com/article/5-things-to-know-about-argentinas-new-president ↩︎
  2. Peterson, Michael. “Javier Milei: The Argentine Economist Who Could Become the First Libertarian President in Modern History.” Foundation for Economic Education. August 18, 2023. https://fee.org/articles/javier-milei-the-argentine-economist-who-could-become-the-first-libertarian-president-in-modern-history/ ↩︎