Obviously, we have some tyranny of the majority. Voters across the nation decided I shouldn’t be able to get married, for example. But in the long run, we’re moving back to the founding principle of equal treatment under the law.
So how did that happen? It’s fairly simple in concept. The US is founded on a post-Enlightenment secular humanism that respects and tries to integrate all beliefs. All this is formalized in the constitution and bill of rights. The founders realized that they were only human and ultimately the product of their upbringing. A lot was left undone: emancipation, voting rights, marriage equality. The list goes on.
Our constitution provides three systems to help move us closer to our founding ideals:
Representative bodies. The Senate and House represent the interests of the states and of the people (respectively).
A constitutional court. The Supreme Court Of The United States (SCOTUS) is the final word when controversies aren’t settled in lower courts and state legislatures.
An executive with veto power and control over the armed forces. The president’s power is limited, but those powers they have are substantial. When majorities try to limit minority rights, the executive can step in with either a pen or a gun depending on the severity (and source) of the violation.
And by design, they’re all answerable to each other. The SCOTUS can be overruled with a constitutional amendment. The president can be overruled by a court ruling or a sufficiently large majority. The courts are jointly assembled by congress and the executive over the course of too many elections for one person to have too much control in the decision-making process.
So it’s not perfect, but it does seem to move in a progressive direction over the long term. More people in minority groups have rights today than when the country was founded.
I mentioned at the opening that it’s simple in concept. In reality, it gets complicated. There’s an enormous body of case law that informs the decisions of the SCOTUS and lower federal courts. The president can issue executive orders and the courts can’t always settle on the legality in time to matter. The House and Senate go on vacation a lot.
It’s an awful mess, but we’ve had centuries of one form of government. Somehow, it works in the long run.