It’s quite clear that the country would not have done much better besides blacks under a king, and well may have done worse. Ultimately it was the tools of democracy that forced the revocation of the “white country for white people consensus.” And yet knowing how hard that process was, knowing how often the “majority” can embrace the immoral (not be “tricked” into the immoral but embrace it of its own volition and interests) gives me pause. It checks the instinct to believe in the immediate wisdom of majorities, or the sense that the right solution can always be found in a crowd.
A democratic society can willfully embrace fundamentally immoral choices which damage a minority. Jim Crow was democratically enacted. That is preserved the bigotry of a majority only by oppressing a minority doesn’t make it any less democratic. Religious conservatives have abused democratic processes (i.e. most campaigns against same sex marriage have invoked fears of gay people abusing children) to deny same sex couples marriage rights. They argue that it is unpopular and therefore it’s okay for a majority to deny a minority its rights.
At the same time, democratic processes are the key to reversing tyranny of the majority. Democracy isn’t just voting – it is government by discussion. The more we discuss, the better able we are to govern. When Republicans in Congress do everything in their power to prevent discussion of, as for example, cutting the military budget, they are harming democracy. If the liberal flaw is that we’re willing to discuss too many things, the conservative flaw is they are willing to discuss too little. The value conservatives place on social order is disrupted by discussion of a great many topics. They’d rather not discuss them simply because doing so feels like a threat to the social order.
Democracy – especially in its contemporary form which provides protections for minority rights – is complex and messy but it has worked in finding ways to reverse the tyranny of the majority. It has been dilatory and imperfect, but it has worked.