Four Threats to American Democracy

On Friday, September 25, from 12–12:45 p.m., I’ll be moderating a Zoom conversation with Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman about their new book, Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy. You can join us online.

The four threats are: partisan polarization, efforts to exclude some people from the polity, economic inequality, and executive aggrandizement. Mettler and Lieberman provide vivid historical narratives of five previous moments in US history when one or more of these threats almost brought us down. These narratives are compelling: well-told, full of overlooked but relevant characters and details, and suspenseful. They show that our republic has often hung by a thread. Worse, the solution to the threat of polarization has often been to forge an elite bipartisan consensus at the expense of society’s least advantaged, who have always included people of African descent. For instance, the truly dangerous partisan conflict of 1800 yielded to the “Era of Good Feelings” because of a bipartisan consensus to uphold slavery.

Mettler and Lieberman argue that although we have faced one or more of these threats before, now is the first time all four have come together.

We’ll discuss their argument, consider some of the historical cases, and focus especially on what we should do now.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.