Conference to examine health of American democracy

In the face of rising economic inequality, political polarization, the expansion of presidential powers over those of Congress, and the resurgence of white supremacy and white nationalism, many commentators have claimed that American democracy is under threat. While many of these trends have been developing for years in American politics, the election of President Donald Trump has brought them to the fore, and political developments since he took office have heightened concerns about the nation's future.

On April 12-13th, the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University and New America will address questions about the health and resiliency of American democracy at a conference in Washington, D.C., called A Republic, If We Can Keep It. The conference will consider questions such as can a liberal democracy and representative government persist in the United States? Are we experiencing a breakdown of democracy? Are checks and balances that are built into the political system and the mediating institutions that link citizens and government strong enough to sustain liberal democracy?

The conference grows out of a collaborative research venture among scholars of American political development and comparativists who examine how democracies have deteriorated in other parts of the world.

 “Our aim,” says Suzanne Mettler, conference organizer and the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions in the College of Arts and Sciences, “is to gather analyse­­s from scholars of American politics on each of these topics, and then to hear responses from those who have studied democratic backsliding and the rise of authoritari­anism elsewhere in the world, offering their prognoses and recommendations for future monitoring.”

The conference will include two keynote speeches by reporters at the Washington Post: E.J. Dionne (5:00pm on Thursday, April 12) and Jennifer Rubin (1:00pm on Friday, April 13). The speeches will be livestreamed. The other seven panels of scholars and journalists will be recorded and available for viewing after the conference. Additionally, No Jargon, a weekly podcast from the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), will record interviews with conference participants.

The conference title comes from a story about Benjamin Franklin: upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, he was asked by someone in the crowd what kind of government the delegates had created. His answer, according to the legend, was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The lead organizers of the conference are Mettler; Tom Pepinsky, associate professor of government; Ken Roberts, Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government; Rick Valelly (Swarthmore); Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins University); and Lee Drutman (New America).

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