About the talk:
The tumultuous years of Donald Trump’s presidency, leading to the bitter and contentious 2020 election and the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, marked a challenging time for American democracy. Many assume it signified an aberration from the past, attributable only to the particularities of an unusual president. Yet when we examine history, we find that the United States has undergone repeated crises of democracy, from the earliest days of the republic to the present. Suzanne Mettler will discuss Four Threats, her book co-authored with Robert C. Lieberman, in which they explore five episodes in history -- the 1790s, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Depression, and Watergate -- that risked profound—even fatal—damage to the American democratic experiment. From them, four distinct characteristics of disruption emerge. Political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power—alone or in combination—have repeatedly threatened the survival of the republic, but it has survived. But not until recent history have all four of these threats to democracy been present together. This convergence preceded Trump and led to his rise, and it persists even now that he is gone from office, leaving the nation dangerously divided. By revisiting how earlier generations of Americans faced threats to the principles enshrined in the Constitution, we can see the promise and the peril that have led us to today and chart a path toward repairing our civic fabric and renewing democracy.
About the speaker:
Suzanne Mettler is the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University. Her research and teaching interests include American political development, inequality, public policy, political behavior, and democracy. She is the author of six books, including, most recently, Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy (St. Martin’s Press, 2020), co-authored with Robert C. Lieberman. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships, and serves on the boards of the Scholars Strategy Network and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.