Democracy Works

How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt
Harvard University

The Democracy Works summer break continues this week with a rebroadcast of one of our very first episodes, a conversation with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt. Daniel spoke at Penn State in March 2018. Both the book and the conversation are worth revisiting, or checking out for the first time if the episode is new to you.

Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Jenna Spinelle in the studio.
Kristine Allen / WPSU

Is the United States really a democracy? What will the EU look like in 50 years? What should 2020 candidates be doing to demonstrate civility? Those are just a few of the questions we received from Democracy Works listeners around the country and around the world. This week, the Democracy Works team answers some of those questions about democracy and the topics we've covered on the show.

 

We tend to think about congressional oversight in very academic terms — checks and balances, the Framers, etc. But what does it actually look like on the ground in Congress? To find out, we're talking this week with Charlie Dent, who served Congress for more than a decade until his retirement in 2018. He argues that amid all the talk about subpoenas, impeachment, and what Congress is not able to do, we're losing sight of the things they can do to hold the executive branch accountable.

Some political scientists and democracy scholars think that it might. The thinking goes something like this: inequality will rise as jobs continue to be automated, which will cause distrust in the government and create fertile ground for authoritarianism.

Jay Yonamine is uniquely qualified to weigh in on this issue. He is a data scientist at Google and has a Ph.D. in political science. He has a unique perspective on the relationship between automation and democracy, and the role that algorithms and platforms play in the spread of misinformation online.  

Lindsay Lloyd
Photo by Grant. Miller

If Alexis de Tocqueville visited America today, what would he have to say about the condition of our democracy?

We hear a lot in the news and on Twitter about how support for democracy is waning. We're perhaps even a little guilty of it on this show. But, what do everyday Americans think? Some of the biggest names in politics from across the ideological spectrum teamed up to find out.

Much like our conversation on demagoguery with Patricia Roberts-Miller last week, neoliberalism is one of those fuzzy words that can mean something different to everyone. Wendy Brown is one of the world's leading scholars on neoliberalism and argue that a generation of neoliberal worldview among political, business, and intellectual leaders led to the populism we're seeing throughout the world today. But is it mutually exclusive to democracy? Not necessarily.

When you think of the word "demagogue," what comes to mind? Probably someone like Hitler or another bombastic leader, right? Patricia Roberts-Miller is a rhetoric scholar and has spent years tracing the term and its uses. She joins us this week to explain a new way of thinking about demagoguery and how that view relates to democracy. She also explains what she's learned from what she describes as years of "crawling around the Internet with extremists."

By now, you've no doubt heard all about the report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But, if you only focus on the information about collusion and obstruction in the Trump administration, you are missing a whole other part of the story about Russian interference in democracy leading up to the 2016 election. Laura Rosenberger and her colleagues at the bipartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy have been working to raise awareness about this threat since the 2016 election.

Sixty-five years ago, the Brown v. Board of Education supreme court decision found that separate was not equal. We’ll talk with the organizers of a Penn State conference on the historic case, about school segregation then… and now. 

Crystal Sanders is an associate professor of history and director of the Africana Research Center at Penn State. Erica Frankenberg is associate professor of education and demography and director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Penn State.   

Sarah Koenig spent a year inside Cleveland's criminal justice system for season three of the Serial podcast. Along the way, she met some interesting people and had a birds-eye view of what justice (and injustice) look like for lawyers, judges, defendants, police officers, and the countless others who pass through the building's courtrooms each day.

Koenig recently participated in an on-stage conversation with Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institue for Democracy and one of the hosts of Democracy Works.

There are a lot of calls these days to "revive civility" in politics. While there are plenty of examples of uncivil behavior, there's far less agreement about what civility should look like in 2019. Timothy Shaffer joins us this week to talk about work being done to create a new definition of civility and a playbook to put that definition into practice.

E.J. Dionne has the unique perspective of studying the horse race and the big picture of American politics. He writes a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post and appears regularly on NPR, but he's also a senior fellow at Brookings and professor in Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

Jonathan Haidt
Jayne Riew

These days, political polarization is on the rise as support for democracy declines in the U.S. and around the world.

Why is it so hard for us to get along? And, what can we do about it?

We talked with social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt about the moral foundations of politics and how our kids can play their way to a better democracy.  

The next census won’t start until 2020, but the U.S. Census Bureau is already hard at work on preparing to count the more than 325 million people in the United States. The census is one of the few democratic norms that’s required by the Constitution, and the data collected has wide-ranging uses.

This episode of Democracy Works originally aired in May 2018.

The next census is still a few years away in 2020, but the U.S. Census Bureau is already hard at work on preparing to count the more than 325 million people in the United States. The census is one of the few democratic norms that's required by the Constitution, and the data collected has wide-ranging uses.

It seems like every few weeks, we see headlines about states banding together to block actions taken by the federal government. You might even remember former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quipping that he goes to the office, sues the federal government, then goes home.

How do those lawsuits take shape? How does a state decide whether to join or not? How does that impact the balance of power between federal and state governments? This week's guest is uniquely qualified to answer all of those questions.

As a piece in The Atlantic recently noted, democracy is not natural. Becoming a democratic citizen involves a set of behaviors that need to be learned and practiced over time. One of the first places for that conditioning to happen is in the classroom. Beyond reading, writing, and STEM skills, students have an opportunity to engage in dialogue and debate facilitated by their teachers and learn what it means to be part of a democracy.

McCourtney Institute / McCourtney Institute

From gerrymandering to record voter turnout, it's been a busy year for democracy. This doesn't mean that everything has been positive, but there's certainly plenty to reflect on. This week, Michael Berkman and Chris Beem take a look a look back at some of the biggest democracy-related stories of the year and look at what's in store for next year.

A retired four-star general, 2004 presidential contender, author and commentator, Wesley Clark is now starting a nonpartisan organization. The goal of Renew America is to encourage people to find common ground by promoting public and political discourse.

WPSU's Anne Danahy spoke with Clark about the organization, what he thinks needs to change in politics and how Americans can help make that happen.

Land-grant universities were once known as "democracy's colleges," places where people who were not wealthy elites could earn the education necessary to make better lives for themselves and contribute to the greater social good in the process. The The United States does not have a national university, but the Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 established a public university in each state.

Norman Eisen

There are a lot of books about democracy filling book store and library shelves right now. Norman Eisen could have written one of those books, but chose to go in a different direction.

It's not the Powerball or the Mega Millions, but this democracy lottery does give people the chance to directly impact information that appears on the ballot in their state. Like a lot of things we talk about on this show, the Citizens Initiative Review (CIR) is not easy, but as you'll hear from this week's guests, is work worth doing.

This episode is being released on Veterans Day, a time when people across the United States remember and thank those who have served in the military. While the military remains one of the most respected institutions in the U.S., it's also one of the most misunderstood.

From cooking to shopping to getting around town, disruption is the name of the game for Millennials. Will they do the same thing to democracy?

Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1996, are now largest generational group in the United States. There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether these 20 and 30-somethings will vote in the 2018 midterms. This episode touches on that, but also explores some of the reasons why Millennials feel disengaged from voting and other traditional forms of political engagement.