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About the Event: American democracy has been more prone to crisis than we commonly recognize. Comparative studies of democracy suggest that four threats imperil democracy: political polarization, conflict over who belongs as a full member of society, high and rising economic inequality, and excessive executive power. We survey five periods of American history in which these threats have appeared in different configurations, posing recurring challenges to American democracy. When even one threat was present – as in the 1790s, the 1930s, or the 1970s – the nation risked backsliding. Twice – in the 1850s and again in the 1890s – three threats converged, leading to civil war and then precipitating the disenfranchisement of millions of African American men. Today, all four threats are present for the first time, presenting unprecedented danger to the American experiment.
About the Speaker: Robert C. Lieberman is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of several award-winning books on American politics and previous served as provost of Johns Hopkins and dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Suzanne Mettler is the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell. She is the author five previous books, including, most recently, The Government-Citizen Disconnect and Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream. She was recently awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship and a Guggenheim Award, and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.