Democracy Works

By Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy/The Democracy Group

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Subscribers: 1118
Reviews: 2

sheep
 Feb 4, 2020
listen to primaries parties and the public and you can hear the complete contempt these elitists have for your input in any democratic process. the peasants are to be witnesses to politics never participants.

H.
 Nov 26, 2019
very informative by people who understand the value of Rule of Law

Description

The Democracy Works podcast seeks to answer that question by examining a different aspect of democratic life each week — from voting to criminal justice to the free press and everything in between. We interview experts who study democracy, as well as people who are out there doing the hard work of democracy day in and day out. The show’s name comes from Pennsylvania’s long tradition of iron and steel works — people coming together to build things greater than the sum of their parts. We believe that democracy is the same way. Each of us has a role to play in building and sustaining a healthy democracy and our show is all about helping people understand what that means. Democracy Works is part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.

Episode Date
Can corporations be democratic citizens?
00:29:52

Dawn Carpenter is the creator and host of What Does It Profit? - a podcast that explores how we can reconcile capitalism’s demand for profit with the long term well-being of people and the planet, She is a former investment banker who had a mid-career pivot to studying applied ethics, the nature work, and the responsibilities of wealth. 

Dawn and Jenna discuss the rights and responsibilities corporations have to both shareholders and stakeholders, and how those dynamics have evolved from the postwar Keynsian period through the neoliberal era to the crossroads we seem to be at today.

We'll be back with a full episode next week. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving from our team to yours and we hope you enjoy this interview.

Additional Information

What Does It Profit?

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What neoliberalism left behind

When business bleeds into politics

 

Nov 23, 2020
Is common ground hiding in plain sight?
00:30:30

Will Friedman is president of Public Agenda, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and public engagement organization that strives to strengthen democracy and expand opportunity for all Americans. One of the organization's major projects is the Hidden Common Ground Initiative, which challenges the increasingly dominant narrative of a hopelessly-divided America by identifying and elevating the areas and narratives where Americans agree on solutions to politically-polarized issues, and by fostering productive dialogue on those areas where we truly disagree.

This work, along with the Hidden Tribes initiative, Common Ground Committee, and others begs the question — if this common ground is already prevalent in our society and our democracy, then why is it hidden? We explore that question in this episode and ask how to work toward common ground in a way that does not simply maintain the status quo.

Additional Information

Hidden Common Ground Initiative

Related Episodes

Trust, facts, and democracy in a polarized world

Does Congress promote partisan gridlock?

Nov 16, 2020
When four threats to democracy collide
00:34:23

Lieberman is co-author with Suzanne Mettler of the book "Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy." He is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.

Political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power—alone or in combination—have threatened the survival of the republic, but it has survived—so far. What is unique, and alarming, about the present moment in American politics is that all four conditions exist.

By revisiting how earlier generations of Americans faced threats to the principles enshrined in the Constitution, Lieberman sees the promise and the peril that have led us to today and, in this conversation, we chart a path toward repairing our civic fabric and renewing democracy.

Additional Information

Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy

Robert Lieberman on Twitter

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A brief history of "people power"

The ongoing struggle for civil rights

Using the tools of democracy to address inequality

 

Nov 09, 2020
Wynton Marsalis on democracy as jazz and The Ever Fonky Lowdown
00:36:39

The Ever Fonky Lowdown from Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra addresses the timeless cycle and methods used by the elite to exploit their fellow citizens in order to acquire, expand and maintain power.

In the words of Mr. Game himself, ”We are here tonight, but this is an international hustle. It has played out many times across time and space, and is not specific to any language or race. It takes on different flavors according to people’s taste, but always ends up in the same old place.”

Clips from The Ever Fonky Lowdown are used with permission from Blue Engine Records. 

Additional Information

The Ever Fonky Lowdown - Jazz at Lincoln Center store

The Ever Fonky Lowdown libretto, written by Wynton Marsalis

The Sound of Democracy - virtual event for Penn State's Center for the Performing Arts

Related Episodes

How music transcends political polarization

Nov 02, 2020
News deserts are democracy deserts, too
00:42:47

The connection between local news and democracy goes back to the Founding Fathers and particularly to Alex de Tocqueville. We explore the rise, fall, and potential rebirth of local news this week with Jennifer Lawless, Commonwealth professor of politics at the University of Virginia and co-author with Danny Hayes of the forthcoming book News Hole: The Decline of Newspapers and the Future of American Democracy.

In the golden age of newspapers, the "news hole" was the section of the paper not taken up by advertising — aka where the stories, photos, sports scores, TV listings, weather, and everything else lived. Though that dynamic still exists, the term news hole has taken on a whole other meaning that's literally a hole in a community without a local news organization.

This conversation is critically important in the height of election season as people across the U.S. vote for the more than 500,000 local elected positions across the country. As we heard from Mirya Holman in the Sheriffs 101 episode, it can often be difficult to find accurate, credible information about these candidates without local news organizations.

Additional Information

Resources for finding local news in your area: 
Institute for Nonprofit News
LION Publishers
States Newsroom (for state government coverage)

UNC research on news deserts

Jennifer Lawless on Twitter

Is that a fact? podcast from the News Literacy Project

Related Episodes

Sheriffs 101

Defending the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate

Fake news, clickbait, and the future of local journalism

 

 

Oct 26, 2020
The Supreme Court's politics and power
00:43:19

A lot of people are thinking about the Civil War era these days, whether it's asking questions about whether we're in a second civil war now, or thinking about what happened during the election of 1876. In addition to our discussion of the Supreme Court, we talk about both of these things with Rachel Shelden, associate professor of history at Penn State and director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center.

If it sounds like we covered a lot in this episode, it's because we did. Like any good historian, Shelden does not use her knowledge of history predict the future, but she does offer some very useful insights for how the past can help all of us frame and interpret what's happening now.

Related Episodes

The perfect storm for election disaster

A brief history of "people power"

Additional Information

Shelden's article in the Washington Post

Stanford's Jonathan Gienapp on originalism and history

Penn State Richards Civil War Era Center

Oct 19, 2020
The perfect storm for election disaster
00:35:12

In this episode, we review the mechanics of how election results are certified and the work of the Electoral College between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Most of their work has historically happened behind the scenes, but it could become very public this fall if results are contested. We also look at what elections in 2000 and 1876 can tell us about what might play out over the next few months, and why the act of conceding an election is important for democratic legitimacy. 

Our guest is Lawrence Douglas, the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College. He is the author of seven books and a regular contributor to The Guardian.

Additional Information

Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020

Lawrence Douglas in The Guardian

Related Episodes

The people who choose the President

Andrew Sullivan on democracy's double-edged sword

The constitutional crisis episode

Oct 12, 2020
The 2020 election from WPSU's Take Note
00:36:06

We really enjoy collaborating with the team at WPSU on Democracy Works and were happy to give the interviewer's chair to WPSU News reporter Anne Danahy for an episode that also aired on the station's interview show Take Note. 

This interview was recorded on Tuesday, September 30, 2020, before the first presidential debate and President Trump's diagnosis with COVID-19.

Oct 05, 2020
Hong Kong's fight is everyone's fight
00:37:08

In some ways, the fight for democracy in Hong Kong is unique to the region and its relationship with China. However, the protests also feel familiar to anyone who's been watching the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. or what's happening in countries like Hungary and Brazil.  

This week, we examine what's driving Hong Kongers into the streets, the generational divides that are emerging over issues like universal suffrage and income inequality, and what Hong Kong's relationship with China might look like moving forward.

Our guest is On-cho Ng, head of the Asian Studies Program at Penn State and Professor of History, Asian Studies, and Philosophy. He is a native Hong Konger and received both his undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Hong Kong. 

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China's threat to democracies around the world

Viktor Orban's velvet repression in Hungary

Populism is not a monolith

Inside the world's largest democracy

Sep 28, 2020
Sheriffs 101
00:39:33

Our guest is Mirya R. Holman is an associate professor of political science at Tulane University. She was drawn to researching sheriffs after growing up in rural Oregon, where sheriffs were the only type of law enforcement, and identifying a lack of research about them once she got to graduate school.

In this conversation. Holman  discusses what sheriffs do, how those responsibilities have changed in light of COVID-19 and ongoing civil unrest, the difference between sheriffs and police, and where to go to find information about sheriff elections that might be happening in your city or town this fall.

Additional Information

Holman's website

Holman on Twitter

Sep 21, 2020
Students learn, students vote
00:39:23

Nancy Thomas is director of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, an applied research center at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. Over the past decade, the IDHE has worked to understand how college students vote and make recommendations to university leaders about both short-term voting challenges and long-term obligations to creating democratic citizens. This conversations covers both of those areas, as well as what role faculty can play in fostering democracy and civic engagement in their courses.

Additional Information

Institute for Democracy and Higher Education

National Voter Registration Day

Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights

Campus Election Engagement Project

All In Campus Democracy Challenge

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The promise and peril of early voting

Are land-grant universities still democracy's colleges?

Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom

Sep 14, 2020
A dark side to "laboratories of democracy"
00:39:35

Virginia Eubanks examines the relationship between technology and society in her book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor and joins us this week for a discussion about who matters in a democracy and the empathy gap between the people who develop the technology for social systems and the people who use those systems.

Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is also the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in Scientific American, The Nation, Harper’s, and Wired. She was a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a 2016-2017 Fellow at New America.

Additional Information

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Eubanks will present a lecture on her work for Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute on October 1, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. The event is free and open to anyone. Register here.

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A roadmap to a more equitable democracy

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Facebook is not a democracy

Sep 07, 2020
A fall preview — with a new cohost!
00:39:37

In this episode, Michael, Chris, and Candis discuss:

  • The dynamics at play in national, state, and local elections this fall
  • How politics impacts the Census Bureau and other organizations
  • Whether all politics are really local
  • What we've learned since 2016 about how democracy functions

We are excited to welcome Candis to our team. As you'll hear, she doesn't always agree with Michael and Chris and brings some important perspectives to the table.

Related episodes

The clumsy journey to antiracism

Breaking down Black politics

Public health depends on the Census

Free and fair elections during a pandemic

Episode credits

This episode was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Mark Stitzer, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Aug 31, 2020
YIMBYs and NIMBYs in a democracy
00:39:11

Many of us are spending more time at home these days than we ever have before. In the United States, owning a home has come to symbolize the American Dream and homeowners have more political capital than those who don't. Over the past decade or so, this has led to showdowns at local government meetings between YIMBYs, who want more housing, and NIMBYs, who do not.

Dougherty covers economics and housing for the New York Times and is the author of "Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America." The book focuses on San Francisco, but as you'll hear Dougherty say, he could have written it about just about any major city in the U.S. 

We also discuss the role that ballot initiatives play in the fight for housing, particularly in California. Born during the Progressive era to give more power to the people, Dougherty they've become co-opted by money and other influences that plague other areas of our democracy.

Related Episodes

The power of local government

Ten thousand democracies

Additional Information

Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America

Dougherty's work in the New York Times

Aug 24, 2020
After 100 years, there's still no "woman voter"
00:31:03

In their new book A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage, Christina Wolbrecht and Kevin Corder examine women’s (and men’s) voting behavior, and traces how women’s turnout and vote choice evolved across a century of enormous transformation overall and for women in particular. 

The work shows that there is no such thing as ‘the woman voter. Instead, there is considerable variation in how different groups of women voted in response to changing political, social, and economic realities. The points Wolbrecht makes in this interview about how women are perceived by pundits and scholars alike are worth reflecting on as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of suffrage and prepare for an election this fall.

Wolbrecht is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy. Her areas of expertise include American politics, political parties, gender and politics, and American political development.

Additional Information

A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage

Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy

Christina Wolbrecht on Twitter

Related Episodes

Behind the scenes of the "year of the woman"

The connective tissue of democracy

Aug 17, 2020
She Votes! — Susan B. Anthony and "voting while female"
00:32:56

This episode examines the arrest, trial, and conviction of suffragist Susan B. Anthony for the crime of "voting while female." Rather than sitting on her heels, Anthony launched a campaign to raise awareness about voting rights for women that would set the stage for the next 50 years of work through the passage of the 19th Amendment.

You might be familiar with parts of this story, but you've never heard it quite like this — Anthony is voiced by actress Christine Braranski in this episode. 

She Votes! is hosted by Ellen Goodman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Boston Globe and founder of The Conversation Project, and Lynn Sherr, a longtime correspondent for ABC News and author of "Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words."

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment is coming up at the end of August and we're planning an episode of Democracy Works on a century women's voting on August 24.

You can find more episodes of She Votes at shevotespodcast.com or in any podcast app. Thank you to the Wonder Media Network for sharing this episode with us.

Aug 10, 2020
Reason in politics and hope for democracy
00:30:19

"Hope for Democracy" recognizes the primary problems that plague contemporary democracy and offers a solution. It tells the story of one civic innovation, the Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR), which asks a small group of citizens to analyze a ballot measure and then provide recommendations on that measure for the public to use when voting.

It relies on narratives of the civic reformers who developed and implemented the CIR and the citizens who participated in the initial review. Coupled with extensive research, the book uses these stories to describe how the review came into being and what impacts it has on participants and the public.

In this episode, we also discuss the ways that deliberative democracy challenges existing power structures and how it can change participants' thoughts on civic engagement and how they can impact government outside of partisan politics.

Gastil is Distinguished Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science and Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute. Knobloch is Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Colorado State University and Associate Director of the university's Center for Public Deliberation.

Additional Information

Hope for Democracy: How Citizens Can Bring Reason Back Into Politics

McCourtney Institute for Democracy Virtual Book Club on Hope for Democracy - August 31, 2020, 4 p.m. ET

Citizens Initiative Review

Related Episodes

From political crisis to profound change

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Aug 03, 2020
The people who choose the President
00:42:06

At the end of its 2020 term, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on what might seem like an obscure question in Constitutional law, but could have huge ramifications in elections this November and beyond. We dive into the ruling on "faithless electors" in this episode from The Democracy Group podcast network.

Democracy Works podcast host and producer Jenna Spinelle leads a discussion with:

  • Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, founder of Equal Citizens, and host of  the podcast Another Way by Lawrence Lessig. Lessig and Equal Citizens Executive Director Jason Harrow argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the electors in Washington and Colorado.
  • Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One and one of the nation’s foremost experts on Congress and ethics in politics. Issue One was part of an amicus brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center on behalf of the states.
  • Michael Baranowski, associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University and host of The Politics Guys, a bipartisan American politics and policy podcast. Baranowski is an expert on political institutions and discusses the practical implications of the Supreme Court's decision with Lessig in the second half of the episode.

The first half of the episode focuses on the Supreme Court's decisions in Chafalo v. Washington and Baca v. Colorado. Lessig and McGehee explain what led them to get involved in the cases and have a spirited discussion about the role special interests could play in the Electoral College.

Then, Lessig and Baranowski discuss the Supreme Court's opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, and how to make the Electoral College more democratic though measures like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

A huge thank you to The Democracy Group Network Manager Katie DeFiore for editing this episode!

Note: Severe thunderstorms hit Washington, D.C. when we recorded this episode on July 22, 2020 and Meredith McGehee lost power halfway through. We were not able to get her back on the line before the end of the recording session. We apologize and are grateful for the time she was able to join us!

Additional Information

Equal Citizens

Issue One

The Democracy Group podcast network

The Politics Guys podcast

Jul 27, 2020
Broken Ground: Robert Bullard on environmental justice
00:22:45

This week, we're bringing you an episode from another podcast we think you might enjoy, Broken Ground from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Broken Ground digs  up environmental stories in the South that don’t always get the attention they deserve, and giving voice to the people bringing those stories to light. While the show focuses on the South, the conversations — including the one in this episode — resonate far beyond the region's confines.

In the latest season, the podcast explores how Southerners living along the coast are navigating sea level rise as they race against the clock. How will people on the front lines protect themselves from the immediate and impending threats of rising tides?

This episode features a conversation with Dr. Robert Bullard, widely considered the father of environmental justice. He talks with Broken Ground host Claudine Ebeid McElwain about how communities of color are disproportionally impacted by climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction. Bullard was scheduled to visit Penn State in April and organizers are hopeful that he'll be able to make the trip in April 2021.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Broken Ground wherever you listen to podcasts.

Additional Information

Broken Ground website

Dr. Bullard's website

Southern Environmental Law Center

Related Episodes

Michael Mann's journey through the climate wars

Changing the climate conversation

The ongoing struggle for civil rights

Jul 20, 2020
The world's most punitive democracy [revisited]
00:38:46

We're digging into the archives this week for another episode on race and criminal justice. Peter K. Enns, associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University, Executive Director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, and author of Incarceration Nation: How the U.S. Became the Most  Like the conversation with Frank Baumgartner last week, we look at how public opinion around criminal justice has changed over the past two years and how that translates into public policy.

Enns argues that, while public opinion around criminal justice continues to shift, we still don't have anything close to a clear picture about what's happening inside correctional institutions. That, he says, makes it tough for the public to fully grasp the gravity of how incarcerated people are treated and inhibits progress toward a more just, rehabilitative system. We also talk about whether it's possible to both deal with COVID-19 in prisons and jails while also pushing for long-term structural change — and how making conditions healthier and safer benefits everyone.

Additional Information

Incarceration Nation: How the U.S. Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World

Peter K. Enns on Twitter

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

The Marshall Project - nonprofit journalism on criminal justice

Related Episodes

Suspect citizens in a democracy

Civil rights, civil unrest

A roadmap to a more equitable democracy

Jul 13, 2020
Suspect citizens in a democracy [revisited]
00:36:27

Frank Baumgartner

This week marks the beginning of our summer break here on Democracy Works. We are going to be rebroadcasting a few episodes from our back catalog — with a twist.

In fall 2018, we did two episodes on police, criminal justice, and race that are directly relevant to what’s happening today. We caught up with those guests recently to talk about what’s changed in the past two years and how they think about the research in our current moment.

First up is Frank Baumgartner, Robert J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He directed the team that analyzed the data published the book Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race. 

In the book and in our initial conversation, Bamgartner makes the case that an empathy gap exists between people with political and social power and the people who are most likely to be pulled over. The result is that segments of the population who are already disenfranchised become even more distrustful of the police and the government and less likely to vote and otherwise engage with democracy.

During our follow-up conversation in late June 2020, Baumgartner reflected on whether the empathy gap has closed over the past two years and how common-sense police reform can work — even in the midst of a pandemic.

Additional Information

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race

Frank’s profile on the Scholars Strategy Network

Related Episodes

The full episode with Frank from October 2018

What Serial taught Sarah Koenig about criminal justice

The clumsy journey to antiracism

Jul 06, 2020
The second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag
00:39:38

Michael, Jenna, and Chris in the studio in summer 2019.Michael, Jenna, and Chris in the studio in summer 2019.

Before we take a short summer break, Michael and Chris answer your questions about democracy in our current moment. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions; they were excellent!

Some of the things we talk about in this episode include:

  • The difference between federalism and the federal government
  • The definition of an institution
  • How media coverage of the 2020 election will compare to 2016
  • What mask wearing says about the health of American democracy
  • What the U.S. can learn from other democracies
  • Why the “hard work of democracy” is that way

For the next few weeks, we’ll be revisiting some of the episodes in our back catalog (with a twist) and bringing you episodes from other podcasts that we think you’ll enjoy. We’ll be back with new episodes before the end of August.

If you have suggestions for episodes topics or guests for us to tackle in the fall, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We would love to hear from you.

Contact us

Related Episodes

Last summer’s listener mailbag

A democracy summer reading list

Federalism in uncertain times

Free and fair elections during a pandemic

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on June 18, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Jun 29, 2020
How to end democracy’s doom loop
00:43:53

As we bring this season of Democracy Works to a close, we’re going to end in a place similar to where we began — discussing the role of political parties in American democracy. We started the season discussing the Tea Party and the Resistance with Theda Skocpol and Dana Fisher, then discussed presidential primaries with David Karol and the role of parties in Congress with Frances Lee.

All of those episodes looked at the party system as it currently stands. This week’s conversation invites all of us to imagine how we can break out of the status quo and create something very different.

Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at New America. He is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America and The Business of America is Lobbying, and winner of the 2016 American Political Science Association’s Robert A. Dahl Award, given for “scholarship of the highest quality on the subject of democracy.” He has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Drutman  is also the co-host of the podcast Politics in Question, and writes for the New York Times, Vox, and FiveThirtyEight, among other outlets. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California.

We have one more new episode next week before we take a summer break. We’ll close the season with the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag.

Additional Information

Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America

Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop audiobook

Politics in Question podcast

Political Reform at New America

Uniting for Action America – registration deadline July 31

Related Episodes

Does Congress promote partisan gridlock?

Primaries, parties and the public

How the Tea Party and the Resistance are upending politics

Your guide to ranked-choice voting

Congressional oversight and making America pragmatic again

Jun 22, 2020
The clumsy journey to antiracism
00:34:50

This week, we are bringing you another interview that we hope will give some context to the discussions about racism and inequality that are happening in the U.S. right now.

We’re  joined by Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, assistant professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and Candis Watts Smith, associate professor African American Studies and political science at Penn State. She was recently named the Brown-McCourtney Early Career Professor in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

Bunyasi and Smith are coauthors of a book called Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making all Black Lives Matter, which looks at the history of structural racism in the U.S. and gives people information and tools to become antiracists.

We talk about the clumsiness associated with changing patterns of thinking and behavior and how that’s playing out across our online and offline lives and among both individuals and companies. We also discuss the inherent messiness of the Black Lives Matter movement and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Additional Information

Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making all Black Lives Matter

Three Myths about Racism – Candis’s TEDxPSU talk from February 2020

24 podcasts that confront racism in America – list from the Bello Collective

Related Episodes

Breaking down black politics

Civil rights, civil unrest

A roadmap to a more equitable democracy

The ongoing struggle for civil rights

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on June 9, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy.

 

Jun 15, 2020
Civil rights, civil unrest
00:40:07

As protests continue throughout the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we’ve been thinking a lot about comparisons to the Civil Rights era and whether the models for demonstrations created during that era are still relevant today. As we’ve discussed on the show before, public memory is a fuzzy thing and we’re seeing that play out here amid discussions of how peaceful protests should be.

Our guest this week is uniquely suited to speak to questions of civil rights and civil unrest. Clarence Lang is the Susan Welch Dean of Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts and professor of African American Studies. He is a scholar in African American urban history and social movements in the Midwest and Border South. He is the author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75, and Black America in the Shadow of the Sixties: Notes on the Civil Rights Movement, Neoliberalism, and Politics.

In addition to his scholarly work, Lang also has a personal connection to what’s happening right now. He grew up on Chicago’s South Side and a family member who was a police officer. He’s a humanist at heart who believes that our country can pull together and overcome these trying times.

Additional Information

Lang’s website

Grassroots at the Gateway

Black America in the Shadow of the Sixties

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A list of podcasts about racism and inequality from the Bello Collective

Uniting for Action: America

Related Episodes

The ongoing struggle for Civil Rights

School segregation then and now

What neoliberalism left behind

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on June 2, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy.

Jun 08, 2020
Aaron Maybin on doing the hard work of democracy [rebroadcast]
00:33:54

We are working on an episode about the social and democratic context for the protests taking place around the U.S. after George Floyd’s death; we’ll have it for you on Monday. In the meantime, we are going to share a few episodes from our archives that we hope can provide context for our current moment.

One voice we want to lift up during this time is Aaron Maybin, a former Penn State and NFL football player who is now an artist, educator, activist, and organizer in Baltimore, which is where we interviewed him in August 2019.

Maybin has been a tireless advocate for Baltimore’s black community long before protests over the death of George Floyd hit the city. His work will continue long after the protests end — whenever that might be. He believes that the hard work of democracy happens when the cameras and outsiders go away and community members can be empowered to fight for the change they want to see. He also seeks to move people through his art and his work as an art teacher in some of the city’s most underfunded schools.

His perspective is worth listening to, or perhaps even revisiting if you’ve already heard it, as we all make sense of what’s going on and how we can do our part to confront structural inequalities and racism in the U.S Learn more about Aaron’s work on his website or by following him on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

Finally, our colleagues at the Bello Collective also put together a list of 20 podcasts that confront racism in America. You can find it here.

Jun 03, 2020
Free speech from the Founding Fathers to Twitter
00:42:05

This is another episode that we recorded in our final days together in the office before COVID-19. However, the topic is just as relevant — if not more so — in our new reality.

The topic is free speech and our guest is Stephen D. Solomon, Marjorie Deane Professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and founding editor of First Amendment Watch. He is the author of Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech.

Stephen lays out how the Founding Fathers, particularly James Madison, thought about free speech, free press, and the freedom to assemble. The ways we communicate have changed drastically in the past 250 years, but the concerns about protecting the free expression of ideas remains the same.

We also discuss free speech on college campuses and how social norms around speech can be just as powerful as laws in place to protect it. It’s too soon to tell how the virtual environment will impact this dynamic, but it will be interesting to watch as colleges prepare for whatever the coming academic year has in store.

Additional Information

Stephen’s website

Revolutionary Dissent

Uniting for Action: America

Related Episodes

Defending the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate

Facebook is not a democracy

Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of democracy

 

Jun 01, 2020
Bonus: Mayors and bipartisanship during COVID-19
00:19:25

Today we’re bringing you a special episode produced by Nicole Gresen, our intern on Democracy Works during the spring 2020 semester.

Nicole spoke with Bob Buckhorn, who was mayor of Tampa, Florida from 2011-2019, about the role that mayors have played during COVID-19 and how they have to put partisans allegiances aside during times of crisis. As Bob says, people look to mayors for empathy and solidarity in the face of uncertainty — whether it’s a natural disaster or a pandemic.

Bob also talks about his history in politics, which began not long after he graduated from Penn State. Under his leadership, Tampa became known as a city on the rise for startups and economic development. Though he’s no longer mayor, he continues an active role in the city’s government.

Nicole graduated from Penn State in May and is currently pursuing career opportunities in digital media. We  really appreciate all of her help behind the scenes on the show over the past few months and wish her success in her career.

May 29, 2020
The people vs. the experts — and those caught in the middle
00:35:30

These days, it can feel like some politicians are working against experts in public health and other fields when it comes to actions surrounding COVID-19. There’s always been a tension between populism and expertise, but our media landscape and strong partisan polarization are pushing that tension to its breaking point — or so it seems, anyway.

As with many issues we’ve covered on this show, there’s more to it than meets the eye, and we are digging into the relationship between expertise and democracy this week in a  collaborative episode with our colleagues at Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. The Huck Institutes produce The Symbiotic Podcast, a show that explores how scientists are collaborating in new ways to solve complex global problems.

In this episode, you’ll hear Symbiotic Podcast host Cole Hons and Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle in conversation with Taylor Scott, associate director of the Research-to-Policy Collaboration, and Democracy Works host Michael Berkman. We discuss how organizations like the Research-to-Policy Collaboration seek to promote engagement between researchers and legislators and what both groups can do to make the relationship stronger. We also talk about why expertise is important in a democracy and what happens when it is undermined.

Don’t forget, we are still taking questions for the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag episode. We’ll read your questions on the show and choose three submissions to win Democracy Works mugs.
Submit your question here.

Additional Information

The Symbiotic Podcast

Research-to-Policy Collaboration

Listener mailbag questions

Related Episodes

Does Congress promote partisan gridlock?

How conspiracies are damaging democracy

Michael Mann’s journey through the climate wars

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on May 6, 2020. Thank you to Cole Hons of The Symbiotic Podcast for engineering the recording session. The episode was edited by WPSU’s Mark Stitzer and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy.

May 25, 2020
China’s role in the COVID-19 infodemic
00:35:10

As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, the World Health Organization says we’re now in an infodemic alongside it. We’ve seen this play out as misinformation and conspiracy theories move from digital to mainstream media and cast a shadow of doubt about information coming from the government and public health experts.

Our guests this week have been tracking China’s role in this infodemic and argue that Beijing is taking a few pages out of Russia’s playbook for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and its broader efforts to undermine democracy around the world. Jessica Brandt and Bret Schafer are part of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks online information manipulation through its Hamilton 2.0 dashboard.

Early on in the pandemic, they saw an uptick in tweets from Chinese diplomats and embassies that were amplifying conspiracy theories about the virus’s origin and casting doubt on information from the World Health Organization and other official sources. The goal is not necessarily to have people believe these claims, but to stir up enough doubt to discredit democratic norms and institutions.

If you enjoy this episode, we recommend checking out the Out of Order podcast, produced by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and part of The Democracy Group podcast network.

Finally, it’s time for the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag episode! In a few weeks, we will record an episode answering your questions before we take a summer break. Send us your question about democracy and we’ll answer it on the show, plus you’ll have the chance to win a Democracy Works mug.

Additional Information

Jessica and Bret’s article on China’s COVID-19 disinformation efforts

Hamilton 2.0

Out of Order podcast

The Democracy Group podcast network

Listener mailbag question submission

Related Episodes

Protecting democracy from foreign interference

How conspiracies are damaging democracy

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 28, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

May 18, 2020
A roadmap to a more equitable democracy
00:39:51

COVID-19 has exposed longstanding racial and economic inequalities in American life, which is evident in the fact that communities of color are being hit the hardest by both the medical and the economic impacts of the virus. Our guest this week argues that now is the time to empower those communities to have a stake in building a better future for themselves and making our democracy stronger in the process.

Our guest this week is K. Sabeel Rahman, president of Demos and co-author of the new book Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis. He is also an associate professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and courses on law and inequality. His last book, Democracy Against Domination, won the Dahl Prize for scholarship on the subject of democracy.

Rahman argues that the old ways of thinking about and participating aren’t working for under-represented groups. His book lays out a framework for how to make democracy reform more inclusive and how to balance liberalism and democracy by making institutions more representative of the communities they serve. The book was written before the pandemic hit, but feels even more relevant today.

After the interview, you’ll hear an ad for Future Hindsight, one of our fellow podcasts in The Democracy Group podcast network.  The show’s new season on misinformation and democracy launches Friday, May 15.

Additional Information

Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis

Demos

Future Hindsight

The Democracy Group

It’s time for the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag episode! Send us your question about democracy and we’ll answer it on the show.

Related Episodes

Civic engagement, social distancing, and democracy reform

Doing the hard work of democracy in Baltimore

The ongoing struggle for civil rights

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 16 and May 5, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

May 11, 2020
Trust, facts, and democracy in a polarized world
00:41:17

This episode was recorded before COVID-19 changed everything, but many of the themes we discuss about public opinion polling and the importance of trust and facts to a democracy are perhaps more relevant now than ever before.

We talked with Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, about how the organization approaches polling in a world that increasingly presents competing partisan visions of reality.

Trust in the media and government has been declining for years, if not longer, and may be exacerbated by COVID-19. What’s more concerning for democracy, Pew’s Trust Facts, and Democracy project found, is that our trust in each other is also declining.

People don’t trust their peers to use good judgement when comes to evaluating information or making political decisions — especially when it comes to people from the opposing political party. Polling done as part of Trust, Facts, and Democracy found that about 60% of adults said they have little or no confidence in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions.

What does that mean for democracy? Dimock doesn’t shy away from talking about the grim realities of our current political climate, but does offer a few glimmers of hope from the Trust, Facts, and Democracy work.

Additional Information

Pew’s Trust Facts and Democracy project

Pew polling on COVID-19

After the Fact podcast from the Pew Charitable Trusts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is starting a virtual book club! Our first selection will be How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Join us for online meetings May 20 and 21. Visit democracy.psu.edu/book to learn more and RSVP.

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on March 10, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

May 04, 2020
Bonus: Civic engagement, social distancing, and democracy reform
00:37:25

Democracy is very much a group activity. Inside, we come together to debate, discuss, do the work of government, and make laws. Outside, we protest and hold rallies. But much of this is not possible. Social distancing presents a tremendous challenge. In this episode from The Democracy Group podcast network, we look at the barriers and the opportunities as we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID, the pandemic … has really brought to bear not just the inequities and the inequalities, but also the necessity to have a much more active sense of democracy as a verb — democracy as an action that we can all be part of.”

-Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, 70 Million

Host

Richard Davies
Co-host, How Do We Fix It?
@DaviesNow

Guests

Mila Atmos
Host, Future Hindsight
@milaatmos

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Founder and CEO of Lantigua-Williams and Co.
Creator and Executive Producer, 70 Million
@JuleykaLantigua

Carah Ong-Whaley, Associate Director at James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at James Madison University
Co-host, Democracy Matters
@CarahOng

Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow at New America
Co-host, Politics in Question
@leedrutman

May 01, 2020
Give me liberty or give me COVID-19?
00:34:13

From Maine to California, people across the country have gathered at their state capitols over the past few weeks to protest stay at home orders issued by their governors in response to COVID-19. Protest is a hallmark of any democracy, but what happens when doing so comes with health risks? What is motivating people to take to the streets? How should media organizations cover the protests, and how do the people protesting feel about the media?

Joining us this week to explore some of those questions is Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom, a collective of nonprofit news sites that cover state politics in many of the places where the “reopen” protests have occurred. Fitzsimon talks about what his organization’s reporters have observed on the ground and the challenges that states face in deciding when to lift stay at home orders and restart economic activity.

We also discuss how this movement came together and whether it might have staying power beyond the immediate concerns related to COVID-19.

Additional Information

States Newsroom

Visit ratethispodcast.com/democracy to leave a rating or review for Democracy Works.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is starting a virtual book club! Our first selection will be How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Join us for online meetings May 20 and 21. Visit democracy.psu.edu/book to learn more and RSVP.

Related Episodes

Federalism in uncertain times

COVID-19 exposes democracy’s tensions

Tracing the past, present, and future of protests

How the Tea Party and the Resistance are upending American politics

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 22, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Chris Kugler, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Apr 27, 2020
Bonus: COVID-19 and Democracy with The Democracy Group
00:54:29

We are excited to collaborate with our partners in The Democracy Group podcast network to bring you a bonus episode on how COVID-19 is impacting democracy in the United States and around the world. 

COVID-19 brings together several issues that have long been talked about separately — political polarization, misinformation, international cooperation, democratic norms and institutions, and many others. We dive into some of those issues in this episode and discuss how we can all work together to protect, and even strengthen, democracy as we emerge from the first wave of the pandemic.

For more information about The Democracy Group podcast network, visit democracygroup.org. Thank you to Democracy Group Network Manager Katie DeFiore for producing this episode!

Host:

Jenna Spinelle, Communications Specialist at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy
Host, Democracy Works
@JennaSpinelle

Guests:

Luke Knittig, Senior Director of Communications at the McCain Institute
Host, In The Arena
@LukeKnittig

Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas Austin
Host, This is Democracy
@JeremiSuri

Rachel Tausenfreund, Editorial Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Host, Out of Order
@thousandfriend

Weston Wamp, Senior Political Strategist and Consultant at Issue One
Host, Swamp Stories
@westonwamp

Apr 24, 2020
Federalism in uncertain times
00:35:45

With each passing day, the relationship between states and the federal government seems to grow more complicated. States are forming coalitions and working together to chart a path out of COVID-19, while sometimes competing with one another for resources. A lack of clear guidance from the federal government will likely lead to a fragmented return to business and social life state by state in the coming weeks and months.

This situation is unique in many ways, but brings to light the complexities of American federalism — our topic of discussion this week. Charles Barrilleaux, Leroy Collins Professor and Political Science Department Chair at Florida State University, is an expert on American federalism and joins us to discuss the relationship between states and the federal government, and how that manifests itself during the response to COVID-19.

The episode begins with Michael and Chris explaining the history of federalism and what powers the Constitution gives states and the federal government.

Related Episodes

COVID-19 exposes democracy’s tensions

When states sue the federal government

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 13, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Chris Kugler, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Apr 20, 2020
Will COVID-19 create a one-issue campaign?
00:39:02

The general election is going to happen in November, and candidates still need to figure out ways to get their messages out to voters. COVID-19 has changed everything about the way candidates communicate with potential voters and how they position themselves in relationship to the virus.

This episode addresses the nuts and bolts of campaigning during a pandemic, but we also discuss a broader question — should we even be talking about politics at a time like this? Our guest this week makes an interesting case about why the answer is always “yes.” John Sides is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and publisher of the Monkey Cage, a political science blog published by the Washington Post.

Sides talks about the novel coronavirus has impacted campaigns up and down the ballot, and why it’s valuable to consider it as a political problem apart from a public health issue.

Note: You’ll hear a reference to Bernie Sanders during the interview. We recorded on April 6, before Sanders announced he was dropping out of the race.

Additional Information

John’s website

The Monkey Cage

A look at ethics of campaigning during COVID-19

Related Episodes

Free and fair elections during a pandemic

COVID-19 exposes democracy’s tensions

Primaries, parties, and the public

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on April 6 and 7, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Mark Stitzer, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Apr 13, 2020
Public health depends on the Census
00:38:53

The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. intensified just as the 2020 Census was getting underway in earnest. As Americans fill their days with news about the new coronavirus, the Census Bureau is doing everything it can to spread the word about completing the Census online while grappling with how to do critical in-person follow up during a time of social distancing. As our guest this week explains, the consequences of an undercount directly impact public health in significant ways.

Jenny Van Hook is the Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography at Penn State and a former member of the Census Advisory Board. She was an expert witness in the legal fight over the efforts to add a citizenship question to this year’s Census and has written about the Census in The Conversation and other outlets.

Census Day was April 1, but there’s still time to complete your Census online at 2020census.gov.

This episode begins with an ad for Lyceum, a new app that’s specifically for educational podcasts. Learn more and join the conversation with other listeners at lyceum.fm.

Related Episodes

It’s good to be counted – our interview with Jenny from May 2018

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on March 31, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle, edited by Chris Kugler, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

 

 

Apr 06, 2020
Free and fair elections during a pandemic
00:42:00

As COVID-19 intensifies throughout the U.S., questions about the future of the remaining primary elections and the general election in November are beginning to surface. The last thing you want are large groups of people standing in line near each other for long periods of time. At a time when seemingly everything in life has gone remote, states are starting to think about what a remote election would look like, too.Our guest this week is one of the people helping them figure it all out.

Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT and a contributor to the Election Updates blog, a partnership between MIT and the California University of Technology. He’s spoken with election officials across the country and about how to implement voting by mail and change processes to make in-person voting safe.

Voting by mail does not come without its problems in terms of election security and electoral integrity. We explore those with Charles and discuss how planning now can help mitigate those risks in the fall.

Democracy Works is proud to be part of Lyceum, a new platform dedicated to educational audio. The app includes curated lists of shows around topics like climate change, linguistics, and ancient history, as well as opportunities for listeners to connect with podcast creators and with each other. Visit lyceum.fm to learn more.

Additional Information

Election Updates blog

Ted Recommendations to Ensure a Healthy and Trustworthy 2020 Election – a piece Charles c0-wrote for Lawfare

Related Episodes

The promise and peril of early voting

How states are working to keep you vote safe

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle and edited by WPSU’s Chris Kugler, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Mar 30, 2020
COVID-19 exposes democracy’s tensions
00:42:29

As we’ve seen over the past weeks and months, democracies and authoritarian countries respond to pandemics very differently. There are balances to be struck — liberty and community, human rights and disease mitigation — that every country’s government and culture handle a little differently. We dive into that this week with our first ever all-remote episode as we adjust to the new normal of life during COVID-19.

Our guest is Nita Bharti, assistant professor of biology at Penn State and faculty member in the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. Nita’s research focuses on the interactions between social and biological processes as underlying determinants of human health — making her the perfect person for us to talk to about the response to COVID-19.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to outbreak mitigation, but there are lessons we can take from other outbreaks about how information affects behavior and how the government can help or hinder that process. As Nita says, we’re likely only beginning to see what the new normal looks like in the U.S.

Additional Information

Nita’s article on COVID-19 in The Conversation 

The Bharti Lab of Human Infectious Diseases

The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State is taking questions about the Coronavirus pandemic at askciddpsu@psu.edu. Each week, experts will answer your most commonly asked questions, anonymously. They will attempt to provide the most current accurate information, informed by scientific evidence.

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded on Thursday, March 19, 2020. It was engineered by Jenna Spinelle and edited by WPSU’s Jen Bortz, and reviewed by Emily Reddy.

Mar 23, 2020
Populism is not a monolith
00:36:39

We know that there are a lot of episodes about COVID-19 out there right now. We’re working on one of our own that we hope to bring to you soon, but in the meantime, consider something different to focus on while you practice social distancing this week.

We’ve talked a lot on this show about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world — from Viktor Orban in Hungary to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. We sometimes tend to paint these countries with same brush, often referring to the book How Democracies Die. While the book remains of our favorites, this week’s episode is a reminder that populism does not look the same everywhere.

We welcome back Penn State’s Vineeta Yadav to look at some of the forces that are pushing back against populism around the world, and how those efforts look different in each place. She joined us last fall to discuss the rise of Narendra Modi in India. We reusume that conversation in this episode, but also touch on what’s happening in Turkey and Brazil.

Michael and Chris also give an important overview of the difference between liberalism and democracy — and how the two work together to form the system of government practiced in many countries around the world today.

Stay tuned to the end of the episode for more information about Ways&Means, a podcast produced by the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. The show’s current season is taking a deep dive into the relationship between politics and policy, covering topics like reparations and the decline of local news.

Related Episodes

Inside the world’s largest democracy – Vineeta Yadav’s first appearance on Democracy Works

Brazil’s tenuous relationship with democracy

How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the “grinding work” of democracy

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded at WPSU’s studios and engineered by Cole Cullen. It was edited by Chris Kubler and reviewed by Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Mar 16, 2020
Swamp Stories: Cashing In
00:25:18

It’s spring break at Penn State this week and we’re going to take a brief hiatus to bring you an episode from a new podcast that’s part of The Democracy Group, our new podcast network.

Swamp Stories is produced by Issue One, a group that takes a cross partisan approach to democracy reform. The podcast follows the host — millennial Republican and former candidate for office, Weston Wamp — as he shines a light on the swampiest practices in Washington that repulse Republicans and Democrats alike: Slush funds in Congress, dark money in elections, gerrymandered districts, foreign interference in our elections, dialing for dollars on Capitol Hill, and more.

The show debuted at the end of January and we are sharing its first episode with you. There are five others available if you want to binge them while we’re away. We’ll be back with a new episode of Democracy Works next week.

Additional Information

Swamp Stories website

You can find Swamp Stories and all of our other network shows at democracygroup.org

Mar 09, 2020
The promise and peril of early voting
00:36:23

Super Tuesday is this week, but voters in many states have already cast their ballots for races happening this week and throughout the rest of the primary season. From Florida to Pennsylvania, states are expanding access to early and absentee voting to give people more options to make their voices heard in our democracy.

Sounds great, right? However, early voting is not without its problems for candidates, election officials, and even voters. Daniel Smith, one of the country’s leading elections experts, joins us this week for a look at the pros and cons of early voting, and how it might improve voter turnout among young people specifically.

Smith is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Florida and President of ElectionSmith, Inc. He is a nationally-recognized expert on direct democracy, campaign finance, and voting rights in the American states. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison  and his B.A. in History from Penn State.

Stay tuned to the end of the episode for more information about another great higher ed podcast, Ways & Means from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. The show’s fifth season launched Feb. 19 and covers issues in politics and policy ahead of the 2020 election.

Additional Information

Dan’s website: ElectionSmith

Ways & Means podcast

Related Episodes

What should voting look like in the 21st century?

Primaries, parties, and the public

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded at WPSU’s studios and engineered by Andy Grant. It was edited by Mark Stitzer and reviewed by Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Interview Highlights

[5:40] What is early voting?

There are a lot of different definitions of early voting. The one that Pennsylvania still does not have, and about a dozen states don’t have any form of this, is allowing voters to come in before election day to some type of polling location. It can be at the county level, multiple locations, it might just be the county seat. It allows you to come in, you don’t have to request an absentee ballot, and you prove your identity one way or the other, and are able to vote a regular ballot. The ballot looks just like a ballot you would do on election day in your own local precinct. Those windows might be as much as a month before Election Day.

[7:55] How do states decide to adopt early voting?

It could be just the culture that you have the idea that let’s make voting easier, and we’re going to see about making it more convenient for voters so they don’t have to come on that first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and extend the absentee ballot or make it an all-mail ballot election. Others there’s certainly a political game going on, and it’s often on partisan lines, where Democrats generally want to expand the electorate, and make it more easy to vote. One way to do that is to give people more opportunities to turn out to vote, either in person or by getting ’em an absentee ballot and mailing it in.

[9:38] What do we know about people who vote early?

Early in-person voting is certainly geared to people who can’t necessarily come out to vote easily on a Tuesday. And so what we have seen is a demographic on those early voting days that isn’t necessarily representative of the overall electorate. It happens to be more people of color, more women, younger voters are often using early in-person voting.

Early in-person voting is different from absentee voting, which is typically seen most among  older people, whiter people, more partisans, people who have already made up their decision on how to vote. They don’t need to wait for an eleventh hour surprise, they’re gonna vote a Republican or Democratic ticket.

[18:16] What happened in the early voting program the was piloted at several colleges in Florida?

It was fascinating to see  the excitement where these students were first kind of curious about the opportunity. And then you started to see the drives of get out the vote efforts by different coalitions. The University of Florida has a lot of Democrats as well as Republicans. And so, it was utilized by both of the political parties at the local level. The students are very energized and organized relative to a lot of other universities so I’m not surprised that we had the high turnout. And I can tell you that if the supervisor of election wanted to eliminate this or the administration wanted to eliminate it, there would be a huge backlash.

[19:22] What will voter turnout look like in November’s election?

I think it’s really going to hinge a lot on who the Democratic nominee is. The Democrats certainly have the never-Trumpers who are going to vote for a box of rocks over the incumbent. They’re going to come out regardless. But there are a lot of other folks who are not terribly excited about a potential Democratic candidate. And if you don’t have that excitement and that enthusiasm, we know that it is going to play with respect to younger voters. If they can’t get behind the Democratic candidate, if President Trump does some things that are going to turn off some moderate Republicans, who really don’t like what he’s doing but are going to hold their nose and come out any way, he could still turn them off. They’re not going to come out and vote for the Democratic nominee.

[21:52] Will we see more states adopt early voting between now and November?

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some more legal challenges. Is Pennsylvania going to adopt early in-person voting this cycle? No. But New York did last election cycle. And they had some issues rolling it out, but I think it takes a, a bit of time. But again, New York’s not a competitive state. There’s not going to be a lot of attention. There’s not going to be a lot of money spent there in the presidential election. Turnout is going to be probably a lot lower  just because people on either side know that their vote is probably not going to be decisive. And there’s a lot of literature suggesting that that’s one of the things that drives people whether or not that the margins are going to turn out to vote.

Mar 02, 2020
Breaking down Black politics
00:34:04

As the South Carolina primary approaches, all eyes are on the African American vote. This week, Michael Berkman is taking over the interviewer’s chair for a roundtable discussion on black politics with Ray Block and Candis Watts Smith, who are associate professors of African American studies and political science at Penn State.

Ray is the author of Losing Power: Americans and Racial Polarization in Tennessee Politics. Candis is the author of Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter and Racial Stasis: The Millennial Generation and the Stagnation of Racial Attitudes in American Politics.

They discuss the history of black politics and how it’s evolved in the years since the Civil Rights movement, how President Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates are received by African Americans, and how the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter are informed by broader social and generational trends.

With so much punditry going on around appealing to black voters, we hope you’ll enjoy the opportunity to take a step back from the punditry and look at the broader issues in black politics and how they relate to things like representation and inequality.

Additional Information

Ray’s book, Losing Power: Americans and Racial Polarization in Tennessee Politics

Candis’s books Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter and Racial Stasis: The Millennial Generation and the Stagnation of Racial Attitudes in American Politics

Candis’s website

Ray’s website

Related Episodes

School segregation then and now

The ongoing struggle for civil rights

Episode Credits

This episode was engineered by Craig Johnson at the WPSU studios, edited by Chris Kugler, and reviewed by Emily Reddy. Additional support comes from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Feb 24, 2020
Does Congress promote partisan gridlock?
00:40:35

Some of the most talked-about issues in Congress these days are not about the substance of policies or bills being debated on the floor. Instead, the focus is on the partisan conflict between the parties and the endless debate about whether individual members of Congress will break with party ranks on any particular vote. This behavior allows the parties to emphasize the differences between them, which makes it easier to court donors and hold voter attention.

Some amount of competition between the parties is necessary in a healthy democracy, but have things gone too far? Frances E. Lee joins us this week to explain.

Lee is jointly appointed in the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where she is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs. She is the author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign and the forthcoming The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era with James M. Curry.

As you’ll hear at the beginning of the episode, we are excited to announce that we are starting a podcast network! We are thrilled to bring together some of our favorite podcasts in democracy, civic engagement, and civil discourse in The Democracy Group. Visit democracygroup.org to learn more about our member shows and sign up for our mailing list to receive updates with new episodes, deep-dive playlists, and more.

Additional Information

Frances’s book, Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign

Her lecture at Penn State on lawmaking in a polarized era

Frances’s website

Related Episodes

Congressional oversight and making America pragmatic again

Unpacking political polarization

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded at WPSU’s studios and engineered by Andy Grant. It was edited by Chris Kugler and reviewed by Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Interview Highlights

[8:28] How did we get to the current situation Congress?

So we are in a remarkably competitive period in terms of our two-party politics. Now, we’ve been in this era for a long time so that people have sort of come to take it for granted that this is how Congressional elections work that  the majority’s in play every two years in the House,  and potentially in the Senate. If you reflect back on congressional history, you’ll see that that this is not normal. The Democrats were the majority party in Congress for roughly 50 years in the 20th century between the Great Depression and 1994 in the House of Representatives and 1980 in the Senate.

There was not speculation in the lead up to the 1980 elections that Republicans might take the Senate majority. But when the votes were counted, they did. The same was true in 1994. It was not expected for that Republicans would win in 1994. There was a great deal of complacency about Democrats retaining control, as you might expect considering that it had been more than a generation of the Democrats being in power.

[11:30] What roles to the majority and minority parties occupy in Congress?

The American system fragments power to such an extent that there is always ambiguity about who really is in power. Having a presidential election occur separately from Congressional elections means that we regularly have an outcome where you have one party in control of the Executive Branch and the other party in control of Congress. A party may not have full control of Congress, they may have a majority in one chamber but not a majority in the other. And then, of course, there’s always the question of the Senate where a simple majority is not enough to govern in the Senate. One might even ask, does any party ever really have control of American government? It’s a fair question and the answer is not very often.

[14:13] How do the parties talk about compromise and conflict?

Party messaging does go out in public and say, “Look at all these great deals that we’ve cut with the opposing party. That, you know, we sat down and worked out things in a reasonable basis, and here’s what we produced working cooperatively together.” That is not how party messaging plays out. The party not in power wants to say that the party in power is doing a bad job. How can it say that if it’s taking credit for accomplishments that were bipartisan? So, it has to say what the majority wants to do is bad, and their agenda is misguided or wrong. They’re continually criticizing one another and party messaging is disproportionately negative.

[20:05] Does the increase in party conflict affect the number of bills Congress passes?

The number of bills has come down, so the number of individual laws is less than it was before this highly partisan, closely contested era got underway. But the bills that passed these days are much longer, so they are more omnibus in character so that if we look at the total number of legislative pages enacted in a Congress, it’s not less than it was in the 1980s. So what you tend to see is relatively few bills going through navigating this grueling process, but they pack a lot into them.

[22:55] How does party conflict impact trust in Congress as an institution?

They are cognizant of the low level of trust in Congress and it has provoked some reform effort. Right now, there is a select committee on the modernization of Congress, which, you know, sees its mission as to take action to improve public, trust in, in Congress. But these institution-wide incentives are not as powerful as the incentives to gain or maintain majority control. So  the second set of imperatives are more driving of behavior. They’re more important to party leaders, to donors. The power struggle takes precedence over these institutional considerations. But the institutional considerations are something they care about.

[24:37] What, if anything, would need to happen to shift this paradigm?

You’d have to have one party win firm grip on power, so that the other party doesn’t see an immediate path back in. That would reduce incentives for constantly messaging and seeking a political angle to impeach the performance of the party in power. It would reduce the focus on partisan politics if key questions about which party the public trusted with power were sort of settled. But there’s no sign of that happening.  So it really boils back down to the public’s views of the parties. And neither party in American politics is a majority party. They’re both minority parties. And when one party wins power it tends to generate a backlash against that party in power because the public simply doesn’t trust either party with power.

[27:10] Would things be better if member of Congress from opposing parties interacted more socially?

What I hear from members and former members is a complaint about not being able to get to know people from across the aisle. They don’t have time. They’re not in Washington very much and when they’re there, they have to meet with constituents or with their party caucuses. And then there’s fundraising, so there’s just not much chance for them to get to know each other. I’ve heard former members complain about how hard it is to be seen as friendly to the other side. To go to dinner is something that can get you in political trouble. Somebody takes a picture, Tweets about it and your constituents see you shaking hands or being friendly and negative feedback in terms of calls coming into the office. I think they feel constrained by their supporters in the electorate to seem more hostile, maybe, than they actually feel.

[28:48] Can individual voters do anything to change the situation in Congress?

Voter preferences do make a difference. Now, the individual voter that’s a high bar. But what voters want does restrict what parties do. Republicans struggled to repeal the Affordable Care Act because it was not seen as the popular thing to do. Republican states have expanded Medicaid in wake of the creation of the Affordable Care Act. Even though their voters never approved of Obama, the policy was popular. And so you’ve seen a steady growth in the number of states that have done this. So, there’s a responsiveness of both parties to what voters want. It’s hard for them to buck what voters want, to the opposite of what voters want.

Feb 17, 2020
How states are working to keep your vote safe
00:36:30

Elections are the bedrock of any democracy. Without confidence in the process or the results, confidence in democracy itself is vulnerable. With the primary season underway and the general election just a few months away, conversations about election security are starting to enter the public conscience. We saw this firsthand in Iowa last week as conspiracy theories about results hacking swirled despite no evidence of malicious interference in caucus results.

Since 2016, states have taken measures to add paper trails, intrusion detection, audit systems, and other measures to safeguard the voting records from voting interference. However, elections are conducted county by county, which means resources are spread thin, and large-scale efforts can be difficult to coordinate. Adding this additional layer of security might also mean longer wait times at the polls on Election Day at a time when turnout is already expected to be high.

Our guest this week is Bill Theobald, a senior writer at The Fulcrum, a news site devoted to covering democracy-related issues. He covers election security and frequently talks with both election officials and security experts about how they are working together to safeguard the voting process and ensure a process the public can trust.

If you enjoy Democracy Works, please take a minute to visit ratethispodcast.com/democracy and leave us a rating in your podcast app.

Additional Information

The Fulcrum’s story on election security in swing states

Related Episodes

Protecting democracy from foreign interferance 

What should voting look like in the 21st century?

Episode Credits

This episode was engineered by Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle, edited by WPSU’s Chris Kugler, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Interview Highlights

[8:20] What do we know about the extent of hacking of voting in the 2016 election?

I believe the public thinks that a lot more happen than really did happen. I think it was so shocking that somebody tried to do this, that the fact that they were unsuccessful sort of gets lost. There are really only two things that we know about in which they actually broke into some particular system. One is the Illinois voter registration rolls and apparently they downloaded some names of people who are registered to vote. Nothing was changed and also there was some attempts and maybe success to break into some election offices, computers in Florida, but there’s not entirely clear what they actually accomplished. And the bottom line is no votes were changed. No voter names were taken off or added to the voting rolls. Again, I think people were so outraged and concerned about it that they think that things were a lot worse than they were.

[10:45] What are states doing to make this year’s elections more secure?

They are implementing systems that create a paper record of some sort. When you cast your ballot, you have a piece of paper and they have a piece of paper that shows what you intended to do with your vote. And that way they can check it against what the actual results are and make sure that there wasn’t some problem in the way it was counted. They’re also adding audits, which allows them to go back and actually check the results versus the ballots themselves.

[20:44] Are there specific states leading the charge for reform?

The one that I hear the most about is Colorado and the reason for that is that they went to paper ballots or a ballot system or voting system that creates a paper record. And they were one of the first to mandate these risk limited audits after every election. And I think that they’re considered to have a pretty well run operation and a uniformity of belief and a bipartisan support for some of these things. I think the places where this happens where it’s going well are where there’s an agreement that no matter what your political outlook is or what candidate you’re going to vote for or who you support, that we have to come together and make sure that these systems are secure.

[24:05] Has election security managed to stay above the partisan fray?

I guess you could say that there’s probably politics and partisan politics these days in almost anything. But it’s among the least partisan of the issues and if anything it’s because of the great level of concern that’s out there. I think there is certainly different policy positions on how to address it, whether to have a consistent funding mechanism from the federal government or whether that should be something that’s left more to the states and the local governments. So one of the things that Republicans as part of their just general philosophy is that they have a concern about federal control of local elections in that they believe that the decision-making should be left at the local level.

[25:55] What changes can voters expect on Election Day?

I think one of the things that’s not getting a lot of attention now it’s going to continue to emerge as an issue is that with the additional steps and concerns about security, there’s real and with a huge turnout that’s now sort of being expected you’re going to have a combination of lot of people and longer process, which means a longer wait time to vote if you actually voting on Election Day.

Feb 10, 2020
Primaries, parties, and the public
00:40:10

The 2020 primary season officially begins today with the Iowa caucuses, followed by the New Hampshire primary on February 11 and Nevada and South Carolina later this month.

It’s easy to forget that the primaries have not looked like they do now. In fact, it was not until 1968 that things really began to morph into the system of state-by-state contests that we know today. Before that, nominees were largely chosen by party leaders in preverbal smoke-filled back rooms.

While the parties once ruled the primary process, they seem to have lost some of that control, particularly in recent years. Donald Trump, a candidate the Republican Party opposed for much of his candidacy, received the nomination in 2016. Bernie Sanders one of the top candidates in this year’s Democratic candidate field, even though he is officially an independent. What does this change mean for democracy? We explore that question this week.

David Karol is an associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. He is an expert on primaries and the role that the political parties play in them and join us this week to help make sense of how we got here and where things might go moving forward.

Additional Information

David’s website

David’s book, The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform

Related Episodes

The case for open primaries

Your guide to ranked-choice voting

How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the “grinding work” of democracy

Episode Credits

This episode was engineered by Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle, edited by WPSU’s Chris Kugler, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Interview Highlights

[7:30] What did the primary process used to look like?

The first candidates were chosen by an informal congressional caucus, they had no legal authority, just more like a kind of a parliamentary arrangement. The members of Congress from a party selected the candidate and by the middle of the 19th century that conventions that we know today existed, but the delegates to those conventions were chosen at meetings that were not necessarily so well publicized and the participation while incorporating many more people than the congressional caucus did, it was a relatively small number of people who were involved. It wasn’t very transparent.

By the early 20th century in the Progressive Era, primaries were established. Some candidates entered primaries selectively when they need to show strengths. A really strong candidate could hope to be drafted at a convention, which was kind of a fiction because in fact, they were running for the nomination, but the stronger they were the less visible they had to be in their efforts. That system existed more or less until the end of the 1960s.

[13:17] What happened in 1968?

People had for several years seen primaries as part of the process, if not dominant. But in 1968, what happened is President Johnson was being challenged by Eugene McCarthy, the general candidate. Johnson withdraws and Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President, then enters the race and doesn’t run in any primaries because the filing deadlines have passed. At the Democratic Convention, Humphrey had the majority of the delegates. But there were these anti-Vietnam War protestors who as many people know were violently suppressed by the Chicago police. There were big protests at the convention and it was very messy on live television. And to reunify the party, hopefully, Humphrey agreed to establish a commission that after the election would try to reform the process and make it more open and participatory.

[19:05] How did the Republican Party come on board with the changes to the process?

There wasn’t a negotiation or a formal agreement at the national level between the parties, but the same trends to decline the favorite sons.  The favorite son tradition was already in decline, and that was true in both parties. As I said, Barry Goldwater had run in primaries in ’64, but what happened is, as I said, many states in 1972 and more in 1976 created primaries and that just carried both parties along and it had important implications for the Republicans as well.

[24:00] What role do parties play in primaries today?

What’s happened is I think, because to a large extent because of the internet and social media, cable news, other changes in media, obscure candidates can become well known more easily than in the past and can raise significant funds from small donors much more easily than in the past. This open process that party elites had seemingly been able to steer somewhat effectively in the ’80s and the ’90s and the early aughts has become messier. Some of the recent nominees have still been of the story that they don’t hide support from traditional party elites. Hillary Clinton, of course, the most prominent example. I’d also say Mitt Romney, in 2012.

I would say parties have an important role in democracy. And there’s a school of thought that democracy is really people having a choice between candidates and those candidates should be screened by political parties and should represent them. And that the current ethos in American politics though is very populist, very skeptical of elites, any idea that people are, that somebody making a decision for them is a hotly contested.

Feb 03, 2020
The connective tissue of democracy
00:36:32

The Women’s March 2020 was held in cities across the country on January 18. What began as a conversation on social media has evolved into a network of groups and organizations that are united in opposition to the Trump administration.

From 2017-2019, Dana Fisher and her research team interviewed participants at Washington, D.C. protests, including the Women’s March, March for Our Lives, and the People’s Climate March. They asked protesters about their motivations and how marching in the streets translates into longer-term political action. Fisher argues that the groups in the Resistance are the “connective tissue of democracy,” bringing together people who are working to make their voices heard and advocate for the environment, reproductive rights, and other causes.

But will the connective tissue hold through the election in November? What about beyond that? Fisher shares her thoughts based on her research on the Resistance and collective organizing more broadly.

Fisher is Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and author of American Resistance: From the Women’s March to the Blue Wave, which chronicles the birth and growth of the anti-Trump resistance following the 2016 election.

This episode is a nice follow up to our conversation with Theda Skocpol last week about how the Tea Party transformed Republican politics.

Additional Information

Dana’s book, American Resistance: From the Women’s March to the Blue Wave

Dana’s website

Related Episodes

How the Tea Party and the Resistance are upending American politics

Grassroots organizing to reboot democracy

Tracing the past, present, and future of protests

Episode Credits

This episode was engineered by Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle, edited by WPSU’s Chris Kugler, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. Additional support from Democracy Works interns Nicole Gresen and Stephanie Krane.

Thank you to Meredith Howard at Columbia University Press for sending us a copy of American Resistance and helping arrange an interview with Dana.

Interview Highlights

[8:25] How do you define the Resistance?

I think of the resistance as a counter-movement to the Trump regime. So, it involves people working individually and through organizations to challenge the Trump administration and its policies. And because it’s specifically about targeting and the Trump administration and its policies, people in the administration who are writing anonymously in the New York Times or publishing books anonymously calling themselves the resistance don’t fit into my definition of resistance.

[10:05] Is there anything that unites the Resistance beyond opposition to the Trump administration?

Well, I think that we could say that this movement is unified also in its progressive ideals. One of the things that unifies all the people who participated is their concern about a number of different progressive issues. And depending on the event where I’m collecting data, different issues take precedence. So obviously, women’s rights, reproductive rights are very prominent in the Women’s Marches. But at the People’s Climate March, climate change is obviously a prominent feature. At the March for Racial Justice, racial justice and Black Lives Matter tends to be a prominent issue.

[12:50] Does the initial outrage that takes people into the streets translate into long-term political engagement?

At the early marches, like the Women’s March 2017, a third of the crowd reported never having participated in a protest before. And in fact, I got lots of people telling me, “I’ve never done this before, but I had to come out after this election.” And what we saw in the crowd was very much this sense of group therapy taking place at these events. Organizations, be they civil society organizations, social movement organizations, whatever you want to call them, these groups are the connective tissue of democracy in a lot of ways in America because they do a lot of the work of coordinating among individuals. And so in a lot of cases, the people who at first just felt like they had to get out in the streets, and in many cases, they weren’t particularly connected to organizations, then channeled their outrage into real activism through organizations, and in many cases, targeting the election, particularly the midterm election in 2018.

[16:10] Where does the Democratic Party fit in here?

In a lot of ways, the Obama administration, the Obama campaign in 2008, masked over a lot of the problems that we saw with regard to real grassroots infrastructure being built at the local level among the Democratic Party or Democratic Party operatives. And so when we get to 2016, resistance groups in a lot of ways formed to fill the void because there are not a lot of opportunities for local people to get involved in progressive left-leaning activities in their communities.

[19:04] What is distributed organizing?

Distributed organizing is this new way of coordinating and organizing activism and electoral political activism. Let me say that over again. Distributed organizing is a new way of organizing at the local level, and basically, it’s coordinated digitally. And it means that it’s something new that has only come up as people have become much more connected through all these different technologies that are now available. And distributed organizing means that no longer do people attend meetings and sign up and pay dues to organizations. But instead, they sign up to participate in a specific action, in many cases, a protest, through a website. And all of a sudden, they’re on a list, and they’re considered a member of an organization that was sponsoring this event.

[26;16] What does the Resistance look like after the 2020 election?

An optimistic outcome where the resistance succeeds, and there is a Democrat taking office in the White House and continues to be a democratic majority in the House of Representatives and even the long shot democratic majority in the Senate. In that case, I think that it will be a real question about what happens to the resistance, this fragile coalition of organizations that have bonded together and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the country to work together across a range of progressive issues will have a very hard time once they’re working within an issue based specific political realm because all of a sudden, they’re going to have to compete for attention and resources in ways that they don’t right now because everybody’s just working on defense.

If President Trump is re-elected, I think that we’re going to see a resistance, a coalition of groups and individuals, who are extremely frustrated with the idea of what will come for the next four years, another four years of retrenchment. I think as a result of that, we’re going to see a resistance that’s becoming increasingly confrontational and reactionary. And I think a lot of the people who are willing to go out into the streets are going to be more interested in something less peaceful and more about pushing confrontation.

Jan 27, 2020
How the Tea Party and the Resistance are upending politics
00:41:19

Since 2008, the Tea Party and the Resistance have caused some major shake-ups for the Republican and Democratic parties. The changes fall outside the scope of traditional party politics, and outside the realm of traditional social science research. To better understand what’s going on Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Strategy at Harvard and Director of the Scholars Strategy Network, convened a group of researchers to study the people and organizations and at the heart of these grassroots movements.

Skocpol joins us this week to discuss their findings and the new book Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance. Her work in particular focuses on the Tea Party and includes interviews with Tea Party members across the country. We also discuss the Resistance and whether these oppositional forces to the party in power are likely to continue after November’s election.

Additional Information

Upending American Politics from Oxford University Press

Skocpol on the Scholars Strategy Network

Related Episodes

Grassroots organizing to “reboot” democracy

Salena Zito’s deep dive into Trump’s America

When states sue the federal government

The democracy rebellion happening in states across the U.S.

Episode Credits

This episode was engineered by Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle, edited by WPSU’s Chris Kugler, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. A huge thank you to Abby Peck in Theda Skocpol’s office for arranging the interview and providing technical support.

Interview Highlights

[6:45] How did we arrive at our current moment in American politics?

Well, I was surprised in the early Obama presidency by the sudden emergence of the Tea Party and perhaps I wasn’t surprised for exactly the same reason that a lot of other people were. First there were some demonstrations, but then there were hundreds of regularly meeting local groups of tea partiers and that attracted our attention because we realized that since the 1960s a lot of the organizing on the civic side in the United States had taken the form of national advocacy groups and maybe some local things, but usually not very connected into anything national.

Then if you fast forward eight to 10 years later, the same thing happened when Trump was elected and in both cases these were presidents that shocked the other side, elected at the same time as Congress was controlled by their own party. And the grassroots resistance emerged even more quickly after the Trump election, which was an even bigger shock to the people on the other side.

[10:01] What was it about Barack Obama’s election that changed the paradigm?

It’s in Americans’ DNA to organize when something strikes citizens as needing action and both grassroots tea partiers and the grassroots resisters, now they faced a shocking event and that event is probably very important. I think social movement scholars often don’t pay attention to events. But it’s a pretty shocking thing in American democracy when a president who looks like they’re going to carry through radical changes is elected at the same time as a Congress of their own party.

And in the case of Barack Obama, of course it was an African American. He looked like he was coming to power at a moment of economic crisis that was going to lead to sweeping changes led by Democrats, and at that moment, a lot of grassroots conservatives just said to themselves, we can’t depend on the Republican Party to do anything. We don’t trust the Republican Party. Who’s going to do it? We’re going to do it. And so they started organizing face to face.

[12:15] How does today’s organizing relate to older styles of civic engagement and civil society?

In the Tea Party it was more men and women often married couples together, but women were more present than you might think and more present than you would think for conservatives because women tend to do things and these are almost always in both sides people who’ve had experience organizing in their workplaces, their churches, maybe they’ve been part of the local political party or a local civic movement on the left or the right. And so in a way they do remember older fashioned ways of organizing and then they will usually pick up some of the new internet techniques and kind of meld them together with what they know.

[16:46] Tell us about the “uneasy marriage” in the Republican party

I personally write about the dual roots of Republican party extremism and they really are quite different. I mean the Koch Network and other multimillionaires and billionaires have organized since 2004 really with roots going back even further than that to try to persuade Republican Party politicians in office or running for office that they should ruthlessly pursue more and more tax cuts that benefit the very, very rich, i.e. the people who are doing the organizing and block any kind of environmental or global warming response through government, disable unions, labor unions, that’s a top priority and deregulate business at all levels.

The Koch network likes immigration, makes labor cheaper, but the grassroots tea parties were angry that Hispanic immigrants in particular, central Americans and Mexicans were coming in large numbers and changing the cultural composition of the society that they thought they grew up in or that they did grow up in.

[21:25] How does Donald Trump benefit groups like the NRA and the Fraternal Order of Police?

When Donald Trump appears before actual groups, ongoing organizations, they tend to be the gun rights groups, the NRA, the Christian right conventions or the values summit that the Christian right holds every year. Or we saw that he also visited fraternal order of police lodges where he would routinely give a speech saying those black lives matters. People are being backed by the Democrats to attack our hero policemen and I’m with you and we can be sure that they’re doubling down on all of that. And that’s very advantageous to Donald Trump because it gives him networks that reach into just about every community in every state that he needs to carry in the Electoral College.

[23:06] How does the Resistance compare to the Tea Party?

The Resistance and the Democrats face a harder set of tasks. Because the Tea Party, when it organized at the grassroots in 2009 and ’10 it formed probably about a 1,500 groups spread all over the country. They didn’t engage in a lot of voter registration efforts that we could observe at the time. And they didn’t have to because they were older, conservative minded whites, angry at Democrats and an African American president and they sort of knew that their friends and neighbors were going to vote because old people vote in this country and conservatives vote very, very regularly and Christian evangelical conservatives really vote regularly. So it was more a matter of changing the agenda, changing the public discussion, creating a sense of urgency and fear, which a lot of people that were there surrounding them of like minded people already felt.

[26:14] Will organizing against the party in power become the norm moving forward?

It’s very likely that if a Democrat wins the White House this time, that the Democrats will hold the house but not take the Senate. And they certainly will not take most of the state legislatures and governorships. So in that scenario, I expect the right not to stand down in any way. We’ll see the same kind of fierce and unremitting opposition that Barack Obama faced. The outcome might be a little different this time because Barack Obama and many Democrats in the Congress spent three years thinking they could work out compromises with people that weren’t about to compromise with them.

Jan 20, 2020
A 2020 preview
00:35:13

This week, we begin a new year and a new season with a look ahead what 2020 will mean for democracy in the United States and around the world. We know that there will be a Census and an election, but will they be carried out in a democratic way? The escalating conflict with Iran is another unknown, but one that will no doubt have ramifications for democracy in the U.S. and abroad.

We also look at how political polarization has changed since 2016 and the implications of that change on just about every aspect of our lives. From impeachment to Iran, we see that Americans are more divided than ever. It’s unclear what that will mean as tensions with Iran escalate.

Underlying some of this polarization is our media environment. Little about the way Americans consume news on social platforms has changed since 2016. Disinformation and fake news are already starting to spread in advance of the 2020 election.

Note: You’ll hear some discussion in this episode about Facebook and deepfake videos. After we recorded, Facebook announced that it would begin taking steps to remove videos that have been manipulated using artificial intelligence, making exceptions for satire, parody, and videos that have been edited solely to omit or change the order of words.

Related Episodes

A few of the episodes we reference in this one:

Episode Credits

This episode was recorded at the WPSU studios and engineered by Craig Johnson. The episode was edited by Mark Stitzer and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy.

Finally, don’t forget to leave a rating for Democracy Works if you enjoy what you hear on the show. Visit ratethispodcast.com/democracy to give us some stars in your favorite podcast app.

Jan 13, 2020
Grassroots organizing to “reboot” democracy [rebroadcast]
00:36:42

Happy New Year! Our winter break continues with a rebroadcast from fall 2018 with Lara Putnam on grassroots organizing in suburban America. This episode was recorded before the  2018 midterms, but many of the trends we discuss bore out in the election.

Putnam is a Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author with Theda Skockpol of the article “Middle America Reboots Democracy.” in Democracy, a Journal of Ideas and a new book called Upending American Politics. She argues that grassroots work is happening behind the scenes in “purple” suburbs, areas that are ignored in the red state/blue state and urban/rural media narratives.

Grassroots groups like those Putnam observed in western Pennsylvania are mixing traditional organizing tactics with social media to raise awareness and push for change at the local and state levels, far away from the divisions that bog down national politics. To borrow a line from the article, “If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here.”

Finally, you’ll hear Michael and Chris talk at the end about”giving us some stars.” Over the holidays, we came across a new site that makes giving us a rating very simple. Visit ratethispodcast.com/democracy to get started.

Additional Information

Middle America Reboots Democracy in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Upending American Politics – a new book with two chapters by Putnam

Related Episodes

The “democracy rebellion” happening in states across the U.S.

Salena Zito on understanding Trump’s America

Interview Highlights

[5:28] As a history professor, how did you come to write about a political movement?

Lara: After the 2016 election, I looked around at local politics to see where I could make a change. Based on the national political coverage, I expected to see high levels of energy and organization for progressive politics in the city and little in the suburbs. However, what I found was actually that I was missing the real story. What I saw in these smaller towns was people engaging again in the political process through organization. This wasn’t getting covered nationally. This is where I kicked into historical gear. We know that large scale changes nationally have their roots in local developments. Therefore, it leads us to believe that these changes at the local level should be looked at as the possible motivation behind future national changes. So face to face groups which appear insignificant, can actually lead to large political changes.

[8:35] What does middle America mean to you after your research?

Lara: These movements are being started by women. Particularly, women who had already been involved in the political movement prior to the 2016 election. What we mean by “middle America” here is that these democrat movements are taking place not in the stereotypical coastal democrat strongholds, but rather in small rural towns in the middle of the country.

[11:30] Why do you think the national media is missing this trend?

Lara: The national media is really obsessed with candidates. While this does impact the spread of movements like the ones we’re seeing, it doesn’t completely stop them. Remember that politics is local. Most political conversations and political knowledge is shared in local conversations such as when people are running errands in town. This is how information is usually shared. The media tends to underreport this type of grass roots kitchen table politics.

[13:30] Do these groups still see support from the Democratic Party?

Lara: Part of the story here is that the Democratic Party changed. This is why we’re seeing many of these groups being created recently. The party used to be structured in such as way that you could join it and know your fellow democrats. You had a sense that you belonged to an actual place with real people rather than simply an email list. How the party today has embraced these new organizations has varied around the country. In some places, the local party structure has embraced these new groups while in other places you’re seeing more resistance to bringing them into the fold. Whether or not this osmosis process happens depends a lot on the level of maturity of these groups. What I mean by that is how organized and structured they are. When a group is very structured, it tends to more naturally fold into a larger equally as organized group.

[19:25] Do you think there is room in these left leaning groups for someone who voted for Trump in 2016 but have since changed their minds?

Lara: I think there are many different “middle Americas” out there. People are complicated and terms such as progressive means different things in different places.

[23:31] How are these groups communicating and utilizing technology to advance their causes?

Lara: Some groups have become hybrids of older and newer models in that they’re utilizing both face to face as well as technological forms of communications. For example, groups will often have several facebook pages. One will be public where as the other will be private. This private page has sort of become the 21st century face to face conversation.

Jan 06, 2020
E.J. Dionne on making America empathetic again [rebroadcast]
00:35:39

E.J. DionneWhile we enjoy a holiday break, we are rebroadcasting an episode with E.J. Dionne that was recorded in March 2019. The McCourtney Institute for Democracy brought Dionne to Penn State for a talk on “protecting free expression and making America empathetic again.” After spending some with him, it’s clear that he walks the walk when it comes to empathy.

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.

We talked with him about the relationship between partisan politics and democracy, the need for empathy across the political spectrum, and a few policy ideas to help make America more democratic. We could have talked all day and hope to return to some of these topics in future episodes.

Additional Information

Dionne’s Washington Post columns

Dionne’s lecture at Penn State 

Dionne’s paper on universal voting for Brookings

Chris Beem’s TED talk on how young people can improve democracy

Interview Highlights

[3:52] In One Nation After Trump, you wrote that a partisan response was required to protect democratic values. What did you mean by that?

Trump had done something to our politics that was very dangerous and needed to be reversed, and given that the Republican Party had chosen almost to a person (with a couple of exceptions in Congress) to support Trump, the only way to hit back, to create any sense of accountability, was to give at least one house of Congress to Democrats. There a lot of people out there who aren’t necessarily partisan Democrats, who aren’t necessarily liberals or lefties, who believe that there are abuses here that need to be checked, and that there is a threat to democracy that needs to be reversed, and that’s exactly what happened after the 2018 midterms.

[5:19] Should that approach continue heading into 2020?

My view is that the Republican party has moved to a point where it needs a real rebuke in order to look inside itself and analyze where they want to continue to be.

[6:54] ]What happens to the people who are conservative but don’t may be aligned with where the Republican party is currently?

I think there are still a lot of conservatives who made a deal that they think is still worth making on behalf of low taxes deregulation and Supreme Court appointments. There is a pattern in which some districts that 30 or 40 years ago would happily have sent a moderate Republican to the house are now sending Democrats.

[11:00] You’ve also called for making America empathetic again. Have you seen any indication that it’s happening?

Yes, I have seen it in the reactions of the people when the Muslin ban. The number of people who rush to the airports over the Muslim ban and people who may not have met a Muslim in their life and said “wait a minute, this isn’t who we are.” There is also the reaction of the people to the kids being taken away from their parents at the border. I think we’ve taken some steps forward, but we still have a lot of work to do.

[12:51] What can people do to develop a sense of empathy?

Chris Beem gave a TED talk in which he said we need people to do three things. First, people need to tell the truth. Second, they need to engage in democratic humility, and third, people need to join an organization. I think one of the terrible things about the Trump age is that the division is so deep that friends who disagree about politics don’t even talk about politics anymore because they’re afraid of busting the friendship, and that’s a problem.

[14:54] Why do you think it’s so hard for people to have constructive arguments?

I think some of it is that our allegiances are all aligned together in a package. So people’s political commitment and people’s party commitments are aligned with their ideological commitments or often aligned with their religious commitments that includes people who are religious or secular combined with where they live. The “big sort” argument and many things combined in one party has come to stand for it.

[16:00] How we can make civil society work given the world we live in today?

I think we people need ways in which they can get together face-to-face and do things together. Sports teams are part of that, by the way. There is enormous life in civil society when where kids sports are concerned about it. What I want to tell to my conservative friends is: I’m with you, I want a stronger cvil society, but you have to acknowledge the cost of inequality and the cost of economic collapse.

[19:08] Can you give us an overview of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact?

We have a problem in our country that’s going to keep growing with the Electoral College. Since 2000, we’ve had just two elections where the Electoral College went against the popular vote. The way in which population is getting concentrated in big states, the over-representation of low population states in the Electoral College will get even greater. This is a problem for democracy and you can’t change it very easily under the Constitution.

[22:26] You’ve also worked on what you describe as universal voting. Can you explain what that is and how it might work?

This idea comes from Australia. Australia has compulsory attendance at the polls, but not the United States. I’m working on an initiative with Miles Rapoport at the Ash Center at Harvard on this. We’re trying to see what would this look like If we did it in the United States. Our theory is if you can ask people to serve on juries, if you can ask people for going to say to potentially give their lives in war, then asking people to vote is not an over ask for civic life. It finally reverses the role of local officials. They can’t suppress the vote anymore. Their job is to help make it as easy as possible for all the people in the country to vote.

Dec 30, 2019
Is it possible to overdo democracy?
00:42:08

As we enter the holiday season, Robert Talisse thinks it’s a good idea to take a break from politics. In fact, he might go so far as to say democracy is better off if you do.

Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of a new book called Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in Its Place. The book combines philosophical analysis with real-world examples to examine the infiltration of politics into all social spaces, and the phenomenon of political polarization.

In the middle of an impeachment inquiry and with a presidential election looming on the horizon, this might seem like precisely the wrong time to try to balance your political engagement with other things. But Talisse argues developing that sense of “civic friendship” through a sports league, book club, cooking class, or just about any other type of activity that’s not political, can help you see past the partisan identity that’s so prevalent these days.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, this episode might be a good place to start.  We also discuss deliberative democracy and efforts to bring people from across the political spectrum together to find that sense of common ground.

This is our last new episode for 2019. We are going to do a few weeks of rebroadcasts and return in mid-January with a look ahead at what 2020 will have in store for democracy — we have a feeling there will be no shortage of things to discuss.

Listener Survey

As we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020.

Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug. We’ve already sent one batch of mugs to our listeners around the country and will do another one after the holidays.

Additional Information

Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in Its Place

Talisse’s TED talk on putting politics in its place

Talisse’s website

Related Episodes

Unpacking political polarization

The closing gap between business and politics

Is it time to revive civility?

Interview Highlights

[7:17] In the book, you seem to use politics and democracy interchangeably. How do you define each term?

I think of democracy as a series of institutional, procedural, constitutional norms that are all underwritten by a more fundamental moral principal. That is, I think that democracy is, at its core, the moral proposition that a relatively stable and relatively just social order is possible in the absence of rulers, and bosses, and kings, and the like. Democracy is also a broader social ideal. It’s the ideal of living together as equals in a political and social context, and what I think that means is that democracy is a moral solution, or proposes a moral solution, to a problem. The problem that democracy proposes a solution to is the problem of severe, sometimes heated, disagreement about politics.

[9:55] How did you arrive at the notion of “overdoing” democracy?

I think democracy is a capital social good. However and because it’s a capital social good, we in our roles as democratic citizens  have to do some hard work. Democracy requires a lot of us. It’s a demanding social ideal. Don’t want to deny any of that. What  I want to push back on the idea that the best strategy that we have for pursuing those lofty social ideals by means of democracy is to perpetually be enacting democracy, perpetually be acting in the role of democratic citizen. I think that if we want to perform well as democratic citizens, and do well by or do right by our goals, our moral goals for a better society, we have to find or as the case may be try to construct venues where we can interact with one another in contexts where our politics is simply beside the point.

[17:46 ] How has politics become a bigger part of our identities?

As the country at the macro level has become more diverse, the local spaces we inhabit in our walkabout daily activities have become increasingly homogenous, so in the aggregate it’s a more diverse country, but in our day to day social environment, the atmosphere within which casual, non-planned social interactions occur, this has all become increasingly homogenous and politically homogenous, such that the person sitting next to you on the bus, the person standing behind you on line in the grocery store or in the coffee shop, is increasingly likely to have a political profile that’s just like your own. 25 years ago, workplaces, schools, local parks, beaches, these sort of public venues, these places where people would get together were far more politically heterogeneous than they are today.

[25:49 ] What do you make of efforts to bring people from opposing political perspectives together for dialogue and deliberation?

I count myself as a democratic theorist, as a deliberate democrat, so I’m on board with deliberative democracy as a theoretical approach to thinking about democratic legitimacy and political authority, and also to thinking about good democratic practice, so I’m sort of an omnivorous kind of deliberative democrat. I’m on board with the project in the broadest sense, and also I’ve theorized it in some of its particulars in some other work. The dinner table conversations initiatives, initiatives about deliberative polling, and citizen assemblies, and citizen juries, and all the rest, those are all incredibly promising initiatives and the data that come out of those experiments and those endeavors strike me as really, really promising. I am skeptical, though, about the prospects for these kinds of interventions, which I would say are good, necessary steps towards repairing democracy.

[30:24] How do you recommend people “put politics in its place?”

What I think the first step is to putting politics in its place is sort of recognizing that your conception of what the people, the rank and file citizens on the other side, are like. That’s the product of these phenomena. Maybe you need to recognize that.  It’s part of the profile of this cognitive phenomenon, belief polarization, that not only do you become a more extreme version of yourself, you start to adopt more negative attitudes towards the people who you perceive to be different from yourself, and here’s the crucial part: you also start to adopt an unreasonably monolithic and un-nuanced conception of what the other side is like, and you could even hear this in pronouncements among citizens and politicians. We’re lead to think that there’s just one kind of person on the opposite side of the aisle that is our political rival, and that’s an unduly homogenized conception of how politics works.

Dec 23, 2019
Chris Beem on democratic humility and virtues
00:35:01

Earlier this fall, our own Chris Beem traveled to Notre Dame to appear on With a Side of Knowledge, a podcast produced by the university’s Office of the Provost. The show is recorded over brunch, and this happened to the last meal served at campus institution Sorin’s.

Bacon and eggs aside, Chris talks with host Ted Fox about his most recent book, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America’s Political Crisis, and his current work on democratic virtues. They discuss why democracy runs counter to the way we’re wired, and why it’s so difficult to sustain.

This episode is a cool collaboration for a few reasons:

  1. Chris is a Notre Dame alumnus — we won’t tell you what year he graduated
  2. Ted Fox, the host of With a Side of Knowledge, and our own Jenna Spinelle have become podcast kindred spirits since they met earlier this year.
  3. Tracy and Ted McCourtney are generous supporters of both Penn State and Notre Dame. In many ways, this collaboration would not have been possible without them.

We’ll return to our normal format next week for one final episode in 2019 before taking a holiday break.

Listener Survey

We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020.

Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life.

Additional Information

With a Side of Knowledge

Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America’s Political Crisis

Dec 16, 2019
Next-generation democracy
00:28:51

Credit: Rachel Franklin Photography/Draw the Lines PA

One of the things we heard in our listener survey (which there’s still time to take, by the way) is that we should have more young people on the show as guests. It was a great suggestion and, after having this conversation, we’re so glad to have received it.

Joining us this week is Kyle Hynes, a junior at State College Area High School and a true advocate for democracy. He is the statewide champion in the youth division of the Draw the Lines PA mapping competition and winner of the Future Leader in Social Studies from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies.

Kyle is an expert on the ins and outs of gerrymandering, but he also has interesting perspectives impeachment, political engagement among his peers, and the generational divide in American politics.

We’ve had a lot of guests tell us that they put hope in Generation Z to solve some of the challenges we face. If Kyle is any indication, that hope is in the right place.

Listener Survey

We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020.

Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life.

Additional Information

Draw the Lines PA

Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies

Related Episodes

One state’s fight for fair maps

What can Pennsylvania voters do about gerrymandering?

Generation Z and the future of democracy

Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom

Interview Highlights

[3:05] How did you become interested in redistricting?

I’ve always been really interested in math. I’ve also been interested in politics for quite a while, and so I’m really interested in the areas where they intersect, where math and politics come together. I feel like gerrymandering is one of those places. Redistricting is a logistical puzzle and you try to put it together. So I’ve always thought this is really interesting, and then when I saw that there was a competition, you can draw your own map, see if you can do it better. I was like, “I want to try that.”

[3:40] Where does your interest in politics come from?

Our family’s really politically engaged, and my political interest kind of sparked during the 2016 primaries, where it seemed almost, especially on the Republican side, just because there were more candidates, it seemed almost like a giant game. It’s like the Hunger Games, who can get to the cornucopia first? And it was like, “Is this really how we choose our politicians? Really?” And so that kind of sparked an interest for me, and then it’s kind of carried through ever since.

[6:00] What do your friends think about your involvement in politics?

Some of my friends are interested in politics, all have a lower tolerance for politics than I do. But yeah, so sometimes there’s the reaction of, “Oh Kyle, just shut up about the damn politics.” But often sometimes they are interested in politics and stuff like that.

On the one hand, there’s some ambivalence. People think Republicans and Democrats are the same and everyone is corrupt and in it for their own ends. But there’s also a bunch of people, I would say a majority even, among kids my own age who actually do care, and who are actually interested in finding solutions to problems. And I feel like to a certain extent it’s less tribal, especially among high schoolers and young adults. The tribal mentality really isn’t there.

[8:36] What’s been your experience with civics education?

I took a civics class in eighth grade,  which was pretty good. And then the only thing after that is the AP government class in 12th grade, so both those classes have certainly played a role. I feel like another big contributor to my civics education, my parents are both really politically minded, civically minded, and they both raised me from an early age to care about this stuff.

[10:42] What was your process for creating the district map for Draw the Lines PA?

I had certainly seen a lot of alternate Pennsylvania congressional maps that people had drawn saying, “Hey, I can do this better than the politicians in Harrisburg.” And so I feel like I drew some from a lot of those different maps, and different attitudes towards districting. And I feel like I also kind of pulled on my math background, because I wanted to create as many districts that were competitive, for both sides, as possible, and I feel like at some point that was just a pure puzzle. It was just, how do I cobble the precincts together in such a way that you get as many 50/50 districts as you can?

I wanted to use competitive districts, because in my perfect world, if we had an electoral system of my choice, it would be a proportional representation system, so that everyone could actually have a say in choosing the government. But obviously this competition didn’t allow for that, you drew the districts. And so I felt like I wanted to draw a map that gave every single voter as much say as physically possible

[14:20] People often put faith in younger generations to fix what’s broken in politics. Are you aware of that pressure and how do you feel about it?

Yeah, sometimes. I feel like the youth in any generation are always the least jaded. As people go through life, they often become more and more and more jaded. But I feel like a lot of the issues that have been prevalent in the past, and even today, there is, like I certainly hope that our generation or generations above us can take care of the issues, because somebody’s got to. So I feel like on the one hand, it’s a little bit of pressure like, “We’re going to give it to the youth, see what they can do with it.” But on the other hand, I think in the future, our generation will end up taking the reins of power, and I feel like, I hope that we can do good things with them.

[15:40] What’s your biggest “OK Boomer” moment when it comes to politics?

I feel like it’s tough to answer the question because like a lot of things, even though like almost everything, there are a lot of people in that, a lot of Boomers who agree with what I think, and a lot who don’t. And a lot of people who have been doing things to advance what we need to do in a bunch of these different categories, and a bunch who don’t.

But I feel like of all of the issues that, I feel like older generations, like the one currently in power now in DC has failed in, and this is not a dispersion on any generation as a whole, but just the part of it that is currently in power, is climate change, because I feel like they’ve had a long time, and by they, I mean the caucuses in Washington, a long time to deal with this, and it hasn’t been dealt with. And so I feel like that’s something that’s going to end up being passed down to our generation, which we’re going to have to deal with.

[25:53] What does democracy mean to you?

People are only actually exercising democracy when they’re actually making their voices heard. I feel like it goes beyond voting. Sure, the right to vote is a key part of democracy and you can’t have democracy without it, but there’s the right to meet with your representatives. There’s the right to free speech. The right to a free press. And all of these things I feel like are so key to democracy. It’s like it is rule of the people, by the people, but it’s also rule of the people, rule for the people.

So having a system where you can actually talk about what you want to talk about, you can make your voice heard, you can vote in situation where every single person has the same key right to vote, which is really fundamental, and where you don’t have certain people blocking other people’s right to vote or right to vote meaningfully.

Dec 09, 2019
The democracy rebellion happening in states across the U.S.
00:42:26

Hedrick Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of bestselling books The RussiansWho Stole the American Dream? and many others. Over the course of his nearly 60 years in journalism, he’s interviewed some of the biggest politicians and power brokers on the national and international stage. Now, his reporter’s curiosity has led him to places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Hartford, Connecticut to report on efforts to end gerrymandering, remove money from politics, and fight corruption through grassroots organizing.

Smith joins us this week to talk about what he learned from these organizers while filming his latest project, a documentary called The Democracy Rebellion: A Reporter’s Notebook with Hedrick Smith that will air on PBS this January. He says that the grassroots are not nearly as polarized as politicians and political insiders, as evidenced by the fact that many of these pro-democracy ballot initiatives passed with large bipartisan majorities.

Smith also reflects on the state of the media today and why grassroots movements can’t seem to capture the attention that horse race politics do. It’s part of the reason why he’s still out there pounding the pavement as a reporter and getting out of his home in Washington, D.C. to meet people doing the hard work of democracy every day.

Listener Survey

We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020.

Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life.

Additional Information

Hedrick’s website, Reclaim the American Dream

Related Episodes

One state’s fight for fair maps

Winning the “democracy lottery”

The complicated relationship between campaign finance and democracy

Interview Highlights

[8:26] How did the story of democracy reform come onto your radar?

It’s a great story nobody else is covering and that’s always interesting to me. I wrote a book some years ago called, Who Stole the American Dream? that was really about how we got to the terrible economic inequalities we have today, and to the dysfunctional political system we have today. And as I went around the country giving talks about that, people said, “What are we going to do about that?” or “Do you know about this?”And I began to discover there was a lot more going on around the country, at the grassroots, at the state level, and it was totally being ignored by Washington.

[10:20] What motivates the grassroots organizers you met?

They’re, they’re angry that democracy doesn’t work right. They don’t feel as though their votes count, they don’t feel as though Washington listens to them. You look at poll after poll and it says lobbyists have too much power, corporations have taken over, Washington, they’ve captured the congress, and our system is broken.

[18:14] How should organizations strike a balance between making changes through ballot initiatives and longer-term political reforms?

There is a sense that reform as an issue is something people are looking for candidates to advocate is certainly front and center now. It’s coming, though it’s not yet high enough on the priority list for people to really be concerned about. I mean, you still have people worried, understandably, about jobs, about immigration, about climate change and so forth. So it’s among the top tier issues but it’s not at the top.

[20:09] Is it possible that there could be too many groups competing for money, attention, and other resources?

The answer is yes. I did a documentary for PBS Frontline some years ago called Poisoned Waters, which is an effort to look at what happened to the Clean Water Act 35 years later. And when I went into the field, I was just amazed at how many, environmental groups were competing for time, money, and resources. There’s no question that the political reform movement suffers from the same kind of thing. It is sprawling.

[26:11] What happens to the organizers after whatever they’re working toward is successful? Do they move on to other causes or organizations?

In a number of states, they fight off the effort of the other side to reverse the reform. So they’re often very engaged in that. Then once they’ve survived that cycle, then they start to look around and see what else they need to do. In Florida, they moved from the gerrymander reform into restoring the, the voting rights of former felons and that kind of stuff. So I think what happens is, not everybody does it, but usually the leaders and some of the people that are important say, “Well this other issue is important to us. Let’s, let’s move ahead on it.” I think there’s a sense that people power can work and does work and we got a victory here and our system is going to be better for it.

[30:50] Why don’t these issues receive more media attention?

I think there’s  a sense that nothing can be done and it’s all a result of hyper-partisanship. That’s the easy story to tell. Trump news is also big and media outlets are making enormous money off of it. It’s really easy to produce and something I call fire engine journalism. There’s lots of drama but you haven’t really told people anything they really need to know. We’re so caught up in easy reporting and profitable journalism  that we’re not doing our job. We’re also very comfortable sitting in New York, Los Angeles and Washington and telling everybody what’s going on in the rest of the country

Dec 02, 2019
A roundtable on impeachment, institutions, and legitimacy
00:55:27

This week’s episode is a conversation between Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Michael Baranowski of The Politics Guys, a podcast that looks at political issues in the news through a bipartisan, academic lens.

Baranowski is an associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University. His focus is American political institutions, public policy, and media — which makes him a great match for our own Michael and Chris.

They discuss impeachment from the standpoint of political institutions and the legitimacy of our democracy. Regardless of what happens with the current impeachment inquiry, some of our government’s norms and institutions may be irreversibly damaged, while others may develop in response to the Trump administration.

They also touch on the growing epistemic divide we discussed with Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead in our episode on conspiracies. The Politics Guys is a bipartisan show, but Baranowski increasingly feels like he and his colleagues are talking past each other rather than having meaningful discussions.

Listener Survey

As we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020.

Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life.

Additional Information

The Politics Guys

Related Episodes

Understanding impeachment — from the Federalist Papers to the whistleblower

Checking the President’s power

How conspiracies are damaging democracy

Nov 25, 2019
Your guide to ranked-choice voting
00:38:13

Ranked-choice voting has been in the news a lot lately. It was adopted in New York City’s November 2019 election, used for the first time in U.S. Congressional elections last year, and will be the method by which at least a few states choose a Democratic primary candidate in 2020.

But, what is it? How does it work? And, is it more democratic than the single-vote method we’re used to? This week’s guest has answers to all of those questions.

Burt L. Monroe is Liberal Arts Professor Political Science, Social Data Analytics, and Informatics at Penn State and Director of the university’s Center for Social Data Analytics. He says ranked-choice voting is generally a good thing for democracy, but not entirely without problems of its own. We also talk about bullet voting, donkey voting, and other types of voting that have been tried around the world.

As Michael and Chris discuss, ranked-choice voting falls into a category of grassroots organizing around pro-democracy initiatives like gerrymandering and open primaries. These efforts signal a frustration with the status quo and a desire to make the rules of democracy more fair and equitable.

If you enjoy our show, please take a minute to leave a rating or review in your podcast app. Thank you!

Additional Information

Fairvote, an advocacy group for ranked-choice voting and election reform

Burt’s Google Scholar listing

Related Episodes

The case for open primaries

One state’s fight for fair maps

Interview Highlights

[6:52] What is ranked-choice voting?

Ranked-choice voting is used to describe a lot of different systems, but mostly what people mean is something that’s usually referred to as instant run-off.  In a traditional runoff election, you vote as you normally would and if no one gets a majority, everybody but the top two is eliminated and you come back in  four weeks or six weeks or eight weeks and vote again and somebody has a majority.

Ranked-choice voting does that all at one time. Voters rank the candidates in a pure system from first choice to last choice and the votes are tallied based on the first choices and if no one has a majority, then the last place candidate is eliminated and the voters who had voted for that candidate first, their vote is transferred to their second candidate. And it goes on and on until there’s a majority.

[8:33] Does a voter have to rank all candidates on a ballot?

The only place I know of that requires you to rank everybody is Australia, which uses it for their national elections. In most places you can rank as few as you want. If you rank only one, that’s called bullet voting. Most of the U.S. variations of this, you can only rank up to a certain number. The New York one that just passed is five, I believe San Francisco’s three. But you can vote for as many as you like, just as long as you don’t vote more than one for first or second and so on.

[11:24] Does ranked-choice voting change the way a candidate campaigns?

This is one of the key points of contention about how this system works. One of the main arguments for it is that it encourages candidates to try to broaden their appeal so they can get those second choice, third choice, fourth choice. And that seems to be largely what happens. Although, there are examples where it didn’t. Fiji uses ranked-choice voting and had a lot of antagonistic ethnic based voting. In that case, the electorate was so polarized that more extreme candidates were able to get more first choices and more moderate candidates were punished and didn’t get enough first choices to stay in the race.

[14:26] How does ranked-choice voting account for third-party candidates?

If voters can be more sincere about their true preference for Jill Stein or Ralph Nader or what have you, but those candidates don’t make the cut of on the first choices, their second choices are presumably the one- the more moderate that’s closer to them. It’s very handy for elections that have lots and lots of candidates. For example, New York is anticipating 17 candidates in one of their races coming up for advocate, And so you can imagine if you’re just picking your first choice, with 17 candidates somebody could win with 5% of the vote.

[16:18] Does ranked-choice voting give an advantage to low-information voters?

Yeah, that’s definitely a thing. Even in our current system, there’s spoiled ballots that people fill out wrong. But there two ways I’m familiar with that this happens. One is bullet voting that I mentioned earlier, which is just voting for one candidate. Those votes are more likely to be, I think the term they use is exhausted. That is, their candidate gets eliminated and they don’t have a second choice for it to pass to so their vote isn’t used in the final tally. The other one I’m familiar with is Australia where everyone has to fill out he full ranking and there you get a phenomenon called donkey voting  where people rank rank just in the order they appear on the ballot paper. So if they’re alphabetical, they vote alphabetical.

[17:58] Is there an impact on voter turnout?

It’s always hard to attribute increased turnout in a particular election to one thing because many thing change, but in San Francisco there was dramatic turnout raised in the first election that used this. In some districts, it went from like 17% to over 50%. So really dramatic changes when there wasn’t much obvious else that was different about the election other than the ranked-choice option. The argument is that people want to be able to express themselves and this helps people who might otherwise want to vote for a candidate that doesn’t have a chance or they think doesn’t have a chance.

[28:10] Is ranked-choice voting more democratic?

I think the system we have now, there’s so many ways it can elect somebody that a lot of people don’t want. This is a pretty easy change to make to keep some bad things from happening and so I think it’s pretty easy to advocate for.

 

Nov 18, 2019
Latino immigrants and the changing makeup of American democracy
00:41:48

We’ve talked about immigration several times on this show with good reason. The role that people coming to the United States play in our democracy is an important question and something states, cities, and towns across the country will continue to grapple with as demographics shift.

This week’s guest offers a historical perspective that sets the stage for the debate about immigrants we hear so often today. A.K. Sandoval-Strauss is director of the Latina/o Studies program at Penn State and author of the new book Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City.

In the book, and in this conversation, he argues that immigrants moved into cities like Dallas and Chicago and revitalized downtowns that were beginning to hollow out because of white flight and discriminatory practices designed to keep African-Americans out. The same thing, he says, is happening again as Latino immigrants move into smaller cities and towns from Hazleton, Pennsylvania to Sioux City, Iowa — bringing economic and cultural vitality to places industry left behind.

We also discuss the role that Latinos played in the Civil Rights movement, and how that ties into their complicated identity during the 1950s and 60s, as well as what the future looks like as the Latino population increases while other ethnic groups decrease.

Additional Information

Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City

A.K.’s op-ed in The Washington Post

Our sponsor: Penn State World Campus

Related Episodes

Immigration enforcement at the border

Immigration, refugees, and the politics of displacement

Interview Highlights

[8:12] Latino immigration really started to grow in the 1950s and 60s? How did immigrants at that time view themselves? Did they see themselves as part of the Civil Rights movement?

At that point, under American law, they were technically white. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, specified that they were full citizens. However, in actuality they rarely enjoyed full citizenship rights. At the grassroots, there were certainly some sense of commonality in the face of discrimination, but sadly the main Mexican-American civil rights organizations really clung to their status as technically white and often tried to avoid being associated with black people because they felt that that would lead to their being classified as minorities, and discriminated against further. So, there strategy was to really present themselves as like other immigrant stock Americans, and thereby to claim a sort of European ancestry that would entitle them to rights and privileges of whiteness.

[12:40] You devote a whole chapter in your book to the year 1965. Why was that such a big year for this population?

Most commonly recognized is the Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965, which dramatically expanded the range of people who could come to the United States and become citizens, but which also simultaneously in effect, reduced those kinds of opportunities for Hispanics, and people from Latin America. The other reason was that time was the beginning of a series of agricultural crises in Mexico that drove a substantial number of people to migrate to the United States.

[14:21] How did white flight impact Latino immigrant into American cities?

I think we have to remember that urban America in terms of the total number of people living in cities and the total amount of economic activity happening in cities really peaks in 1950. It begins to decline thereafter, especially because of white flight. Part of that is the story of simple racism of white residents that will not have even one black family as their neighbor. Even if that black family is of a similar economic background just themselves. And the other part of the story is that the United States government subsidizes suburbanization through a number of enactments from highway construction to the mortgage interest deduction. The result of this is that there are overall fewer people living in cities. Remember also, that the African American great migration comes to an end in about the late 1960s. So, literally there is no American born population that is increasing its presence in cities and there are entire neighborhoods with falling populations. As a result, you have falling rents. And that is very attractive to newcomers who are looking for inexpensive places to live.

[16:05] Does Latino representation in government follow the rate of immigration?

As of the late 1960s, at the time of the establishment of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. There are three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. If we want to jump ahead very briefly to the present. Now, where you have four U.S. Senators who are Latino and 39 members of the House of Representatives as a much more commensurate representation. Somewhat less than the 10-11% of votes that are cast by Latinos. And certainly much less than the roughly 17-18% of the population, who are of Hispanic origin.

[19:41] What accounts for the discrepancy in eligible Latino voters and the number of people who actually vote?

Some people are coming from countries in which the government is highly corrupt and unreliable and they don’t necessarily see what advantages they would have through voting or supporting particular candidates for president. Others are just part of a lower-income population, so again lower-income people of all backgrounds tend to vote at a lower rate. There have not necessarily been the voter turnout efforts you might expect.

[22:18] You argue that fear of Latino immigrants comes mostly from people who do not regularly interact with those immigrants. Can you talk a little more about what that dynamic looks like?

I think it’s very important to remind ourselves that, that initial, initial mythology of the blue-collar revolt simply was not true. Subsequent examination of the actual voter data files show that there was no correlation between people who had, had a factory shut down in their community and voting for Donald Trump. There was no correlation in people being in direct competition with immigrants for jobs and voting for Donald Trump. In fact it was not the poorest members of  white communities, but those who were somewhat more well off that were most likely to vote for him. More broadly, it was precisely those people with the most acquaintance with Latino and Latina and other immigrants that were most likely to vote for Hilary Clinton because they simply did not by and large, buy into the anti-immigrant agenda that Trump brought into politics. So, it becomes a sort of cities and inter metropolitan areas versus rural areas divide, whereby those who don’t know very many immigrants were the most likely to want to exclude them

[23:56] Are we now seeing the same population changes happen in small towns that we saw in cities a generation ago?

Between about 1970 and the 2010s immigrant Latinos were the single biggest factor in solving a huge problem of 20th century America, the Urban Crisis, and turning the cities around. Now there’s rural areas that are suffering some of those same kinds of symptoms, right? Depopulation, aging of the population, lack of economic opportunities, and a lot of rising drug addiction and crime. When you have declining native-born populations and you desperately need new residents, new workers, new school children, new baseball players that Latinos are the solution to this newer problem as well. And again, ironically, some of the places most dependent upon immigration generally, including Latino immigration, which is the sort of single biggest part of it, are where you see the greatest negative reactions.

[27:18] What’s the way forward from here?

I think it’s very important to recognize that, you know, as you say, some of these candidates will be themselves Latinos some will not. So, Mark Levin for example, who is representative the 39th district of California, which is coastline between Long Beach and San Diego, he’s not a Latino guy but he’s part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus precisely because he understands that part of his responsibilities are  looking after his constituents. So, again the GOP had made dramatic strides in that direction beginning with the 2013 growth and opportunity  program report also called the, the autopsy of the 2012 election where they said, you know, “We must make progress on courting Latino votes, especially by not being anti-immigration.”  One might in the interest national well being, hope to see a return to a more sane attitude toward immigration given the fact that the United States desperately needs more people, but that seems not to have figured into the current GOP strategy.

Nov 11, 2019
Inside the world’s largest democracy
00:38:51

More than 600 million people voted in India’s most recent election, but that does not mean all is well with democracy there. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP recently won re-election on a platform based on Hindu nationalism. As we’ve seen with other countries experiencing democratic erosion, the people and parties coming to power do not value the liberalism that’s essential to liberal democracy.

But, as our guest this week argues, what’s happening in India is not exactly the same as what we see in places like Hungary and Brazil — or even the United States. Vineeta Yadav is an associate professor of political science and affiliate faculty in the School of International Affairs at Penn State. She studies politics and democracy in India.

Vineeta visited India over the summer and talks about what she saw when Modi and the BJP eliminated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted special status to the Muslim-majority state. She also discusses India’s strong civil society and how it’s pushing back against the BJP’s illiberal tendencies.

Additional Information

Vineeta’s website

More on Kashmir and Article 370

Related Episodes

Viktor Orban’s “velvet repression” in Hungary

Brazil’s tenuous relationship with democracy

Yellow Vests and the “grand debate” in France

Brexit and the UK’s identity crisis

Interview Highlights

[6:40] How did India come to be a democracy and how do Indians view democracy?

India didn’t really exist as a country before 1947. The British colonized that part of Asia for about 200 years. And when they left that territory was divided up into India and Pakistan. Their leaders gained experience with elections and a Parliamentary system under British colonial rule. And so that was adopted in India in 1950 and India has kept the same constitution and Parliamentary system through its entire post-independence period. One of the unique things about India is that voter turnout is actually higher in rural areas and not just in urban areas. And that tells you something about how deeply democratic values, norms, and practices have really sunk into ordinary citizenry.

[8:50] What does India’s commitment to democracy look like today?

I think it’s definitely part of this larger global trend where democratically elected regimes are undoing a lot of the liberal protections and liberal rights, and weakening institutions. In the last I would say five or six years, India has become part of that unfortunate trend. If you look back at history, it’s not the first time this has happened in India. We had a period like this in the 1970s, through the early 80s, but it’s definitely, I would say, declining as a democracy right now.

[10:22] How does Narendra Modi view democracy?

So I would say that Norendra Modi, the BJP, and the organizations and the movements associated with them, have a very different vision of what a democratic society should look like in India. They are committed to the processes and procedures of democracy, but not to the values of liberal democracy. Because they don’t think Indians want liberal democracy. They don’t think liberal democracy is appropriate given India’s values. And again, this is their concept of what Indian values are. The BJP’s  envisions Indian society and Indian government as being based on Hindu values.

[14:54] What is the BJP’s appeal?

What is I think unique about the BJP is they were so effective in projecting this image of competence and being corruption-free and having this coherent agenda. Their support also crossed caste lines. They had people from lower class supporting them and they had people who were highly educated supporting them. They had people from different religious groups supporting them. They had urban and rural groups supporting them. So, they are one of the very few parties in maybe the last three decades, maybe one of two parties, that has been able to develop that kind of coalition that cuts across class and religion and cost in India.

[19:02] Is anyone pushing back against the BJP?

India has a very vibrant civil society that’s been its saving grace so far. You have groups organizing on every issue under the sun and from very different angles. These civil society groups really have been the key force of opposition. There are also political parties that exist at the regional level that have defeated the BJP.

[31:33] Where do things go from here?

The floor of my expectations would be that India will continue as an electoral democracy. Elections will be held, they’ll be reasonably fair,  and people will continue to participate. But I think, unless there is either a single party or a set of parties that really emerges that has the same organizational capacity as the BJP has to mobilize people, we’ll see the what we will see is the BJP remain power and they’ll continue weakening rights and liberties.

Nov 04, 2019
Changing the climate conversation
00:39:23

Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, but it’s so big that it can be difficult to imagine how you as an individual can make an impact — or even know how to talk about it with other people in a meaningful way. This episode offers a few creative suggestions for addressing both of those things.

Our guest is Graham Bullock, associate professor of political science and environmental studies at Davidson College. His work covers everything from public policy to deliberative democracy, and the ways those things interact when it comes to climate and sustainability.

He’s used some innovative methods to break out of traditional modes of argument and encourage his students to think differently about climate and citizenship. We hope this episode inspires you to do the same, whether you are a teacher or simply looking to broach difficult topics like climate change with friends, family, or colleagues.

We also talk with Graham about what it means to be a responsible climate citizen and how that manifests itself in everything from buying sustainable products to attending climate rallies.

Related Episodes

Michael Mann on climate activism

Peter Buckland on local government and climate change

Forrest Briscoe on corporate action and corporate social responsibility

Additional Information

More on duty-based vs. engaged citizenship

Graham’s book- Green Grades: Can Information Save the Earth?

The Responsible Consumers Club

Penn State’s Mark Kissling, who joined us last year to talk about civics education, has a new article out on how climate and citizenship are taught in K-12 social studies classrooms.

Oct 28, 2019
From political crisis to profound change
00:37:41

October 21, 2019

Last week, we heard from Andrew Sullivan about the challenges facing the future of democracy in the United States and around the world. This week’s episode offers a glimpse into what can happen when a country emerges from a political crisis with stronger democratic practices in place.

About 10 years ago, Ireland found itself facing an economic recession, distrust in government, and polarization about how to move forward. Our guests this week, David Farrell of University College Dublin and Jane Suiter of Dublin City University, proposed using deliberative democracy to bring citizens and politicians closer together. The approach worked, and it’s garnered attention from other places around the world who want to do the same thing.

Farrell and Suiter are the winners of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s 2019 Brown Democracy Medal, which recognizes new and innovative work in democracy. We are now seeking nominations for next year’s medal; please email democracyinst@psu.edu if you know someone who might be a good fit.Thank you to our sponsor, Penn State World Campus. Learn more about their Master of Professional Studies in the Psychology of Leadership at worldcampus.psu.edu/leadership.

Additional Information

Interview Highlights

[7:12] What was the political climate like leading up to the Citizens Assembly Project?

Farrell: It was bad. It’s hard to imagine almost a decade later just how bad things were, but it was a severe economic crisis. Almost overnight our unemployment doubled, our national debt just went through the roof, our banks, all our banks collapsed, all international banks just left. Buildings were being boarded up, public employees had their pay cut,  private employees lost their jobs, emigration went through the roof, and then major protests against governments. Trust in government plummeted. So this was about as existential a crisis as you can get.

[9:13] What was the reaction when you introduced the idea of a citizens assembly?

Farrell: What we were saying at that time, it sounded quite bizarre. We were saying, “Imagine a scenario where you bring a bunch of regular citizens into a room and you give them a chance to talk about the future of Ireland. Why don’t we give that a go, and other’s have done it, why don’t we try it?” We had senior journalists from all the media organizations and many senior politicians saying, “You’re daft, you know. You academics really don’t have a clue. That’s how how politics is run here. We have a citizens’ assembly, it’s our Parliament. Citizens are not for that role, you know. You can’t trust citizens to take tough decisions, that’s the job of professional politicians, so just forget about it.”
Suiter: At the same time, they knew they had to rebuild trust with the citizens It was a real, it was a real moment of crisis, and those crises can go either way. Politicians obviously preferred the shift that could do something positive, that would rebuild relationships, rather than keeping going down the same path increasing distress, marches, and protests.

[12:35] What did citizens think about the idea?

Farrell: There was a lot of cynicism and uncertainty, you know. Effectively what you are saying is, “You should trust a regular citizen who’s selected randomly, like jury duty.” We’ve all been through the process of jury duty, where you get picked randomly, and that same principle applies here. You’re saying “We’re going to get a hundred regular citizens into the room together,  who’ve never met before, and the only reason they’re in the room is because they run the lottery, they got selected.” They’re not there to represent sectors, they’re not there to represent communities, they’re not there because they got a mandate because they ran for office. There are there as individual citizens just to represent themselves about the issues that they’ve been asked to consider.

[15:45] How did the citizens assembly change the relationship between politicians and their constituents?

Suiter: I think that’s really crucial. A lot of the time, politicians don’t hear from regular people about these kind of issues. Someone will contact a politician about their local school, or traffic with the road, but they don’t contact them about these kind of big issues like abortion or marriage equality. On those issues, they hear from interest groups and lobbyists who are quite polarizing. There would have been a very strong pro-life force that would have been campaigning in Ireland since the early 1980s, and unbalance on the media, it would always be somebody from that group who’d be heard against other people. So this gave the impression, I think, to a lot of politicians, that the country was as divided.

[26:20] Were there other factors that made this approach work in Ireland?

Farrell: The country’s small size helps, but it doesn’t have to be a factor. The other thing is that you really need a good crisis. We can only hope that you have something that just gives that seed bed for something like this to be tried. You need a receptive year so there was a degree of courage on the part of the leadership of the government in 2011 to go down this road they had no idea where this was going to go, but they, they took a punt with us.

Oct 21, 2019
Andrew Sullivan on democracy’s double-edged sword
00:40:16

This is one of the most pessimistic episodes we’ve done, but it’s worth hearing. Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine contributing editor, Daily Dish founder, and former editor of The New Republic, is a longtime observer of American politics who does not shy away from controversial opinions. In this episode, we discuss the tension between liberalism and democracy, and how that tension manifests itself around the world.

The way Sullivan sees it, the “us vs. them” rhetoric and attitudes in our culture have gone so far that the moderating values and virtues of liberalism will no longer be able to intervene. We also discuss the relationship between dignity and identity politics, and the parallels between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Thank you to our sponsor, Penn State World Campus. Learn more about their Master of Professional Studies in the Psychology of Leadership at worldcampus.psu.edu/leadership.

If you like what you hear on this show, please take a minute to share it on social media or text it to a friend, family member, or colleague who might enjoy it, too.

More from Andrew Sullivan

New York magazine column

His lecture at Penn State on “American Democracy in the Age of Trump” 

Interview Highlights

[6:18] How do you think about democracy in your work?

There are two core types that I think about, liberal democracy and illiberal democracy. Democracy itself I think is a two-edged sword. Pure democracy, Plato would tell you and so would Aristotle, is extremely unstable and the founders certainly believed that as well. They were very cognizant of what happened to the Rome of Republic.  Liberal democracy requires certain virtues. It requires the ability to have a deliberative conversation to use reason, as well as emotion, but reason is the core function of it, and openness to other ideas and toleration of radical different world views than you, within the same culture. And that’s hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s harder than we think.

[7:56] Of those things, what concerns you most right now?

I think that it is human nature in fast changing societies and fast changing economies and the world is changing extremely fast, to seek security. Democracy’s promise is not ultimately security, it’s freedom. And there are moments in history where freedom is more popular than non-freedom. And I think the massive migrations across the world and the globalizing of the economy has created the seeds for the need for not having every view represented and not being tolerant of everything. And actually stopping things that might otherwise be associated with liberal democracy.

[10:20] What role does dignity play here?

I think one of the eternal human demands is meaning and youthfulness. And I think large numbers of people in the West, especially those who are unskilled. Who’ve earned their livings in the past by rather honest labor, but aren’t educated or intelligent or in the new media. I think they’re confronting the fact, and it’s not that they’re inventing this or imagining this. The fact that they’re not really needed anymore for the economy, for the society. And that’s a terrible thing to feel. I think that simultaneously, we see a decline in religion and that also helps people keep it together. You see across the West, but especially in the U.S., a huge crisis in opioid addiction in these very communities that feel that meaning has disappeared.

[13:40] Is democracy equipped to respond to our current political moment?

One can certainly hope so. It’s certainly been rather resilient facing other crises, but the last time we had a major, huge global economic crisis, the 30s, it didn’t do too well. And liberal democracy has also been I think held up somewhat by the generations  who still remember that and don’t want to return to it. But as generations emerge who don’t remember that at all, liberal democracy will seem like as if, maybe we should do away with this.

That’s why I’m concerned that younger generations seem to have much less support for democracy than older generations. I don’t think they see very clearly, what the alternative actually is, and it tends not to good. I mean, democracies are actually better adapting than authoritarian societies to change. But authoritarian societies can arrest change more successfully. They can seal off a country, they can make it so that, they’re more resilient against it and that changes that are happening also don’t happen there.

[17:54] Can small-scale efforts to reform democracy add up to a greater change?

Yes, they do because liberalism is also about the maintenance of rules and norms and institutions that keep a society free and open. And what you saw for example in the decline of the Roman Republic was small, tiny little breaks in tradition. That suddenly created a new baseline for future actions politically. So the minute a consul, for example, overstays his term limit because of some emergency or some question, suddenly the whole idea of term limits is open and the next one will be three year until you get someone with six years as consul. This is laying the grounds for someone permanently in control maybe if that’s the essential question.

[29:40] We’ve identified several problems with the state of liberal democracy around the world. Which one needs to be tackled first?

The rule of law. As simple as that, really. And constitutional norms. And you must defend them against these forces that want to undercut, undermine them. The other thing is simply the force of moderation. Liberal democracy emerged as a response to religious warfare, in which groups of people, again, consumed internally with their own cult, their own religion, could not tolerate  living with another. And therefore, fought, for hundreds of years, creating incredible change.

It was the moment when western Europe decided, “You know what? We just don’t think it’s worth it. Let’s just live and let live.” That was when liberal democracy began to emerge. If we go back to these warring religions, whether they be political or actually religious, then we’re back to what liberal democracy was supposed to solve. I am not an optimist. Liberal democracy is alien to human nature. It’s existed in a sliver of human history — a few hundred years at most, in only a few countries, with a particular culture. It’s not really what most people find emotionally satisfying.

Oct 14, 2019
The case for open primaries
00:34:45

In about a dozen U.S. states, the only people who can vote in primary elections are those who are registered with a party. Republicans vote in the Republican primary and Democrats vote in the Democratic primary. This leaves out independents, who make up a growing share of the electorate. This week’s guest argues that’s problem for democracy.

Jeremy Gruber is the Senior Vice President at Open Primaries.  He is a lawyer, writer, and internationally recognized public policy advocate who has helped enact more than 60 state, federal and international laws and regulations. He joins us to make the case for why all primaries should be open, and how our democracy will be stronger because of it.

But what happens to the parties in an open primary system? We’ve talked on the show before about the role they play as gatekeepers in our democracy and revisit some of that discussion in this episode.

ICYMI, we are holding an event at the National Press Club on October 22. It would be great to meet some of our listeners in the area. More information at democracy.psu.edu/dc.

Finally, thank you to our brand new sponsor, Penn State World Campus. Learn more about Penn State’s online The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Psychology of Leadership degree at worldcampus.psu.edu/leadership.

Additional Information

Open Primaries website

Interview Highlights

[6:10] How do open primaries work?

Every state has different election laws, and in most states the primary election, which is the first round of elections that voters have an opportunity to participate in is often times in most cases run by the parties. Even though the tax payers pay for the elections and you, as a voter, experience those elections the same way you do as the general election, the parties are the gate keepers of the primary elections, and they can decide who can and can’t participate.

In a closed primary state, only members of the parties may participate in the primary. In an open primary state, Independents, unaffiliated voters, can participate in the primaries. In some states, like California, Washington, Nebraska, they have a nonpartisan primary system where the parties don’t run the primaries. The state runs the primaries the same way it runs the general election.

[8:35] How many states have open primaries?

38 states have some form of open primary, and that can vary state by state. Most of those states have a traditional open primary,  where you as Independent choose a ballot line. Not every primary election in those states are necessarily open, but at least some of the elections are open to unaffiliated or Independent voters. 12 states have a completely closed primary, where only members of the parties may participate in the primary election.

[12:15] How does a state moved from a closed to an open primary?

There’s generally three ways that primaries have been opened in various states. The first is through ballot initiative. California, for example, adopted a top two nonpartisan open primary via ballot initiative. Second is is through legislation. Pennsylvania’s legislatures is currently considering an open primary. And finally there’s the parties themselves, because the Supreme Court has ruled in a very important case called that the parties have an absolute right to open their primaries to Independent voters if they choose, without any act of a state legislature or any other body, for that matter.

[13:49] How does an open primary impact voter participation?

Open primaries are about enfranchising voters. With 43% of the registered voters being independent, simply allowing them to vote is a critical and perhaps and most important outcome of open primaries is letting every voter vote in every election. Studies have looked at traditional open primary states versus traditional closed primary states have certainly seen an increase in voter participation.

[17:40] What role should the parties have?

Parties are going to, to exist, and they do play a role in helping put out the views of their members, and organizing voters and sharing information. There, there’s all kinds of value that, that parties have and they’re important to a functioning democracy. The question is not whether, should there be parties or not? The question is, what is the role of the parties?

When parties play a gatekeeper role, they are changing the relationship between the voters and their democracy. And when parties start to play a gatekeeper role, voters start to lose their power. They start to lose their choice in a democracy, and they start to lose the ability to vote for who they want to in every election. Parties should compete in elections. They should participate in elections, and they should put forth candidates in elections, and all the valuable things that parties do. But parties shouldn’t decide in a functioning democracy, who can and can’t vote.

Oct 07, 2019
Understanding impeachment — from the Federalist Papers to the whistleblower
00:31:46

We bring you special episode of Democracy Works this week that’s all about impeachment. Michael Berkman takes the lead on this episode and talks with Michael Nelson, the Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science and affiliate faculty at Penn State Law.

Michael and Michael discuss the constitutional framework for impeachment and what the Framers had in mind when they set it up. They also discuss how impeachment is a unique cooperation between the three branches of government, where the inquiry launched last week against President Trump is likely to go, and what it all means for our democracy.

We recorded this episode on Friday, September 27, 2019. Everything we talk about is accurate as of that recording.

Episode Highlights

[1:20] Impeachment in the Constitution

[2:35] “High crimes and misdemeanors”

[6:21] Impeachment in the Federalist Papers

[10:30] Impeachment vs. “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal law

[11:25] The role each branch of government plays in impeachment

[12:15] Separation of powers

[15:30] The rules of the Senate, and how those rules change

[19:03] John Roberts and Supreme Court

[21:40] What could an impeachment proceeding look like?

[23:30] Political motivations for launching an impeachment inquiry

[24:53] Why the Ukraine phone call is important to democracy

[28:10] Comparing Trump to Nixon

Sep 30, 2019
Street-level bureaucrats at the border
00:39:27

Immigration is one of the most complex issues of our time in the United States and around the world. Enforcing immigration law in the U.S. involves a mix of courts and executive agencies with lots of opportunities for confusion, miscommunication, and changes in approach from administration to administration. While these things are nothing new, they take on a new dimension when the lives of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers are at stake.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law in University Park, is an expert in immigration law and joins us this week to discuss how discretion, checks and balances, and the rule of law figure into immigration enforcement — particularly in the Trump administration. Her new book, Banned: Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump, includes interviews with former immigration officials and people impacted by the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

This episode is a nice compliment to our conversation earlier this year with Jan Egeland, chair of the Norwegian Refugee Council, about the politics of immigration.

Additional Information

Shoba’s book Banned: Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump

Our interview with Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council 

Interview Highlights

[6:15] How does the law define immigrants and asylum seekers?

Immigrant refers to someone who is seeking admission to the United States permanently. Non immigrant is a label we use to apply to someone seeking admission to the U.S. temporarily. For somebody who is without an immigration status, that person might be labeled as undocumented.  However, the status is constantly changing. It’s possible for someone to have entered the United States without papers or cross the border and too many years later be a U.S. citizen.

In terms of where asylum seekers fall into the mix, that’s also a little complicated because you could be in a lawful status and apply for asylum. You could also be undocumented and apply for asylum.

[8:50] How much discretion exists in immigration enforcement?

There are a lot of different ways that the law can be enforced. It can be enforced to arrest somebody, interrogate, place somebody in detention, or place somebody in removal or deportation proceedings. So that might be how immigration enforcement happens on an individual level. And then there are these macro decisions that can be made about immigration enforcement. For example, if the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, one arm is known as Immigration Customs Enforcement, issues a policy that applies to a whole class of people. So one difference that I’ve seen with this administration is that there is expanded enforcement. Not so much in terms of the resources the government has to enforce the law, but in terms of who is being targeted for immigration enforcement, where, how, and why.

[13:35] What agencies are responsible for enforcing immigration laws?

DHS is a large cabinet level agency. It does not house only immigration, but it does house three main immigration functions. One is called Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. They’ve been in the news a lot this past summer, too. They are responsible for enforcement at the border. They also have responsibility for short-term detention. They are the first people that an asylum seeker might interact with if they arrive at the border and they are expressing a fear.

ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is another enforcement arm and it is responsible for investigations, long-term detention of immigrants and families, as well as the actual or physical removal of non-citizens. USCIS, or US Citizenship and Immigration Services, for many years was dubbed as the customer service agency. Until recently, had nation of immigrants in their mission statement. And is responsible for processing applications for asylum, green cards, citizenship. So you can imagine if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, there’s a lot of room for um, lack of coordination, or discord.

[19:00] Where does the rule of law fit in here?

Compassion has always been a- a key component in our immigration system, and discretion is very healthy and necessary because of the limited resources that I just described earlier. I think of compassion and discretion together as the rule of law.I think any discretionary choice made at the macro level, by an administration for example, or a federal agency, or at the micro level towards an individual or a family, should favor the non-citizen. Discretion is a powerful sword, and how it’s used really matters. That’s one reason we’ve seen a breakdown in the rule of law.

[22:54] What’s the argument for moving immigration enforcement out of the Department of Justice?

As it stands, the immigration court system is in the justice department. This is a- a bit unusual if we were to compare it to what we think about courts. In that way, immigration courts are not real courts. The federal rules of evidence don’t apply, the judges are not truly independent, they’re not article one judges, they are employees of the Department of Justice. The volume of cases they have to handle are astronomical compared to your federal court judge. In fact, one immigration judge in San Francisco has analogized immigration cases as doing death penalty cases in traffic court.

And there’s a lot of pressure to be compliant with directives from the attorney general. And these directives can sometimes undermine independence too, even though we do have a regulation that favors and supports judicial independence. So there have been many calls over the years, but in particular in the time of Trump, for there to be an immigration court that is independent, that is free of the Department of Justice, where judges can truly act independently.

Sep 23, 2019
Out of Order: A conversation with Mitch Landrieu and Margaret Carlson
00:37:15

Today we’re bringing you a bonus episode from Out of Order, a podcast produced by the German Marshal Fund of the United States. Out of Order is a podcast about how our world was, is, and will be ordered.

How do we save democracy, rule of law and global cooperation? Why do some people not want to? Much-maligned experts try to come up with answers here. The Out of Order podcast brings together different international experts from the German Marshall Fund of the United States and beyond to talk about politics, economics, technology and everything else that might help us understand our disordered world.

With election season ramping up and political divisions on display, two veterans of U.S. politics — Margaret Carlson, columnist at The Daily Beast, and Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans and founder of E Pluribus Unum — joined Out of Order for an insightful conversation on the state of U.S. political discourse, how society became so fractured and where some solutions might be found. Above all: Is there a way out of this mess?

You can find Out of Order at gmfus.org or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sep 20, 2019
China’s threat to democracies around the world
00:39:44

Larry Diamond joins us this week to talk about the threat China’s model of authoritarian capitalism poses to liberal democracy in the United States and around the world. Economics drives politics, and it’s easy to admire China’s growth while looking past things like increasing surveillance and lack of respect for norms and the rule of law.

We’ve wanted to do an episode on China for a long time, and we are very excited to have Larry Diamond with us to discuss it. China plays an integral role in his new book, Ill Winds and he’s studied the region and its politics for decades.

Larry is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. For more than six years, he directed the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford, where he now leads its Program on Arab Reform and Democracy and its Global Digital Policy Incubator. He is the founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and also serves as Senior Consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Additional Information

Larry Diamond’s book, Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency

Interview Highlights

[6:15] How does China pose a threat to liberal democracy?

China is increasingly trying to become, I think, the dominant power in Asia, the dominant economic, power in the world, the technological leader of the world, and, the geopolitical shaper of the future direction of the world. China is becoming more authoritarian even neo-totalitarian  with its social credit system, it’s intense repression of religious and cultural minorities, its tightening repression and concentration of power under Xi Jinping and it’s domineering claims to the South China Sea and other Asian countries buying up ports and, and infrastructure and frankly politicians as well. I think all of these trends have gone from being concerning to being alarming.

[11:24] Why might other countries find China’s model appealing?

I think what appeals to people around the world, our public opinion data show, is China’s rapid economic growth, not it’s suppression of religious freedom, freedom of expression, the internet and so on. There’s no way you can sell that to ordinary people as an appealing model, that they want to live under themselves. But the allure is that, somehow, if countries can achieve China’s rapid economic growth and if China can downplay, minimize or mask, which it is certainly trying to do, the intensely authoritarian and in the technological elements I’d say, Orwellian aspects of it’s increasingly authoritarian rule, then that model can be appealing to people around the world because people want to get rich fast, like China did.

[14:10] How is China trying to control the narrative about how it’s perceived?

One of the most alarming elements of China’s rising international profile is its accelerating efforts to project sharp power, not the soft power of open and transparent persuasion to it’s culture and it’s model and it’s institutions, but the sharp power of disinformation, deception,  coercion, bribery, and penetration of the political and civil institutions of open societies to try and shape the narrative about China. To censor any mention of the dark side of what it’s doing and where journalists and professors are increasingly under rigid monitoring and ideological control. They don’t want people to know about any of this.

[23:12] Are western democracies prepared to deal with these threats from China?

I think it’s very hard for Americans to get their arms around this, and there are a lot of people who sincerely have a more benign and sympathetic view of China and think those of us who are ringing these alarm bells now are not new cold warriors. We don’t want a Cold War, we just want a fair, balanced, and transparent set of relations, trade relations, political relations, based some minimal degree of respect for the international rule of law and the human rights and privacy of our own citizens.

[26:20] Will the protests in Hong Kong impact how the west perceives China?

I think we’re really reaching a crunch point now on Hong Kong, as the world wakes up to the desperation and passion and commitment of the more than two million people in Hong Kong who’ve come out at one time or another to protest for democracy and against Beijing’s encroachments on the civil liberties and rule of law that, um, have made Hong Kong a distinctive part of the Chinese, firmament. I think the world is waking up to how serious the situation is.

I think the real question now is to what extent ordinary Americans in a variety of institutions that have never found the need to worry that China might be a threat or that China might be seeking to compromise the integrity of our values and institutions. People in local government, state legislatures, universities, the mass media, think tanks, businesses, whether they are going to come to a sufficiently clear-eyed, knowledgeable, and resolute understanding of the rising risks coming from relations with the Chinese Communist Party state, and insist on educating themselves about these risks.

Sep 16, 2019
One state’s fight for fair maps
00:35:30

Lee Ann BanaszakPennsylvania is one of several states trying to ensure fair congressional maps are drawn after the 2020 Census. As we say in the episode, redistricting is one of democracy’s thorniest problems. It’s easy to say you want a  map that’s fair, but far more difficult to determine what that actually looks like.

The Keystone State received a new congressional map in 2018 following a decision from the state Supreme Court. However, that was a temporary fix designed to counter partisan gerrymandering that occurred after the 2010 Census. Since then, several groups have been working to implement a more permanent change for the next map drawing in 2021.

One of those groups is a bipartisan Redistricting Reform Commission chartered by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. Penn State’s Lee Ann Banaszak, a professor of political science, was part of that commission and joins us this week to talk about how they tackled the question of fairness, and what they learned at public hearings throughout the state earlier this year.

Following in the footsteps of states like Arizona and California, the commission recommended that Pennsylvania create an independent 11-member citizens’ commission to develop maps that would be submitted to the legislature for approval.

The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee will hold a public hearing on the commission’s Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. in the Irvis Office Building in Harrisburg.

One more thing: We are hosting an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, October 22 and we would love to meet our listeners in the Washington area! The featured speaker is Penn State’s Abe Khan, the guest on our very first episode. He will be discussing the “Renaissance of the Activist Athlete.” More information and registration at democracy.psu.edu/dc.

Additional information

Redistricting Reform Commission report

Our interview with the Committee of Seventy’s Chris Satullo

Draw the Lines PA

Fair Districts PA 

Interview Highlights

[7:09] Why is redistricting important to democracy?

In our electoral system, we elect people via a process of voters in a district vote for one person in that district. In the course of setting up those districts you determine a lot of how that legislature looks. What you have now in some places are the people who are being elected selecting their voters instead of voters selecting who’s going to represent them. And so the issue is one of representation on the one hand and also of kind of the democratic process of who’s making the decision.

[8:20] What are some of the factors that go into drawing a fair map?

The one that people think about most often is equal population, which means that each district is approximately equal size based on the most recent Census. Another important measure is compactness, which means you don’t want to draw districts that have unusual boundaries. One of the most famous examples of this is Pennsylvania’s “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” district that existed prior to the state receiving a new map in 2018. The Voting Rights Act provides representation as another important factor to consider, which connects to communities of interest. Communities that share the same interest and they should as much as possible be represented by the same individual.

[11:15] How did Pennsylvania’s redistricting commission gather public opinion?

There was a website where individuals could both answer questions and provide written statements if they wanted to, upload documents. Wee also ran an online survey that people could provide feedback on. And we also reached, tried to reach out extensively to different populations to make sure that we were really hearing all voices.

[12:20] What did you learn from the public hearings?

Uniformly, people were concerned about the way the re-districting process affected the way democracy works in Pennsylvania. That is, they were concerned that the current re-districting process created difficulties for voters, created difficulties for candidates and really depressed both turnout but also increased the mistrust of the legislature over the long term. So we heard a lot of those sorts of statements from people who engaged us in the public hearings.

There was a sense that incumbents were determining their re-election and that that was not democratic or a word we heard a lot was “fair.”  I think all of that kind of led to an increased mistrust or distrust of the process.

[18:12] Did you hear any differences in the concerns across partisan lines?

There were a few differences but what amazed me was the degree to which there was uniformity. Among the ordinary citizens there was general agreement that the process was problematic although they might see different parts of the process as problematic but that the process currently going on is problematic.  And secondly, there was uniform support for the idea of an independent Commission somewhere in that process.

There are different parts of the process that people have concerns about so I do think there are Republicans who had concerns about the most recent re-districting by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I think they saw that as problematic. But in terms of creating a normal process by which re-districting could occur, I think there was actually quite a lot of agreement that having an independent Commission somewhere in that process would be good

Sep 09, 2019
How music transcends political polarization
00:30:33

Last week, we heard from Aaron Maybin about the ways visual art relates to his conception and practice of democracy. This week, we are going to look at the relationship between art and democracy through the lens of music. Music has always been political, but what that looks like changes based on the culture.

Joining us to unpack it is Adam Gustafson, associate teaching professor of music at Penn State Harrisburg. As you’ll hear, Adam is a certified music nerd who thinks deeply about how artists and the music they create influences politics and culture. He’s written about Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin — just to name a few.

In this episode, we talk about everything from disco to bluegrass to EDM and how collaborations between artists and fans coming together at concerts counter some of the narratives we hear about polarization in our lives. We also look at how the ways we consume music has changed — or not — the statements that musicians make through their art.

Additional Information

Adam’s articles in The Conversation

Sep 02, 2019
Doing the hard work of democracy in Baltimore
00:43:25

You might remember Aaron Maybin from his time on the football field at Penn State or in the NFL. These days, he’s doing something much different. He’s an artist, activist, and educator in his hometown of Baltimore and talked with us about the way that those things intersect.

Celebrities and philanthropists often want to help places like Baltimore, but do so without understanding the needs of the local community. Aaron is in an interesting position because he can talk the talk and walk the walk. To him, organizing is about much more than weighing in on the latest Twitter outrage or showing up at a protest to take a photo for Instagram. The real work begins once the cameras go off and the attention fades away.

Aaron has a really unique— and really inspiring — perspective that might change the way you think about places like Baltimore. A huge thank you to WYPR in Baltimore for letting us use their studio for the interview.

Additional Information

Aaron’s website

Art-Activismbook

Interview Highlights

[6:25] How did you transition from athlete to activist?

From the beginning,  my work here in the city of Baltimore wasn’t always a big priority for me. I’m so appreciative of everything that the game has given me in my life, what it’s given my family. But I think that I’m prouder now of the work that I’m doing and the impact that I’m having in people’s lives and on my city in general. I’m proud of then that, that anything that I ever did as an athlete.

[8:41]  How does teaching fit into your art and activism?

I was doing art workshops and programming at schools all across Baltimore starting in 2009. By 2010, 2011, I realized how naive I was as like a 20-year-old  coming into the League thinking that like this contract I’ll get will be enough for me to fix all the problems in my city. It sounds crazy to say, but when you’re that young and ambitious you’re really ignorant enough to believe that you’re gonna be able to do that yourself. So I said, “All right, I’ve got to find a school, one school, that I can plant myself in and actually hammer out this curriculum and see over the course of a year, two years, you know, what we can accomplish with the same group of kids over an extended period of time.”

[14:45] What’s the difference between organizing on social media and the deeper-level work you try to do?

If there’s a topic that’s trending, everybody wants to weigh in on it. But at the end of the day,  how much do you really think this tweet is getting you? Not much unless you are actually showing up to meetings and getting boots on the ground and staying informed about what’s going on.

[20:33] Do you think that someone needs to be part of a community to affect the greatest change in one?

I do think that a person that’s going to create the greatest change is probably going to be a person that comes from there. You know, and that’s not saying that great ideas can’t come from outsiders, bcause sometimes you can get too isolated in your bubble. But I think that too often the people that are in positions to make the decisions that really affect the lives of the people that live in these areas, the constituents that truly need to be represented.

[36:40] What does democracy mean to you?

To me democracy is a beautiful idea, but it’s an idea, and with any idea you have to work constantly, constantly to manifest it. And even once some of that work is done and you feel like progress has been made, the beauty of democracy is we have to go back and we have to continuously self evaluate and see if we’re on the right side of history. And I think that um the more that we have a true understanding of what democracy is um the better Americans we’ll all be.

Sep 01, 2019
How conspiracies are damaging democracy
00:36:53

From Pizzagate to Jeffrey Epstein, conspiracies seem to be more prominent than ever in American political discourse. What was once confined to the pages of supermarket tabloids is now all over our media landscape. Unlike the 9/11 truthers or those who questioned the moon landing, these conspiracies are designed solely to delegitimize a political opponent — rather than in service of finding the truth. As you might imagine, this is problematic for democracy.

Democracy scholars Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum call it “conspiracy without the theory” and unpack the concept in their book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. Russell is the Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics at Dartmouth. Nancy is the Senator Joseph Clark Research Professor of Ethics in Politics at Harvard.

As you’ll hear, the new conspiricism is a symptom of a larger epistemic polarization that’s happening throughout the U.S. When people no longer agree on a shared set of facts, conspiracies run wild and knowledge-producing institutions like the government, universities, and the media are trusted less than ever.

This is not one of our optimistic episodes, but it’s one worth listening to.

Additional Information

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

A look at the science of conspiracy theories from The University of Chicago’s Big Brains podcast

Interview Highlights

[5:30] What is the new conspiracism and how does it differ from what we’ve seen in the past?

Nancy: In the past we’ve had conspiracy theory. That is an explanation that works the way any explanation works which is in terms of evidence and dots and patterns that often try to make the unbelievable believable and the unconceivable conceivable. What we have now is conspiracy without the theory. That is the two things have become decoupled. And we have claims of a conspiracy that come without the dots, without the patterns, without the evidence, without the argument.

[6:23] When did you begin to see this pattern emerge?

Russell: As scholars of parties, we-we kind of take an interest in conspiracism and conspiratorial thinking. Parties were-were thought of as conspiracies before the idea of a legitimate opposite took hold. That’s how parties were-were conceived.

We began to notice that um, that today’s conspiracism involves are assertion, like a one-word accusation like rigged, onstead of an effort to carefully explain the world as it is. It’s more of an effort to impose um, a kind of unreality and idiosyncratic understanding of the world on others, rather than to describe the world as it is.

[10:24] What’s the goal of the new conspiracism?

Russell: Often, the goal is certainly not to equip us to really understand our world so that we can navigate our way, you know, control you might say our fate more successfully. Classic conspiracism starts with something in the world that many people have hard time understanding, like the September 11 attacks. If you look at Pizzagate on the other hand, what is that trying to explain? It doesn’t take a world that’s hard to explain and make it more understandable. It takes a world that’s shared, that’s transparent and makes it one that is very disorienting, confusing, and disempowering.

Nancy: The validation of these claims has nothing to do with argument or evidence or dots or patterns. It has to do with the number of followers. And that, I think that explains part of the importance of social media for this kind of conspiracism. It’s obvious that it increases the scope of it and the speed of the spread of these things. But these Tweets and Facebook likes and so on actually allow you to measure that a lot of people are saying this.

[14:46] What is epistemic polarization and how does it relate to conspiracy?

Russell: Epistemic polarization bears on whether we think something really happened, or didn’t really happen. It gets at the basic factual question of how many people were there on the Washington mall on that particular day of the inauguration? And once we can’t even agree on the most elemental aspects of our shared reality, it starts to become really hard not just to compromise, it becomes really hard even to disagree intelligibly with each other.

[19:13] Is there an opportunity for things to go in a different direction?

Russell: One of things that Nancy and I think is really crucial is that people who really care about politics understand that this, this force the new conspiracism which might seem to help their cause really ends up destroying it. We’re hopeful that if we can reveal how, how universally destructive this is, people will understand that t’s not friendly to any cause, and that partisan officials will be more courageous in standing up to it.

[22:20] What role does the media play in spreading conspiracy?

Nancy: I think that what’s important about social media for this kind of conspiracism is, is just the numbers of people who like and retweet and tweet, because it’s what gives, it’s a form of political participation that gives them gratification and it gives validation to these crazy claims.

I will say that there are some studies that show that it’s not just social media, that we shouldn’t put all of our emphasis on it and trying to explain what happens. That Fox News for example has enormous audiences, and enormous audiences of people who aren’t necessarily paranoid and conspiracist or even going along with this stuff. And insofar as this is the news they get, or insofar as this is the discussion or the news that goes on in local, you know channels, where most people still get their news, through these things. It’s, dangerous and unstoppable so long as these privately-owned corporations that find that their profits go up when they do this.

[28:05] Can common sense serve as a counter to the new conspiracism?

Russell: If I say, looking back to the dawn of democracy, and Thomas Payne in his essay is that, you know modern democracy was founded on this conviction that the, that they might say, you don’t want to use the word common sense, the epistemic capacities of ordinary citizens are sufficient for, for them to understand the world in a way that equips them to make good decisions. We believe that this basic capacity is, we, we share the faith that is widely distributed across the entire population, and, and that it can prevail. And so we really do want to call on people to use their common sense in responding to things that seem too fabulous to be true. They just very well might be untrue.

Sep 01, 2019
Defending the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate
00:32:49

We are back with new episodes this week, and we’re starting with an interview that we recorded in New York City earlier this summer. David McCraw is the Deputy General Counsel of the New York Times and author of Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts.

The First Amendment and a strong Fourth Estate are essential to a healthy democracy. McCraw spends his days making sure that journalists can do their work in the United States and around the world. This includes responding to libel suits and legal threats, reviewing stories that are likely to be the subject of a lawsuit, helping reporters who run into trouble abroad, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and much more.

Additional Information

David’s book: Truth in Our Times

Interview Highlights

[3:30] There was a lot of speculation about the future of the First Amendment after the 2016 election. How are things holding up today?

We have a free press if the people want it. It really, in the end, depends on having an engaged citizenry. Donald Trump has talked about changing the libel laws. That doesn’t really worry me a lot. I think it’s a long process, and it’s probably not going to happen. What really is important is whether people, average voters, are going to make use the free press we have.

[5:00] How often does someone threaten a libel suit vs. actually filing one?

It’s a really important point, because when we talk about libel, it was originally intended to fix people’s reputations. Somebody says something about you that’s untrue, hurts your reputation, you go to court, you get that fixed. And, that really hasn’t changed much. We get a lot of threats. Not a lot of threats, but we get threats. We get very few lawsuits. But, those threats are really designed to use litigation, the threat of litigation, to get us to say something other than what we think should be said to the American people.

[6:28] How does the New York Times v. Sullivan case impact press freedom?

At the end of the day, Times versus Sullivan is really, a fairly simple concept. And that is, a publisher has a right to make a mistake. That if a publisher gets something wrong, and actually, even if that statement hurts somebody’s reputation, that person, if that person’s a public figure or public official, can’t win a libel suit unless the person can prove that the statement was made with actual malice.

[10:40] Where does social media fit into this picture?

One of the things that I find very curious about the President is that, in the recent years, when he’s been involved in libel suits, it’s because he’s been sued. And, he’s been sued for things he’s said on Twitter. When he starts criticizing the libel laws, he’s completely lining up on the wrong side of the ball. He should be siding with me, because he needs those defenses.

[13:45] Tell us about the letter you wrote to Donald Trump’s lawyers in October 2016.

We published a story in which, two women claimed that they had been inappropriately touched by Donald Trump many years earlier. The story happened right after the controversy over the Access Hollywood tape. Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, had appeared at the debate on a Sunday night and defended his reputation and his conduct towards women. This story followed that. They had posted their demand to us online.

I knew that we were going to post our response online. And so, while I do think I followed exactly what the law says in these situations, and summarized it accurately, it was pointed. And, it was pointed in part because I don’t like to be threatened. It was pointed in part because I think people expect us to stand up.

[17:20] What work do you do with Freedom of Information Act requests?

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law on July 4, 1966 by Lyndon Johnson. And, Michael Schudson at Columbia has a great book about the rise of the right to know, which details this and other parts of the history of that concept, the right to know. But, that was the heart of it, that the public has a right to know what the government’s up to. And, that includes getting documents. What we’ve seen since then is the law being gnawed away until it’s taken much much away from what one would expect to get when filing a FOIA request.

[21:15] Civil servants are often painted with a very altruistic brush. It seems like that might not be the case here.

I had this epiphany at the beginning of the Obama administration when I was invited to go to a conference of FOIA officers and speak, therefore, meeting a lot of people I’d written angry letters to. And, it’s a lot easier to write angry letters to anonymous people when you don’t know what they look like. Now, you’re in a room with a bunch of them.

They were conscientious. They didn’t have the resources, and they didn’t have the power to do what needs to be done. What’s interesting is, as I’ve gone around and talked about this with people from other countries is, a country like Mexico actually has an office that overrides agencies, so that it takes it out of the political process, and some independent agency’s deciding. And, other governments, other countries have that same sort of setup.

[27:33] What should people to do protect the First Amendment moving forward?

At the end of the day, what I’m really interested in is, seeing an American public that listens to things they disagree with, read things they disagree with, and make discerning judgment. That’s a long ways away from where we are now. It’s hard because there’s so much information out there. But, to me, that’s the only real check is that, people are going to make wise decisions about policies because they’ve made wise decisions about the information they’ve chosen.

Somebody wrote to me, and the email started out with the ominous words, “Why did you write this book?” And, I assume that’s an email that’s going someplace whereas, a sensitive author with thin skin, I don’t want to know. But, it wasn’t. She was right. She’s, “Why did you write this book? Because you should be writing for young adults.” And, that’s really an important point. We need to start much earlier in helping children understand how to read and how to discern, and how to evaluate sources.

Tthe analogy I use is that, the Internet is to information what the Las Vegas buffet is to eating. You walk in, and there’s just incredible choices. Some of them are really bad for you, but they sure taste good for awhile. And, we just need to have people who say, “I’m not going to hang around the dessert table of cable news, and make my entire diet that.”

 

Aug 12, 2019
Standing up for science and fighting the climate wars [rebroadcast]
00:37:56

For the last of our summer rebroadcasts, we are revisiting the conversation with Penn State’s Michael Mann, a world-renowned climate scientist. We’ve just finished the warmest month in global recorded history, so it felt like a good time to share this episode.

We talk with Mann, a Nobel Prize winner and Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, about his journey through the climate wars over the past two decades and the role that experts have to play in moving out of the lab and into the spotlight to defend the scientific process.

Doing so is more important now than ever, he says, as corporation-funded think tanks continue to churn out information that deliberately sows skepticism among the public about our role in climate change. But it does beg the question: How do you reconcile the fact that, in a democracy, everyone’s vote is equal but everyone’s opinion is not?

Mann was part of the team that created the now-infamous hockey stick graph that showed how quickly the rate of warming on the planet had accelerated during the latter half of the 20th century. In the 20 years since graph was published, he’s had his email hacked, been called to testify before Congress, and been hounded by Internet trolls long before social media existed.

He chronicled those experiences in his 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Despite it all, he’s more passionate than ever about spreading the good word about science and cautiously optimistic that things might turn out ok after all.

Additional Information

Michael Mann on Twitter 

Michael’s books:
The Madhouse Effect

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

Aug 05, 2019
Tracing the past, present, and future of protests
00:26:49

Organizer and author LA KauffmanSince we started this show, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with several organizers, from Joyce Ladner in the Civil Rights movement to Srdja Popovic in Serbia to the students involved with the March for Our Lives. Today, we think of protests as a pillar of democratic dissent, but things didn’t necessarily start out that way.

L.A. Kauffman is a longtime organizer and author of the book How to Read a Protest: The Art of Organizing and Resistance. She traces the history of the modern protest movement since the March on Washington in 1963 and joins us to talk about what has — and has not — changed since then. If you are an organizer or have ever attended a protest, we think you’ll find L.A.’s insights interesting.

Additional Information

L.A.’s book, How to Read a Protest

Our episodes on protest and organizing:

Interview Highlights

[2:49] How was the 1963 March on Washington organized and what made it something that organizers today still look to?

This book and the 1963 march is about a particular kind of protest above all, which are mass mobilizations where huge numbers of people come together out in the streets. I hadn’t quite realized that before 1963, we never had anything on this scale in American history. It ended up bringing 250,000 people. One of the ways that the organizers compensated for those fears was by going on overdrive with an organizing model. We think of this as a high water point in American democracy, and yet the messages were so controlled, there was no room for individual voices there.

[6:00] What was it about that moment that lead to such a large event? Were there efforts to try something similar prior to that?

There was a march that was threatened during During World War II, but it never happened. The threat of a civil rights march over discrimination in the military forced FDR’s hand and led to desegregation. The scale of protests at the time were more like 25,000 or 50,000 people. No one had ever dreamed of an event that could bring together these large numbers of people.

[8:12] What compromises were necessary to make the march happen?

The very first idea of the 63 march in Washington was it was going to not just be a march, but it was also going to be an occasion for nonviolent civil disobedience. I mean, it was going to represent a real tactical escalation. And those plans got dropped almost immediately, as soon as the organizers began negotiating with the Kennedy Administration. The Kennedy Administration was walking a very complicated line, because they very clearly did not want the march to happen. And then once the march was clearly going to happen whether they agree to it or not, they did everything they could to control it. And part of that was by orchestrating the choreography of it so that it didn’t actually, they changed the march route, so that the march never went past the White House, or the Capitol.

 [10:04] How does that approach compare to today’s model of organizing?

There was more disunity behind the scenes in the 1963 march than the mythology would lead you to believe, There weren’t open divisions and splits among the players, but they were definitely very substantial differences of opinion about strategy and direction of the movement, and a lot of internal tension. Sometimes those things stay behind the scenes, and sometimes they split out in the open.

When I look at what happened with the women’s marches, my takeaway is the resilience of the grassroots. There were more than 300 local events around the country, which I think is quite extraordinary three years on, and shows how much a movement that has many leaders, many organizing centers, can persist in ways that maybe are hard for the national media to see and perceive, but they have very powerful effects when it comes to things like organizing, get out the vote operations in the midterm elections.

[12:49] What can we learn about a protest from the signs that people bring to it?

The moment that first got me working on this book was when I attended the 2017 women’s march in DC. I was immediately struck that there was a far higher percentage of homemade signs than I had ever seen before. And then I discovered the detail that I alluded to earlier about the 63 march, that whatever we may think of it, however many ways that they represent a high point of American democracy in this one interesting respect, in the messaging, it was a moment of total control because all of the signs were produced by the organizers, and you could not bring your own slogan to that march.

At the women’s march, there was such a power in what people did. They weren’t putting pressure on the Trump administration, per se. We were finding each other. It was a moment for people to come together in the streets, and feel a sense of community, engage in a political conversation, all those signs they mounted to like a rich political conversation in the streets, and feel a sense of collective power. Which in turn made possible the resistance organizing we’ve seen since.

[16:43] What motivates people to attend a protest?

I think people do sometimes go to protests with unrealistic ideas of what they’ll accomplish by going. And that are fed by, and a mass media myths about protest. They tend to think, to frame protest as short term pressure tactics, when that’s often not how they work. So, I think sometimes what happens is people come to a protest and they have some idea, they’re drawn because they want to take action. But then they have an expectation that just turning out once in large numbers is going to bring change.

And those of us who have been in the trenches for a long time, know that any protests, however large is usually just one step in an unfolding process of change. And you rarely see decision-makers shift or change based on one event. It’s usually a very long and protracted process to create change

[20:10] How do people in power respond?

There’s a dominant discourse that tells us that protest doesn’t work. Which very effectively discourages people from participating in protest, because they feel it’s pointless. People are always really surprised when I tell them that there is more people taking part in protest now  than there were in the height of the Vietnam era. Because there again, we have this myth, we have these ideas about these events that have been made larger than life.

[25:21] Where do things go from here?

There’s a lot of new openings and possibilities now, but as always, they rely on active engaged participation by people. And it’s not clear to me right now. We saw, I think a solid turnout for the women’s marches. The energy levels were not as high as they were two years ago. You wouldn’t expect them to be. But the real question for me is whether we’re going to see a new upsurge now going into the spring as we build on these new openings.

Jul 29, 2019
A conversation about conversation [rebroadcast]
00:33:26

This week, we are revisiting another episode from the Democracy Works back catalog. This discussion is a nice companion to our episode with Timothy Shaffer on civility.

Laurie MulveyLaurie Mulvey

This episode seeks to answer one simple, but very important, question: Why is it so hard for people to talk to each other? There are a lot of easy answers we can point to, like social media and political polarization, but there’s another explanation that goes a bit deeper.

Laurie Mulvey, executive director of World in Conversation, is the perfect person to help us explore this question. World in Conversation has facilitated more than 10,000 dialogues over the past 15 years. They bring people from all walks of life together to have dialogues about important issues from climate change to race relations. In the process, they break down the misconceptions and preconceived notions that often get in the way of one person understanding — and relating to— someone else.

Of course, most dialogues do not happen in a controlled environment with a facilitator in the room. Laurie shares some advice for how to handle your next family dinner or other situation where things might get a little heated. She also shares how the World in Conversation is preparing the next generation of democratic citizens to overcome the partisan divides that bog down political discourse.

As we say in the episode, Laurie raises the optimism quotient of this podcast quite a bit.

Jul 22, 2019
Politics and Polls: Blue state federalism
00:37:23

Politics and Polls show logoDemocracy Works summer break 2019 continues with an episode from Politics and Polls, a podcast produced by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. The show’s hosts are Sam Wang and Julian Zelizer. If you enjoyed our conversation with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro about states suing the federal government, you’ll want to check out this episode that dives deeper into the concept of federalism.

In recent history, federalism has been favored by the Republican party, while Democrats have aimed to nationalize certain policies. But given Republicans’ current control of the federal government, progressive Democrats may need to aim to achieve their policy goals at the state level.

Daniel Hemel joins this episode to discuss what he calls “blue state federalism” and how states themselves can be “laboratories of democracy.” Hemel, a law scholar, explains how states can set precedents for the federal government with regard to social issues. For example, Massachusetts did this by legalizing gay marriage and through adopting Romney-care, a precedent to the Affordable Care Act.

Hemel is assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School. His research focuses on taxation, nonprofit organizations, administrative law and federal courts.

Additional Information

Politics and Polls podcast

Our conversation with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro

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Jul 15, 2019
The Pledge: Are you scared of the cafeteria lady?
00:17:53

Our summer break continues this week with an episode of The Pledge, a podcast about people who are taking an active role in improving democracy in the U.S. The show’s first season features a group of women working in grassroots political organizing in Alabama.

This episode tells the story of Oni Williams. As a resident of one of Birmingham’s poorest neighborhoods, Oni regularly visits barbershops and strip clubs to speak with members of the community, inform them of their rights, and encourage them to speak out. She is a stellar example of what democracy in action looks like.

Since this episode was recorded, Oni announced that she’s running for Birmingham City Council in a special election to be held October 8.

Listen to the rest of The Pledge at thepledgepodcast.com.

For more on the impact of grassroots organizing on democracy, listen to our conversation with the University of Pittsburgh’s Lara Putnam on how middle America is rebooting democracy.

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Jul 15, 2019
How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the “grinding work” of democracy [rebroadcast]
00:32:40

Our summer break continues this week with a rebroadcast of one of our very first episodes, a conversation with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt. He 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.

Ziblatt has done a lot of interviews since the release of How Democracies Die, the bestselling book he co-wrote with Steven Levitsky. But we asked him a question he’d never gotten before — about a line toward the end of the book when he refers to democracy as “grinding work.”

The idea that democracy isn’t easy is a central theme of this podcast. As How Democracies Die illustrates, it’s much easier to succumb to the power of an autocratic leader than it is to stand up and protect the institutions that serve as the guardrails of democracy. Ziblatt, a professor of government at Harvard, talks about how the book came about and the impact it’s had since it was released.

 

Jul 08, 2019
A democracy summer reading list [rebroadcast]
00:54:03

Democracy Works is taking a few weeks off for the summer. While we do, we are going to share some older episodes you might have missed, along with a few from other podcasts we think you’ll enjoy. First up is our democracy summer reading list, which we recorded last summer but holds up well today. Since we recored this, we’ve been lucky to have a few of the authors on the show — David Frum, Salena Zito, and E.J. Dionne.

Here’s the rundown of the books we discuss:

And here are a few others we’ve read since last summer that are also worthy of your time:

Finally, if you enjoy Democracy Works, consider checking out The Politics Guys. This podcast is hosted by a bi-partisan groups of academics and other experts who provide a weekly rundown of the biggest news and events in American politics and interview experts from a variety of fields. Check it out at politicsguys.com.

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Jul 01, 2019
Answering your questions about democracy
00:46:21

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. We close our third season by answering some of your questions about democracy and the topics we’ve covered on the show.

We’ll be on summer break for the next few weeks. New episodes resume August 12. In the meantime, we’ll be rebroadcasting some of our older episodes you might have missed and sharing episodes from other podcasts we think you’ll enjoy.

Additional Information

The Market as Prison article by Charles Lindblum – for more on the relationship between democracy and plutocracy

Books we recommend reading this summer:

Episodes mentioned:

Jun 24, 2019
Congressional oversight and making America pragmatic again
00:46:31
Charlie Dent

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.

Dent is a lifelong Republican, but one that does not fit in with the direction the party’s taken under Donald Trump. We talk with him about why so few Republicans are willing to speak out against the Preisdent, and what the party’s post-Trump future might look like. He also talks about the difference between separation of parties and separation of powers — and where he thinks we are right now.

Dent was the chair of the House Ethics Committee and a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations committees. These days, he is a CNN political analyst and senior policy adviser at DLA Piper. He was a recipient of the 2019 Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, which is the university’s highest honor presented to alumni.

Additional Information

Charlie Dent on Twitter

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Is there still room for moderates in politics? If so, where can they have the most impact?
  • What do you make of Charlie’s argument that the U.S. now operates like a Parliamentary system?
  • What do you think the Republican Party will look like post-Donald Trump?

Interview Highlights

[6:00] Can you describe the district you represented and your decision to leave office?

I represented a district in eastern Pennsylvania largely the Lehigh Valley for my first four terms and for my, my last three terms, the district included parts of south central Pennsylvania. It was what we’d call a swing or marginal district, had a pretty good mix of urban, suburban, rural communities. It was, in many respects, a bellwether for the country in terms of how it  performed from an election standpoint. dI anticipated early on that House Republicans would be in the minority in the new session of Congress that they’re in now. The current administration was also a factor. Just dealing with the never ending drama and chaos.

[9:44] Now that you’ve had some time away, are there things you wish you would have done differently to speak out against things like increasing polarization?

I think about that quite a bit. There’s only so much you can do as one person to change the direction that the herd is moving in. Increasingly, Republicans in Congress are hesitant to speak out against President Trump because they’re concerned about a primary challenger, which has created a political paralysis. In my view, we have two political parties now — a pro-Trump party and an anti-Trump party. It’s no longer about ideology or specific policies, which is always what the Republican Party has been known for. It’s now about loyalty to a man. You have to figure out how to manage that and work within it.

[15:38] Have Republicans who oppose President Trump resigned themselves to holding their breath until the next election?

Yeah I think that’s true. Although if you’re a member of Congress in a swing  district you simply can’t be labeled as a generic Republican or a generic Democrat. You have to develop your own brand. That was always my advice to my colleagues. You don’t survive that way in those types of districts. The fact that these elected officials can’t always be seen as rubber stamps for the President is something we should be talking more about.

[17:06] What does congressional oversight look like in practice?

In some respects, oversight is a serious responsibility of Congress, and it’s done on a daily basis. When I was on the Homeland Security committee, we spent a lot of our time really looking at what the department was doing. At that time, it was a relatively new department and there were growing pains so we exercised a lot of oversight. A lot of it wasn’t particularly glamorous or sexy, but it was necessary. Now I find that oversight seems be more about getting your name on television as opposed to the hard, mundane work of analyzing what these departments are doing and how they’re spending money.

[21:05] How do you explain the shift toward prioritizing partisanship over the institution?

I believe, in many respects, we no longer have a system of separation of powers, but a system of separation of parties. Whichever party controls the presidency, it seems like their obligation is to protect the president above defending institutional interests. It flies in the face of what Madison intended and it’s been a big problem. They’re behaving, in many respects, as if they’re operating in a parliamentary system rather than this system of separation of powers and checks and balances that we have.

[24:06] Where do we go from here?

I would always tell my constituents, “You elected me to be a member of Congress, not to be in the executive branch.” Until voters insist on change, things won’t change. I talk a lot about the pragmatism that’s necessary to get things done. You can be ideologically or philosophically conservative or liberal and and that’s fine, but at the same time, I worry about the capacity to be pragmatic. We need people who can set aside the things they disagree on, find common ground, and move forward.

Jun 17, 2019
Will AI destroy democracy?
00:39:22

Jay YonamineJay Yonamine

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 an interesting perspective on the relationship between automation and democracy, and the role that algorithms and platforms play in the spread of misinformation online.

In some ways, this conversation makes the counterargument to our conversation with Penn State’s Matt Jordan about the relationship between social media and democracy. The conversation with Matt is worth revisiting for two perspectives on some of the most complicated questions facing democracy today.

Additional Information

Episode with Matt Jordan: Facebook is not a democracy

Profile on Jay from Sync Magazine

The Fourth Age by Byron Reese – a look at the relationship between technology, humanity, and democratic values

Yuval Noah Harari on the relationship between technology and tyranny in The Atlantic

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as the relationship between AI and democracy?
  • Should Google and other platforms regulate the contact that users see?
  • Do you feel that you have control over the content you see on Google and other sites?
  • Are you concerned about AI’s impacts on democracy?

Interview Highlights

[3:40] How do you define AI?

AI is has to be something that’s not just a human brain relying on itself. Most of the time, when folks think about AI, what they mean is computers, which is to say a computer is doing the thinking or doing the analysis as apposed to a human brain. How I think of intelligence is the ability to make nontrivial, falsifiable, accurate predictions. I think most folks would agree that the act of a robot by itself is not necessarily artificial intelligence, but  the AI aspect of a robot would actually still be the, sort of computer engine that interprets the world and makes predictions

[6:25] What is the relationship between AI and democracy?

A few things have happened simultaneously that might not be as causal as maybe we might believe. There’s definitely been an increase in populist-based politicians in the United States and abroad and a move towards more heavy handed political ideologies. And then of course there’s also been a fairly rapid growth in the prevalence of AI and machine learning in our day-to-day. It’s not clear that those two are connected, but you can see the reasons why people draw their connections. And I think primarily they revolve around news, and around platforms, and around the increase ease of sharing information, and around the increase ease of sharing disinformation.

[8:26] Does one influence the other?

What’s interesting to me as a political scientist and someone who has studied the history of political institutions and political dynamics is for almost all of history, increased access to information and increased access to create and assimilate information has almost always driven an increase in what you might call liberal democratic values. Free speech, democracy, things that have generally been held up as good. And it’s almost always been some autocratic force that has fought against the spread of information that’s going back to the printing press.

What’s interesting now is we’re seeing for the first time, the possibility of that actually shifting. We’re now starting to see that the ease of access to information and the ease of creating and assimilating information might actually now be contributing to the spread of more antidemocratic values.

[10:03] Is AI’s impact on democracy being discussed at tech companies?

The degree of regulation is definitely a hot issue. It’s an immensely complicated issue and one with no easy answers. There’s folks who are arguing for increased regulation ti decrease the spread of misinformation, create a better informed populous, aversion to some of the antidemocratic stuff that we’ve been seeing.

But the counter to that is that you don’t want some centralized control over what can be shared and by whom. And so there’s definitely merits to that argument as well. And it’s an immensely complicated challenge. If you’ve got a team of experts in the room and, and gave them, a handful of pieces of content, I suspect they would have a hard time even reaching consensus. And then when you imagine that scale that a lot of companies operate at it’s, it’s tens of thousands of hundreds of thousands of millions of pieces of content a day, a week, a month.

[13:24] How are companies balancing these big issues with their day-to-day work?

What a lot of companies are trying to do is, hire or create teams and departments and groups whose full time job is just to think about these types of ethical issues. And then create scenarios where those voices have sufficient authority or discretion to actually impact product roadmaps. Companies are big, complex organisms and it’s hard to introduce that type of, of thinking in a really productive way. It’s not like there’s a blueprint where you can say, “Oh, well this is how company A did this in ’98” and now there’s someone who wrote a book on the best practices for introducing ethics and normative guidelines into an AI-based product.

[18:31] How should candidates be talking about these issues in 2020?

It’s very easy to be optimistic about the societal benefit of technological adaption here’s the self driving story where it’s feasible to imagine a world where 50 years from now there’s one one hundredth of the car fatalities that there are today. So that I think is a pretty easy, legitimate story to tell about the benefits of innovation. The counterargument is that when someone comes up with some new device, it displaces a meaningful number of jobs and what do you do with those people? To go back to self-driving cars, we could see a very quick reduction in the number of truck drivers that are needed in the coming years, which is a major industry in a lot of places.

The optimist would say that new jobs will be created to do things like work on the self-driving cars and trucks and do additional road maintenance because the quality of the roads will become increasingly important, but it remains to be seen whether that will actually happen and those jobs will actually be created.

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Jun 10, 2019
The 2019 version of Democracy in America
00:35:41

Lindsay Lloyd of the George W. Bush Presidential CenterLindsay 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. The Democracy Project, an initiative of the George W. Bush Center, Penn Biden Center, and Freedom House, found that people support the ideal of democracy, but worry that the United States is not living up to that ideal in practice due to factors like economic inequality and the decline of civics education.

Lindsay Lloyd, director Bush Center’s Human Freedom Initiative and part of The Democracy Project, joins us this week to discuss the report and what its findings mean for citizens across the United States. We’ve collaborated with the Bush Center on several projects in the past few months and highly recommend checking out their podcast, The Strategerist.

Additional Information

The Democracy Project report

Our episodes on economic inequality and civics education

The Strategerist podcast from the Bush Center

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • How does your perception of democracy align with The Democracy Project’s findings?
  • What do you make of the report’s recommendations for action?
  • Do you agree with Lindsay that there is strong support for democracy-based initiatives in Congress?
  • What role should the U.S. play in promoting democracy in other countries?
  • Have your feelings about democracy changed since 2016? Or 2018?

Interview Highlights

[5:19] What is the Democracy Project and how does it relate to the Bush Center’s mission?

The Bush Center opened in 2009 and one of the areas we work in is democracy and human rights. Historically, it’s been focused outside the United States. A few years ago, we noticed that something was happening in American democracy regarding partisanship and wanted to see what we could do about it. We partnered with the Penn Biden Center and Freedom House and launched a public opinion project related to American democracy. We did focus groups with constituent groups around the country, as well as a national public opinion poll.

[7:10] How are people feeling about the state of democracy in the U.S.?

There was a flurry of articles in early 2017 suggesting that people living in democratic societies were looking for alternatives, particularly among young people. We did not find that in our survey. The people we talked to overwhelmingly felt it was important to them to live in a democracy. On the flip side, our respondents felt that America’s democracy was weak and getting weaker and isn’t delivering in the way it traditionally had.

[9:04] What role do you see the Bush Center playing in addressing the issues identified in the research?

The second half of the survey covered perceptions of democracy outside the U.S. We’re starting a bipartisan working group to look at support for democracy and human rights overseas. It’s taken a hit under the Trump administration and we believe it’s important that the U.S. speak out when human rights abuses are happening and continue to support democracy around the world. Our adversaries are advocating for authoritarianism and democracies need to advocate for their point of view. We found that respondents agreed and found that having a more democratic world makes America safer and makes the world safer.

[11:35] Who do you see as your allies in this work?

There’s still strong support across party lines in Congress for democracy-related initiatives. The Trump administration proposed cutting the budget for groups like the National Endowment for Democracy and Congress has put it back in and, in some cases, increased funding. Newer democracies are also very interested in this work, countries that were formerly under authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.

[16:25] President Trump is not mentioned anywhere in the report. Did he come up at all in the focus groups?

We intentionally did not ask about approval of the President because it’s not a political poll. He did come up in the focus groups, including one group of people who supported the President in 2016 and another group who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. His name came up early and often, but nothing particularly surprising. The President has some strong supporters and some strong detractors. But, it’s also important to remember that democracy is about more than what happens in the White House. Democracy needs to deliver at the local level, or else confidence in the system suffers.

[19:58] Did you see any evidence of polarization in your work? Is it still possible to find middle ground?

One of the complications is that people think that getting rid of partisanship means everyone needs to agree with them. It’s of grave concern, but we did still hear from people who were in the middle. It’s much less of a concern at the local level, where local officials are often nonpartisan. There’s frustration across the board that Washington can’t solve problems. Ideas are examined based on who’s proposing them, rather than on their merits. In the end, most people don’t care who’s behind a proposal, they just want to see it get done. Both of the parties have seen a hollowing out — the days of Rockefeller Republicans and blue democrats are largely gone. One way people change that is by voting in primaries for candidates who support compromise and trying to find middle ground on issues.

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Jun 03, 2019
What neoliberalism left behind
00:39:03

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.

Brown joins us this week to help make sense of what neoliberalism is, and where things stand today. We were lucky enough to get an advance copy of her book, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, which will be released in July. It’s a follow up to her 2015 book, Undoing the Demos, and you’ll hear her talk about how her thinking has changed since then.

Brown is the Class of 1936 First Chair at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches political theory. You might also recognize her from Astra Taylor’s documentary, What Is Democracy? If you enjoy this episode, we recommend checking out the Political Theory Review podcast, produced by Jeffrey Church at the University of Houston.

Additional Information

Wendy’s books: In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, Undoing the Demos

Wendy’s website 

Our episode with David Frum

The Political Theory Review podcast

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as the relationship between neoliberalism and democracy?
  • Do you think it’s possible for two to coexist?
  • What do you see as the future of neoliberalism? Will Millennials and Generation Z move in a different direction?

Interview Highlights

[5:45] How do you define neoliberalism and how is it related to democracy?

North Americans are a little bewildered by the term, and we don’t have it as part of our everyday lexicon although I think it’s finally beginning to seep in. But having said that, I also want to suggest that we understand it at a social and political level and not just an economic level. We recognize it as the undoing of the Keynesian welfare state and the substitution of free market policies, low taxes, everyone’s responsible for themselves and getting rid of all the social supports except for a bare minimum safety net, but I want to add that it’s also a whole from of governing reason.

[7:45] How does neoliberalism relate to authoritarianism?

One of the things I felt compelled to understand with our hard right turn in the West over the last several years with Trump and Bolsonaro and Brexit and so forth was the connection of that to neoliberalism. One thing you can say is rising inequality and open borders produces rage about being at the bottom end of that inequality and also about immigrants, but there was something else on the horizon that I had never noticed, which is that the neoliberal scheme was not just to substitute markets for social policy.

It was also to substitute traditional moral values for understandings of social justice and institutions of social justice. And so part of what we’re experiencing now is what I call the kind of scorpion tail of neoliberalism — the lashing out against the inequality and the continued insistence that traditional morality, moral values, and traditions more generally from white supremacy to patriarchal families, religion in the public sphere, that those are more appropriate governors of human conduct than any state-mandated practices of equality or inclusion.

[11:04] How did neoliberal ideas make their way from academics to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher?

First, there was a very serious economic crisis often called a crisis of profitability in the 70s that was also often seen as a crisis of the welfare state. Too much taxation, unions that were too strong, corporations that were too large and lazy, and a real problem of stagflation. It was a moment where you could strike with a new set of ideas. At the same time, neoliberalism had already been experimented with extensively in Latin America. The IMF was already solidly neoliberal, so bringing it up to the north wasn’t so difficult once Reagan and Thatcher were in power.

[14:37] What will Millennials and Gen Z make of neoliberalism?

Millennials and Generation Z are living in a kind of schizophrenic subjectivity that comes from the rejection of capitalism and the sluggish, dinosaur-like pace of parliamentary or constitutional democracy that is now so deeply corrupted by neoliberal money and corporate power. One of the things I see coming from these generations is the rejection of those two things as the necessary coordinates of the political and economic future, and I think all the hope rests there.

[17:46] Is there a way for neoliberalism and democracy to coexist?

Why I’m impatient with a neoliberal conception of democracy as a way to redress either the gross inequality or the serious existential dangers that we face now is that it’s basically saying, “Go join something, go feel like you’re part of something,” but let the major powers that shape our lives run through markets that presumably run through no hands at all. We rather desperately need to get our hands on those powers.

[20:37] Is it possible to move past the neoliberal worldview given that it’s been dominant over the past generation?

Yes. The Keynesian system lasted for fifty years. No one thought it could be taken apart and everyone thought it was here to stay. The question for the neoliberals was always to try to figure out how to keep it from getting worse and how to prevent this straight on drive toward complete socialism, and keep some markets in the picture. So, one generation is not a lot of time. The second thing I want to say is that we are obviously in a very serious political crisis where there’s an impatience with the current system and a belief that it’s not serving people or the planet. not just the left and right edges, but left and right mainstreams now um, the impatience with the- with the current system, and the belief that it’s not serving people, or the planet, is very strong.

May 27, 2019
Demagogues are more common than you think
00:38:42

Patricia Roberts-MillerPatricia Roberts-Miller

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.”

Patricia is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing and Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of two new books on demagoguery. Demagoguery and Democracy is a short book in the style of On Tyranny that covers the basics of her argument in about 100 small ages. Rhetoric and Demagoguery is a longer, more academic book for those looking for more on the rhetorical roots of demagoguery and its relationship to democratic deliberation.

Additional Information

Patricia’s books: Demagoguery and DemocracyRhetoric and Demagoguery

Patricia’s website

Episode on civility with Timothy Shaffer of Kansas State University

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • After listening to Patricia, do you feel better equipped to notice demagoguery in media you consume, or even in your own language and writing?
  • What do you see as the relationship between demagoguery and democracy?
  • Do you see parallels between the increase of demagoguery and the decline of civility we discussed with Timothy Shaffer?
  • Can you think of a time when you’ve tried to appreciate the other side’s point of view in a conversation or something you read? Did doing so change your perspective?

Interview Highlights

[5:18] How do you define demagoguery and why is it bad for democracy?

It’s useful to think about it as reducing all political issues or even all issues to questions of identity. And specifically in-group versus out-group. And it’s oriented toward providing a lot of certainty and reducing nuance. When you have a culture that is reasoning about everything in that way, you can’t actually explore multiple solutions. What I have to say about demagoguery in politics is pretty similar to what people will say about how a business should come up with a good business plan or how people should make decisions about health. It’s just better decision making.

[7:04] How does the media landscape influence the culture of demagoguery you describe?

We’re in an economy of attention and what matters most is w- whether you are doing things that get viewers and get likes, and get clicks and shares, and all that. It’s extremely difficult to do a good argument on Twitter, one that takes into consideration the nuance of a situation, what other people have said, represents the opposition fairly.

[10:44] Why is demagoguery so often associated with political leaders?

Because demagoguery is about reducing politics to identity. And so if you’re thinking about politics in terms of identity you’re going to be looking for a person on whom you can blame bad politics. And it better not be you. Right? So I think that’s one reason that we really like that notion the demagogue who is the source of all of our problems. And often when you have a culture of demagoguery, at some point somebody will come up.

[13:14] What are some strategies people can use to identify demagoguery?

We assume that demagoguery is going to be vehement, and we assume it’s going to be aggressive. And so we have a tendency to make that judgment on the basis of affect. The affect of the person speaking, but also our own. Do we feel threatened? And if we don’t feel threatened then we’re not likely to think of it as demagoguery. So I think, but what that means is that you don’t recognize the demagoguery on behalf of your in-group. People have to perspective shift and imagine how would we feel about this if we were in the other group? Would we feel threatened by it under those circumstances? How would we feel if exactly that same argument was made about our group? Um, how would we make, how would we feel about that kind of argument? Would we assess it as a rational argument if it was made on the part of the opposition?

[16:16] Is there ever a time when it’s not worth trying to understand the other person or side’s point of view?

One of the things you always have to figure out about anyone you’re interacting with is whether they are open to change and persuasion. One of the problems with conspiracy theories is by definition they’re not. They have a way of discounting any kind evidence that doesn’t conform to their beliefs. Often, the people don’t believe in climate change have an almost 19th century notion about a scientist is, and what science is. So if a mechanical engineer tells them that climate change is a hoax they’re like, “There’s a scientist who doesn’t believe in it.” Without understanding that a mechanical engineer is not actually an expert on either of those areas.Sometimes I get really interesting insights into people’s beliefs from doing that. And sometimes it’s sort of like kicking over a rock and just going, “Ew.”

[21:50 ] Do you think we’ll be able to move beyond the “us vs. them” rhetoric to a more deliberative model?

I’m really worried, but I’m hopeful that at least Facebook is starting to take this really seriously, and try to think through some better strategies that they have. What we actually need to emphasize is understanding other points of view. Instead of just relying on the facts I’ve been given by my in-group, to see what the facts are on other sides. And to see, especially why they reject the facts.

May 20, 2019
What does the Mueller report mean for democracy?
00:32:37

Laura RosenbergerLaura Rosenberger

By now, you’ve no doubt head all about the report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the drama in Washington that’s ensued in the time since its release. 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.

Laura joins us this week to discuss what she learned from the report, and where the efforts to combat Russian interference stand. She is our first repeat guest on the podcast. We last spoke with her in the fall of 2018, just before the midterm elections, during a live event at the National Press Club.

Additional Information

Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our conversation with Laura in fall 2018

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Whose should be taking the lead on combating Russian interference in our democracy?
  • What role does the government have to play? Social media platforms? Everyday citizens?
  • Do you think that Russian interference will influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election?

Interview Highlights

[5:15] What did you learn from the Mueller report?

I think it is one of the most important things to remember is that Special Counsel Mueller was appointed to investigate a number of different things. One of them was Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We learned through the course of his investigation, including through some indictments that he brought against Russian officials and entities, some of what he was finding, but the report definitely added to that. In many ways, I would say his report and the investigation that he led really built on what we found and saw from the findings of the intelligence community and its own assessment of the Russian interference operations, as well as investigations by a number of bipartisan committees in Congress.

[9:58] Are you seeing any evidence that calls to respond to Russian interference are being heeded?

I think we have seen some incremental steps. I think that maybe we are in a slightly better position than we were in 2016, but I think that we have a whole lot of progress that we still need to make if we’re actually going to better protect our democracy against the threats that we face. I think the social media companies need to do a whole lot more to take this issue on in a very systemic way, really going after the root of the problem. I worry right now that some of the approach is too focused on eliminating what they’ve dubbed harmful content.

[11:35] Who do you see as your allies in these efforts?

I think there’s a lot of really great folks out there trying to work on different components of this problem. One of them, there’s a really robust community of researchers that have been taking on this problem and trying to better understand it and provide information. I think transparency and exposing these kinds of operations is one of the really important things that we can do to help combat them.

[14:20] Did we see any changes in election security between 2016 and the 2018 midterms?

We definitely have seen some steps being taken around the midterm elections, including better information sharing between the federal government and state and local officials, getting more information to those officials to be able to ensure that they understand the threat picture, getting a little bit more funding to them, although the funding that was given to them was really for addressing existing vulnerabilities even before the Russian attempts were made.

One of the things, though, that’s really concerning to me is in the wake of the Mueller Report, one of the things that he had in there that was new was talking about a county in Florida that had it’s networks penetrated by Russian cyber hackers. In the wake of that, there’s been a big dispute between the federal government and the state of Florida about whether that was true, whether there was evidence of that, claims that the FBI hadn’t shared what they needed.

[19:29] What changes do you think we’re most likely to see between now and the 2020 election?

Since 2014 we’ve basically seen an ongoing effort by the Russians that has had different chapters at different times. Sometimes targeting different elections and different election cycles, sometimes targeting different issues that are highly divisive in the media. It’s important to understand that these operations are ongoing and they evolve at different points in time. Some of the things that I’m worried about that we might see in terms of evolution targeting the 2020 elections, first is we’ve seen the Internet Research Agency getting even better at insinuating itself to different activist groups. We are a very fertile target surface for our adversaries to take aim at. I think that we’ve got to really turn that table around to ensure that we’re better protected.

[24:01] What would you recommend our listeners do if they are concerned about Russian interference in our democracy?

Voting is something everything can do and it’s also really important for people, as on any other issue, for peoples elected officials to hear from them if this is an issue that they’re concerned about. Dozens of bipartisan pieces of legislation were introduced in the last Congress to address these tactics by the Russians, and we have seen none of them become law. It’s also really important for people to engage in critical thinking on any piece of information. That includes online, and that includes elsewhere. It’s really easy in the political campaign context, when people are very emotional and you’re really trying to make a point, it’s very easy to hook onto something that we agree with, that we think is a really solid thing, even if we don’t know who’s saying it or what their interest or motivations may be, or where the information came from.

May 13, 2019
School segregation then and now
00:39:19

Crystal SandersCrystal Sanders

It’s been 65 years since the Brown v. Board of Education changed public schooling throughout a large portion of the United States. In his opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that public education was important to democratic society and the “very foundation of good citizenship.” Integrated schools, the Court argued, would expose children to new cultures and prepare them for an increasingly diverse world.

How do you balance the public good against the inherent desire every parent has to do what’s best for their children? It’s a question that schools across the country are still wrestling with today.

Erica FrankenbergErica Frankenberg

To help us understand the history of integration and the Brown decision’s impacts on public policy, we’re talking this week with two experts at Penn State. Crystal Sanders is an associate professor of history and African American studies and director of the Africana Research Center. She’s an expert on 20th century African American history. Erica Frankenberg is a professor of education and demography and director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights. She is an an expert on the connection between school segregation and public policy.

Crystal and Erica co-chaired a conference at Penn State on the 65th anniversary of the Brown decision.

Additional Information

Brown@65 Conference

Brown v. Board of Education opinion

Our episode on school boards with Robert Asen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

A note to our listeners in the New York City area: Jenna Spinelle will be participating in a panel called “Podcasts to the Rescue! An Emerging Medium for Learning About Civics, Government, and the Social Contract” on Thursday, May 30 at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. The event is free and open to the public. We would love to meet you!

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What is the relationship between school segregation and democracy?
  • Did you attend an integrated or a segregated school? How did that impact you once you finished school?
  • How should the education system change to become more integrated?
  • How is the re-segregation that Erica and Crystal affecting students in the U.S.? How is it impacting the country more broadly?

Interview Highlights

[5:52] What was the political climate when the decision of Brown v. Board of Education was made

There were many people on the ground; black teachers, black principals, black parents who had been organizing for generations for quality educational opportunities for their students. Decades prior March 1954, black parents were mobilizing to ensure that their students had the resources to ensure that their students to get to school.

[7:43] How was the Brown decision received?

There was a massive resistance at the beginning. The reason because Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 for sending troops to Little Rock was essentially because the rest of the world was watching and laughing at us. We see white parents taking their kids out of public schools, we see entire school system shutting down, as was the case in Prince, Edward County, Virginia. It takes a very long time before we even began to see real implementation. We are seeing now a widespread re-segregation across the country.

[9:37] What are some of the factors that are causing re-segregation?

One of the things that most people might not be aware of is that more than 25 states allow communities to secede from a school system and create their own new school system. Across the country, but especially in wealthy suburbs and Southern states, we see wealthy white communities pull out from school systems and create their own new school system that allows them to maintain racial segregation.

[12:24] A lot of the conversation around school segregation focuses on the South. What was going on in other parts of the country?

It’s important to think about how School desegregation look different in the South versus the North. In northern states there were a lot of ways in which structures were used to create segregated schools. There was the first two decades after the Brown decision in which there were a lot of questions legally as to how Brown would apply outside of the South. When we think of re-segregation today, whether we’re talking about the north or the south, we have to look at housing patterns. We have to look at the lack of affordable housing and the ways in which we still have very weak fair housing laws, and that has been detrimental to ensuring that our public schools are as diverse and inclusive as they can and should be.

[15:56] What’s the relationship between school integration and the public good?

I believe that most Americans still believe that public education is a public good. I don’t believe that most Americans believe integration is a public good. Those are two separate things. There’s still some investment in public education, but there is no investment in integration as a public good.

[17:59] What do we know about the outcomes of integrated schools?

There are social and psychological benefits of integrated schools for all students. Students from integrated schools are less likely to have racial stereotypes and prejudice formation. There are important benefits in terms of being more likely to live and work in diverse spaces as an adult. Some research even finds you’re more likely live in more integrated neighborhoods.

[23:11] Are there particular cities or communities that that have been particularly successful at integration?

No district is perfect, but some communities are intriguing. Jefferson County, Kentucky had court-ordered desegregation in the 1970’s, and in 2000 the court said they had met the requirements. The Wake County school system in North Carolina has done a phenomenal job by ensuring that they have diverse schools across the district. They created a plan that used race to ensure that all of the high schools in the district had proportional levels of different populations.

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The post School segregation then and now appeared first on Democracy Works podcast.

May 06, 2019
What Serial taught Sarah Koenig about criminal justice — recorded live at Penn State
00:33:32

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.

It’s once thing to study criminal justice empirically, as many academics do, but something else entirely to be embedded within the system as Koenig and her team were in Cleveland.

We invited Koenig to Penn State for an on-stage conversation with Democracy Works host and McCourtney Institute for Democracy Director Michael Berkman. They discuss community policing, the lack of data about what works and what doesn’t, and where college students should focus their energy if they’re looking to reform the criminal justice system.

Additional Information

Serial podcast

Cornell’s Peter Enns about the U.S. as the world’s most punitive democracy

UNC’s Frank Baumgartner on race and policing

A note to our listeners in the New York City area: Jenna Spinelle will be participating in a panel called “Podcasts to the Rescue! An Emerging Medium for Learning About Civics, Government, and the Social Contract” on Thursday, May 30 at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. The event is free and open to the public. We would love to meet you!

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • If you’ve listened to Serial season 3, what did you find most surprising?
  • Which part of the criminal justice system do you think is most in need of reform?
  • How should that part of the system change?
  • How much discretion should judges have when it comes to sentencing?
  • What kind of data is needed to understand how to reform the criminal justice system?
  • What is the relationship between law and justice?

Interview Highlights

[2:45] What about this season of Serial do you think captured people’s attention?

We tried to do what we know how to do, right? Which is to know how to make it narrative, as narrative as we could, and to introduce difficult concepts kind of slowly and not overload you with information. It’s become a topic that people are talking about and caring about in the last however many years and that’s personally a thrill to me, but I think that helps. The timing of it helped.

[3:54] Does season 3 relate to season 1?

A lot of people after season 1 were like “Well, what does this mean about the whole system? Can you extrapolate?” And it felt like, well that, no you can’t extrapolate off of one case that is pretty extraordinary. So it really did feel like, well let’s just go look and see the ordinary stuff. What is the baseline functionality of our system in a very, kind of day to day, mundane way, honestly. Let’s treat the courthouse as an office.

[6:10] What did you learn about the police in Cleveland?

So it was just a very typical, I mean if you read about for example, what’s happening in Baltimore, what’s happened in some other places. And it seems like the places where there has been any successful, true successful outcome from those consent decrees, I think Seattle has actually had a pretty good result if I’m not mistaken. It’s where they get buy-in from the police union, and it’s hard. In a place like Cleveland it’s very hard. It’s very old school. It’s very like, “Don’t tell me how to do my job, I put my life on the line every day.”

[9:40] What do people in Cleveland think about the idea of community policing?

They see the value of it and they think it’s valuable and they don’t want to be the people who, in a place like Cleveland, all you do is just get in your car and just race from call to call to call to call. And half the time, you’re at a call trying to deal with something and you get a call for a more major thing and so you’re ripped away, so then that person that you’re trying to help is like, there goes my guy. So, it’s bad for everyone, that kind of policing. They, they want it and they want, I think, to be able to have real interaction with people in communities.

[14:03] Judge Gaul comes up in several episodes throughout the series. Tell us about him.

His dad had been in county politics. He was getting near retirement age, so he was like mid-60’s. He’d been on the bench a long time, and in Cleveland, in Ohio, you know, county judges have an extraordinary amount of of discretion and latitude.I mean, it’s sort of like a cliché of the courthouse, but like they really do treat it as their own little kingdom. And so he had his style and his way of berating almost every defendant who came before him. He saw it as tough love. That’s how you get elected in Cuyahoga county. No one pays attention to judicial races, so you see the Democratic name, it’s an Irish name, you’re like, it’s vaguely familiar because there’s like ten thousand people named Gaul in the county and you’re like, “Oh yeah, that guy. I’m sure he’s fine.” And so that’s how these people stay on the bench forever.

[20:40] What did you learn about the way probation works in Cleveland?

Half the docket when I was watching would be a probation violation. Most of them were for things like staying out after curfew or going out of state for a funeral somebody’s funeral smoking weed. They’re having to come back through the thing and if you piss off the judge, especially, someone like Judge Gaul who has a temper, you can end up incarcerated. Part of the hugely frustrating thing we saw in Ohio, but I think this is again true in lots of parts of the country, there’s no data. We don’t keep data on this stuff. Nobody is tracking outcome say for when is probation is effective and when people start to slide off and violate more.

[27:50] What do you make of the momentum around electing progressive prosecutors to reform the system?

The focus that we have lately on progressive prosecutors and the big money that’s going into these prosecutors races across the country is fantastic, but it is one piece of the puzzle. This system is enormous and it has many different machines working at once. They do not often interact with each other well or at all. I get a little nervous when we start saying, “Oh, we’ve, we’ve figured out how to fix it, just elect a bunch of progressive prosecutors.” My fear is, yes, you can elect progressive prosecution, but you can also unelect those same prosecutors. So I would rather see a more systemic change.

[30:15] Where can young people have the biggest impact in criminal justice reform?

I would say like those kinds of agencies that are so unsex and it just feels like why would I want to go be a government bureaucrat and like a thankless job? If you’re asking where you can make a difference, boy, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have, um, the smartest, most compassionate, most energetic brains be working on juvenile crime.

Apr 29, 2019
Is it time to revive civility?
00:36:06

Timothy ShafferTimothy Shaffer

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.

Shaffer is an assistant professor in communication studies at Kansas State University, assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy, and principal research specialist at the National Institute for Civil Discourse. He is the editor of a new book called A Crisis of Civility? Political Discourse and its Discontents.

Additional Information

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think we are in a crisis of civility? If so, does the crisis exist among citizens, politicians, or both?
  • What do you see as the relationship between civility and democracy?
  • What do you think is the best approach for making political discourse more civil?
  • Who do you look to as a model of civility in politics?
  • What is the right balance between deliberative democracy and policy changes?

Interview Highlights

[3:50] How do you define civility?

There is no one single notion of civility. In our book, the first chapter puts forward two ways to think about it: civility as politeness and civility as responsiveness. As someone who studies this work and engages it in practical situations and settings, it’s important that we think about civility as being more than just kind of minding your manners or abiding by the rules or the expectations of kind of a dominant society.

[5:48] Given that definition, what does it mean to “revive” civility as we’ve heard people call for lately?

I would say somewhat of an analog to that is the language of civic renewal, which gets used quite a bit. If we’re trying to revive something or trying to renew something, it presupposes that there-there was something in the past. And I think part of the Revive Civility campaign, um, from the National Institute for Civil Discourse I think is rooted more in this notion that we have, in recent times, seen the increases in various studies and people’s experience, right? People are recognizing, noticing, that politicians, as well as just folks in their neighborhoods and in their communities, are really ratcheting up some of the-the kinda partisan divisions and rancor.

[14:20] How do you connect exercises in democratic deliberation with more tangible policy outcomes?

One example I’ll point to is the Citizens Initiative Review, which creates those kinds of conditions where ordinary people come together and hear expert testimony, wrestle through ideas that are gonna show up on a ballot initiative, and at the end of a few days, they come out and make these statements about how they’ve, have come to a decision. A historical example I’ve researched is a cooperative extension program run by the USDA in the 1930s and 40s. They created these discussion guides on a whole host of topics, things like soil erosion and taxes and imports. They held meetings that gave people in these communities a chance to participate in discussion, but also paired that with formal land-use planning processes.

[18:40] What’s the relationship between civility and free expression? How do you have one without limiting the other?

the tension between um, free-speech and this notion of civility I don’t think has to be kind of, it’s, it’s over here or it’s over there. Uh, the, the capacity to create conditions for kind of expression of contentious views is really important. Uh, I think where we start to, to see some rub is the, the expectation of kind of “safe spaces” um, where if, if people are feeling uncomfortable or, or maybe even challenged or attacked, that if you know, we set that as a ground rule, for example, that is going to become a very significant tension that we have to acknowledge.

[22:05] Is there anyone you look to as an example of modeling civility in politics?

I don’t have an immediate go-to as kind of like, here’s the classic example of someone who ought to be our kind of exemplar. Given the state of things as they have been recently and it seems like it will continue for a bit, I will point to someone like Senator John McCain. He embodied the notion that you can have your strong views but you can engage and, and recognize when you need to give a little bit or also when you might be wrong.

Apr 22, 2019
E.J. Dionne on empathy and democracy
00:34:02

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.

We talked with him about the relationship between partisan politics and democracy, the need for empathy across the political spectrum, and a few policy ideas to help make America more democratic. We could have talked all day and hope to return to some of these topics in future episodes.

Additional Information

E.J.’s Washington Post columns

E.J.’s lecture at Penn State 

E.J.’s paper on universal voting for Brookings

Chris Beem’s TED talk on how young people can improve democracy

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you agree with E.J.’s notion that a partisan response was required to protect democracy?
  • Have you noticed a difference in political argumentation over the past few years? Is it more difficult to have arguments now than it was a few years ago?
  • What do you see as the relationship between civil society and democracy? How could one help the other?
  • What do you make of the National Fair Vote Interstate Compact and universal voting?

Interview Highlights

[3:52] In One Nation After Trump, you wrote that a partisan response was required to protect democratic values. What did you mean by that?

Trump had done something to our politics that was very dangerous and needed to be reversed, and given that the Republican Party had chosen almost to a person (with a couple of exceptions in Congress) to support Trump, the only way to hit back, to create any sense of accountability, was to give at least one house of Congress to Democrats. There a lot of people out there who aren’t necessarily partisan Democrats, who aren’t necessarily liberals or lefties, who believe that there are abuses here that need to be checked, and that there is a threat to democracy that needs to be reversed, and that’s exactly what happened after the 2018 midterms.

[5:19] Should that approach continue heading into 2020?

My view is that the Republican party has moved to a point where it needs a real rebuke in order to look inside itself and analyze where they want to continue to be.

[6:54] ]What happens to the people who are conservative but don’t may be aligned with where the Republican party is currently?

I think there are still a lot of conservatives who made a deal that they think is still worth making on behalf of low taxes deregulation and Supreme Court appointments. There is a pattern in which some districts that 30 or 40 years ago would happily have sent a moderate Republican to the house are now sending Democrats.

[11:00] You’ve also called for making America empathetic again. Have you seen any indication that it’s happening?

Yes, I have seen it in the reactions of the people when the Muslin ban. The number of people who rush to the airports over the Muslim ban and people who may not have met a Muslim in their life and said “wait a minute, this isn’t who we are.” There is also the reaction of the people to the kids being taken away from their parents at the border. I think we’ve taken some steps forward, but we still have a lot of work to do.

[12:51] What can people do to develop a sense of empathy?

Chris Beem gave a TED talk in which he said we need people to do three things. First, people need to tell the truth. Second, they need to engage in democratic humility, and third, people need to join an organization. I think one of the terrible things about the Trump age is that the division is so deep that friends who disagree about politics don’t even talk about politics anymore because they’re afraid of busting the friendship, and that’s a problem.

[14:54] Why do you think it’s so hard for people to have constructive arguments?

I think some of it is that our allegiances are all aligned together in a package. So people’s political commitment and people’s party commitments are aligned with their ideological commitments or often aligned with their religious commitments that includes people who are religious or secular combined with where they live. The “big sort” argument and many things combined in one party has come to stand for it.

[16:00] How we can make civil society work given the world we live in today?

I think we people need ways in which they can get together face-to-face and do things together. Sports teams are part of that, by the way. There is enormous life in civil society when where kids sports are concerned about it. What I want to tell to my conservative friends is: I’m with you, I want a stronger cvil society, but you have to acknowledge the cost of inequality and the cost of economic collapse.

[19:08] Can you give us an overview of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact?

We have a problem in our country that’s going to keep growing with the Electoral College. Since 2000, we’ve had just two elections where the Electoral College went against the popular vote. The way in which population is getting concentrated in big states, the over-representation of low population states in the Electoral College will get even greater. This is a problem for democracy and you can’t change it very easily under the Constitution.

[22:26] You’ve also worked on what you describe as universal voting. Can you explain what that is and how it might work?

This idea comes from Australia. Australia has compulsory attendance at the polls, but not the United States. I’m working on an initiative with Miles Rapoport at the Ash Center at Harvard on this. We’re trying to see what would this look like If we did it in the United States. Our theory is if you can ask people to serve on juries, if you can ask people for going to say to potentially give their lives in war, then asking people to vote is not an over ask for civic life. It finally reverses the role of local officials. They can’t suppress the vote anymore. Their job is to help make it as easy as possible for all the people in the country to vote.

Apr 15, 2019
No Jargon: Who controls the states?
00:29:48

No Jargon logoWe are excited to bring you an episode from No Jargon, a podcast from the Scholars Strategy Network. Much like Democracy Works, No Jargon aims to break down some of the biggest issues in politics and society in a way that’s not partisan and not punditry. New episodes are released every Thursday, and we hope you’ll check it out if you enjoy this conversation.

We like to think that state governments make decisions based on their particular situations. But it turns out, often that’s not the case. In fact, three large conservative groups have gained massive influence in state houses across the country, working to pass legislation in line with their views and corporate sponsors.

In this episode of No Jargon, Columbia University’s Alexander Hertel-Fernandez explains their rise and strategies, why state governments are so susceptible to their influence, and what this all means for American democracy.

Additional Information

No Jargon website

Alex Hertel Fermandez’s book, State Capture

The McCourtney Institute’s John Gastil on No Jargon discussing the Citizens Initiative Review

Apr 08, 2019
The ongoing struggle for civil rights
00:37:00

Joyce Ladner was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was mentored by Medgar Evers, expelled from Jackson State University for participating in a sit-in, and failed Mississippi’s voter literacy test three times. She discusses those experiences with us, along with the disconnect between learning the principles of civics education knowing that some of them didn’t apply to her.

Joyce also describes how Emmett Till moved her generation to action, and how Trevon Martin is doing the same for a new generation of organizers. She visited Penn State to deliver the annual Barbara Jordan lecture, hosted by the Africana Research Center.

Additional Information

Penn State Africana Research Center

Interview Highlights

[4:44] What was the catalyst for you to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement?

The catalyst for us was the lynching of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in Mississippi

[5:15] How did that make you feel and how you did you translate those feelings into your actions?

I remember feeling very very powerless back then. Sort of visceral reaction came when I saw the photograph of Emmett Till on the cover of Jet Magazine. That photograph made me feel that I had to one day do something.

[9:42] Did you see any changes or any integration efforts following Brown v. Board of Education

No, what happened to the Deep South was that the Southern states immediately after the Brown decision came down rushed to build new schools for black children, so we got a new school.

[14:42] What do you think is missing from how civics education and democracy are being taught today?

I took high school history and social science civics to become good citizens. We were informed with a knowledge base in ethics and values, and about what democracy was. I think that one of the worst things that’s happened in subsequent years is the decline of civics education. A lot of social science type courses have suffered tremendously.

[16:55] What do you think about Black Lives Matter Movement?

Black Lives Matter is to this generation what’s SNCC was to my generation, and also Trayvon Martin is to this generation what Emmett Till was to mine. Here you have a case of a young man who was just shot and murdered and the response to it is a national outpouring of anger and eventually that anger was channeled by young people (college students and non-college students). I should say is the case in a manner that was very similar. I was so excited to see that finally we have some movement activity.

[20:16] What was the process to become a registered voter?

I tried to register to vote three times in Harrisburg, but I failed the voter register literacy test because all black people who went to register were failed. At the same time all white people were registered. I was required to write essays on two questions, one was an interpretation of section in the U.S. Constitution. They never gave us reasons. They just says “you failed to pass this test, you didn’t answer these questions adequately”.

[24:41] Was there something that united all the different organizing that you did, whether for civil rights, voting rights or all of those?

Freedom was the reason to do all of this. Equality was later added but freedom remain the constant.

[26:57] What advice did you have to say to young people or anyone who wants to get involved in organizing and trying to impact what they perceive as injustice?

Freedom is not free. Each generation has to fight for those same rights all over again because they’re not permanent.

Apr 08, 2019
Immigration, refugees, and the politics of displacement
00:36:08

Jan EgelandJan Egeland

From Brexit to Hungary to the U.S. border wall, many of today’s political conflicts center around immigration. Moving people from one place to another is easier said than done, and as we’ve seen around world, there are inherent tensions between people who want to enter a country and the people who are already there. On top of that, climate change will continue to create situations where people are displaced from their homes.

Jan Egeland doesn’t have all the answers to these issues, but he’s committed to figuring them out. He is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council and former Special Adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria. Despite the challenges that immigration poses, he remains optimistic about the progress the world has made and the power of democratic governments to find solutions.

Jan visited Penn State as guest of the Center for Security Research and Education.

Additional Information

Norwegian Refugee Council

Penn State Center for Security Research and Education

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • How should governments and organizations address immigration?
  • What’s the relationship between immigration and democracy?
  • Did hearing Jan’s interview change the way you think about migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers?
  • How will climate change affect migration?

Interview Highlights

[4:58] What do the terms migrant and refugee mean and how they might differ?

Migrants are everyone who leaves a country and goes to another place. Refugees are people who flee from persecution. It could be political, religious, or cultural.

[6:38] What is the Norwegian Refugee Council and how this organization works with these various groups?

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is a humanitarian organization working for both refugees and the internally displaced people providing them relief in the in the form of shelter (housing, water, sanitation, and food). We also provide legal help and legal advice, including civil documentation. There are two main solutions that we seek. The first one is to return the person, but this solution is very difficult when a war is going on. The other one is local integration. It could be that little by little they would be integrated, get their get jobs and education and maybe even citizenship, and the third solution is relocation to another place. Traditionally the United States generously receives more than a 100,000 refugees, but most of the rich industrial countries have become colder places for refugees.

[9:00] When did that that transition start and how has it evolved since then?

It’s always been there really in Europe, in the United States, and in places like Japan and in other industrialized countries. We are now in a new period of great difficulty for us who work for and with refugees because there is a wave of nationalism in very many places.

[10:50] What is the right balance between helping refugees and people in need while still paying mind to people who are already living in the countries where the refugees want to go?

First of all, we have to recognize that the main solution for people who have fled their homes is to return home. We need to have more work and diplomacy peacemaking conflict resolution to make it safe and protected for people to return home and help them then rebuilt.

[16:15] Do you find that the populism we’ve seen throughout Europe and elsewhere also extends to humanitarian efforts?

What I find now is that there is a race to the bottom. Really many countries are willing to give us money if we keep them away from from that country. Europe and North America have been traditionally the most generous places for receiving refugees, but there are many rich nations who are not receiving refugees.

[18:44] There’s a long-term strategy but there’s also a lot of things that come up that you can’t anticipate. How do you account for those unknown elements?

We have very good people who in the field try to meet every eventuality. We have preparedness programs as we have prevention programs. But but in the longer term, perhaps the most worrying longer term problem is that many more people will be displaced not by conflict, but by the forces of nature in the age of climate change and we have to be prepared for that.

[19:56] What role does civil society have to play in terms of refugees?

The civil society groups play an enormously important role. We work with civil society groups like women’s groups, student groups, church groups, religious groups, and tribal groups. We need to help people who are knocking on our door, we need to help them in their hour of greatest need!

[22:22] How do you see democracies countering these anti-refugee and anti-immigrant policies?

There are a few sensational stories about one or two immigrants doing something bad in the media and everybody believes that that immigrants are worse than others, but that’s not what statistics demonstrates. Europeans and the media is in panic with the amount of refugees. For example, Europeans felt overwhelmed when 1 million people came to a continent of 500 million. Let’s imagine you have a school yard of 500 kids and one girl comes in to the school. Should we panic for one to 500? We shouldn’t, but that’s what Europe did.

[25:26] You’ve said previously that you feel the world is getting better for most people. Do you still feel that way?

Absolutely, specially in terms of private consumption, public consumption, education, health care, life expectancy, dropping child mortality, equality between the sexes, and opportunity for girls. However, it is worse for those who live in war zone or in areas with gangs. The challenge moving forward will be to maintain this sense of progress and momentum.

Apr 01, 2019
A playbook for organizing in turbulent times
00:39:23

Srdja PopovicSrdja Popovic

20 years ago, Srdja Popovic was part of a revolution — literally. He was a founding member of the Otpor! movement that ousted Serbia Slobodan Milsovic from power in 1999. It’s easy to characterize social movements as a bunch of people rallying in the streets, but successful movements require a lot of planning and a unified vision around a singular goal — things that are often easier said than done.

Srdja joins us this week to discuss why Otpor! was successful and anyone can use the same principles of what we describes as “laughtivism” to fight for change. He is the director of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CAVNAS) and author of Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World.

At the end of the episode, Michael and Chris compare Srdja’s discussion of anger and fear with some of the results we’ve seen from our Mood of the Nation Poll.

Srdja visited Penn State as a guest of the Center for Global Studies, the same organization that hosted Syrian journalist Abdalaziz Alhamza in the fall. Our episode with him is a nice companion to this conversation with Srdja.

Additional Information

CANVAS website

Srdja’s book: Blueprint for Revolution

A book Srdja references in the interview: The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy

Another Democracy Works episode you might enjoy: Breaking the silence in Syria – Abdalaziz Alhamza

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • How did the Otpor! movement achieve its goals?
  • How should a social movement balance its members individuals goals and views against the larger goals?
  • How do you see the apathy and fear Srdja described playing out in today’s political climate?
  • Do you think Otpor!’s approach could be successful in a place like Hungary or Brazil?
  • What are some recent examples of laughtivism? Are they effective?

Interview Highlights

[4:20] What was the the political climate in Serbia when the Otpor! movement began?

We started with large students protests. We were occupying campuses and all the intellectuals were there. The first large-scale demonstrations started in Serbia and we figure out that in fact, we can win local elections if opposition is united, but we lost. After three months on the streets every day, we understood that it’s a very stupid way to have everyday protests because are very costly. The movement grew from 11 people into several hundred, then performed a large tactics of recruitment and and grew up up to 70,000. We had a pretty clear vision of tomorrow — we were trying to build unity among the civil sector and the opposition parties. We stayed cool and nonviolent and focusing in low-risk tactics.

[10:15] What are some of the the strategies you recommend for people to build  broad coalitions or movements?

The first thing is you need to understand what you really want to change. You need to look the terrain and your constituency. Try to listen and try to find the smallest common denominator that will bring groups to your side. Try to figure out why the people who are pro change and against change feel that way.

[13:32] As these movements grow, people come in with their own ideas. How can you be receptive to them without curtailing the main goal?

It is really important is to figure out your grand vision and the grand goal. Movements are driven by the people, and the best thing people bring to the movements are their ideas. The way the Serbian movement operated and several other movements we worked in in the past, like Egyptian movement, was to make a highly decentralized structure. That creates a culture in the movement where everybody can become a leader.

[15:16] How do you push forward for social change given the prevalence of nostalgia?

When you take a look at the biggest obstacles to the social change of any kind, it’s either apathy or fear, and if you really want to make a change you want to deconstruct these obstacles. The key for change in these cases is to turn up into enthusiasm.

[20:39] How is laughtivism an effective tactic for authoritarian regimes?

There are a few reasons why humor is so powerful in these situations. The first reason is that humor breaks fear and makes scary situations look a little less so. The second reason is that humor attracts people and gives them something they can get behind. The third is that it disrupts order, which dictators and authoritarians thrive on.

[25:18] How are these tactics translated into public policy?

Some politicians think that democracy is all about winning elections and then winner takes all, but social movements are now taking a new role which they call defending democracy. They are actually defending the courts, defending the parliament, and defending the pillars that are already there.

[32:55] What does democracy mean to you?

To me, it means having the right balance between strong and active state and strong and active people to hold the state accountable.

Mar 25, 2019
Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of democracy
00:43:51

We say on this show all the time that democracy is hard work. But what does that really mean? What it is about our dispositions that makes it so hard to see eye to eye and come together for the greater good? And why, despite all that, do we feel compelled to do it anyway? Jonathan Haidt is the perfect person to help us unpack those questions.

We also explore what we can do now to educate the next generation of democratic citizens, based on the research Jonathan and co-author Greg Lukianoff did for their latest book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

Jonathan is social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures––including the cultures of American progressive, conservatives, and libertarians.

One last thing: This week marks the first anniversary of Democracy Works! We are thrilled that the show has caught on with listeners around the world and are excited to bring you even more great episodes in year two. If you’d like to give the show a birthday present, consider sharing it with a friend or leaving a rating or review in your podcast app.

Additional Information

Jonathan’s books:

OpenMind 

Heterodox Academy

New York Times article on free play and democracy

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Why is democracy so difficult to sustain?
  • Does hearing about the moral foundations of politics change the way you perceive people from another political party?
  • What can each of us to do make better decisions and resist the temptation to follow our inner elephants?
  • What do you make of the relationship between free play and democracy?

Interview Highlights

[4:32] Why is democracy so hard to practice?

Haidt: In the 20th century we developed this obsession with democracy and I think it’s because we fought a war to defend democracy and World War I and then we did it again in World War II and we were thinking that democracy is the greatest thing in the world. Then in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapses, It was clear that democracy won and there is no alternative into the end of history and every country as it developed is going to become a free market liberal democracy just like us. And we were wrong we were fooled. Democracy is a lot harder and lot less stable than we thought. Now it’s clear that’s the case.

[7:12] Are there other things about the way we’re wired as people that make it so difficult to carry out democracy in practice?

Haidt: Our founding fathers knew we were not rationals and we don’t relate to any people and that’s why you don’t want to have something that’s too, democratic because especially when there are hard times somebody’s going to come along and tell you the reason for our troubles is them, and it’s really easy to rally people to hate them and then attack them and kill them.

[9:42] What motivates people to continue practicing democracy?

Haidt: Tocqueville noted how we individualists come together very quickly and easily to solve problems, that was what he noted was really unique about us. So we’ve always been a democratic people in that sense. We’re ready to take things into our own hands, solve problems and, um, America in the, in the, you know, 20th century, we certainly see many cases of activism that were like that and that worked. Um, of course, taking things into your own hands can also lead to riots and violence.

[11:49] Can you talk about how you see the way that we’ve organized ourselves into political parties here in the U.S.?

Haidt: I think the worst number of political parties to have in a country is one, but the second worst number is two. Research shows that if you simply have three combatants, then the hatred of each for the other is much less. We have two parties and anyone who was psychologically disposed to leftism or progressivism is now a Democrat, and anyone who was psychologically predisposed to conservatism or traditionalism or stability is now Republican. My colleagues and I came up with a theory called the Moral Foundations Theory, which has five features of every society:

  • Care vs. harm
  • Fairness vs. cheating
  • Loyalty vs.betrayal
  • Authority vs. subversion
  • Sanctity vs. degradation

[17:12] Where do these moral foundations stand today?

Haidt: Moral foundations never change, that’s the whole metaphors at their foundations. A moral or political order is a consensual hallucination. We hallucinate it together. We pretend that it’s real. It becomes real, we live in it, and we get angry within it.

[24:42] What do you think about calls for restoring civility?

Haidt: It’s absolutely the right approach, we need to restore that, but just saying it and signing some pledges we are not going to reach a change in civility. We’re not going to get very far by just doing this. I think we’re going to get really far by changing the path that the elephant is on.

[28:01] What’s the relationship between free play and democracy?

Haidt: The way to learn social skills that are essential for a democracy is through free play, and it has to be unsupervised. If there’s an adult there to settle disputes, you learn how to appeal to adults instead of learning to figure things out for yourself. Gen Z is the first generation in American history that was deprived of childhood. We freaked out in the 90s and thought even though the crime rate was plummeting and actually the crime wave ended in the 90s. Americans began to think because we’re frightened out of our minds by media, that if we ever take our eyes off our kids outside they will be abducted, and so in the 90s, we stopped letting kids out to play.

[29:35] How will this impact the way Gen Z views democracy?

Haidt: I think democracy is or democracy is in real danger now, but when Gen Z becomes more politically active, you know so in the 20, 30s when they’re the largest group let’s say, um I think our ability to govern ourselves will be much harder.

[32:54] What can we do to reverse this trend?

Haidt: The first thing is we have to give kids back childhood to create more resilient kids. We have to stop overprotecting kids. We have to let them develop skills. Secondly, I think we have to educate kids as if democracy was fragile. We have to be teaching skills of democratic engagement. I think that high schools should be teaching politics in a very different way. That is, teachers and social studies teachers in particular tend to be on the left. They either don’t teach anything about conservatism or they some of them let their politics intrude um and I think we should be teaching great respect for the long philosophical traditions of left and right, and then teaching skills of democratic discourse.

Mar 18, 2019
Future Hindsight: Ian Bremmer on the failure of globalism
00:32:48

Future Hindsight podcast logoWe are closing out our series on democracy around the world with a bonus episode from Future Hindsight, a show that features deep conversations with guests who are engaged in strengthening our society. This episode is a discussion with Ian Bremmer, author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of GlobalismIan is a political scientist and president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk advisory and consulting firm.

In this episode, Ian talks with Future Hindsight host Mila Atmos about populism, authoritarianism, and some of the other trends we’ve heard about over the past few weeks. Think of it as a 30,000-foot view of what we’ve covered in individual countries like Hungary and Brazil.

Future Hindsight is in its fifth season and available at futurehindsight.com or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Here are the episodes from our series about democracy around the world:

Mar 14, 2019
Brexit and the UK’s identity crisis
00:28:27

Sona GolderSona Golder

We’re just a few weeks away from the deadline for the UK to reach an agreement on its plan to leave the European Union. Nearly three years after the infamous Brexit vote, things appear to be as murky as ever.

Rather than trying to predict the future, we invited Penn State’s Sona Golder to join us for a conversation about how Brexit originated, and the pros and cons of putting the decision directly in the people’s hands. Sona is a comparative politics scholar and co-editor of the British Journal on Political Science.

Listen through to the end of the episode for information about the Big World podcast, produced by American University’s School of International Service.

Additional Information

Sona’s website

For more on UK politics, check out The Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think that Brexit should have been decided via referendum?
  • If a second referendum happens, how would you phrase the question and the options people vote on?
  • Do you see similarities between Brexit and Donald Trump’s election? Or with the rise of authoritarian leaders in places like Hungary and Brazil?
  • How do you think Brexit will end?
  • How do you feel about the state of democracy around the world after listening to the past four episodes? Has you opinion changed since the beginning of the series?

Interview Highlights

[4:45] How did the original Brexit referendum come about in 2016?

When it comes to important EU initiatives, it’s not unusually to have a referendum. There were referenda in at least three countries back in 1992 when they were trying to get everyone to agree to the Maastricht Treaty. France’s treaty just barely passed and was known as the little yes. In the UK, various leaders have proposed having a referendum on whether to remain in the EU over the years but never followed through on it. Given that history, I don’t think it seemed out of place to the citizens of the UK.

[5:52] What was it about 2015-2016 that finally allowed the referendum process to happen?

Ever since the Maastricht Treaty was signed, there’s been a group of people in Parliament who are Euro-skeptical. That’s been going on for decades. More recently, countries from throughout Europe joined the EU. The UK was the only country that did not set restrictions on how people could move into the country so the UK ended up with a lot migrants that no one expected. On top of that, the financial crisis happened in 2008. David Cameron, the Prime Minister at the time, went into it thinking he was going to get a better deal from the EU and then there would be a referendum after that. He almost assuredly thought the outcome would be that the UK would end up in the EU.

[7:53] Is Brexit indicative of a larger trend around immigration and economic inequality?

One common issue that many countries are dealing with is the financial crisis, which gave people the feeling that they’d left behind and that political leaders on both sides of the aisle were not helping them. This feeling manifests itself in different ways based on the culture of that country. In the UK, people felt like Labour and the Conservatives were not really doing anything and the status quo doesn’t really seem very appealing.

[8:50] Can you give us an overview of the parties in the UK and where they stand on Brexit?

There are two main parties. Labour is on the left and is traditionally a socialist party, but you can think of it as akin the Democrats in the U.S. The Conservatives are on the right and are akin to the Republicans. The UK has the same voting structure as the U.S. does so those parties tend to get the most seats and one of them has a majority, even though there are other parties who will have smaller numbers of seats.

[9:45] What do we know about the people who voted for Brexit?

People who voted for Brexit tended to be more rural, older, and less educated. They were motivated by frustration with the current parties. Both parties have moved to the center. There was a sense that there was not much difference between them.

[11:37] What was the rationale that each side presented for staying or leaving the EU?

The remainers said it would be a disaster for the economy if the UK pulled out of the EU. They might have exaggerated it, but they thought it was so obvious that no one would want leave. The people who wanted to leave felt that the UK didn’t have control over its boarders and all of its policies were being set in Brussels.

[13:23] What are some of the ways Brexit could end?

After the referendum, it wasn’t immediate that the UK was going to leave the EU. They had to trigger Article 50, which Theresa May did in 2017. Since then, she’s been trying to negotiate a deal that would set up rules for the new relationship. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no deal and it’s unclear what happens. The UK is an island nation. It’s not clear what happens to goods at the border if there’s no deal in place.

[15:22] What are some of the obstacles to a deal being put in place?

Some members of Parliament still don’t want to leave and they’re hoping that a new referendum would be called or it would just be voted in Parliament that they wouldn’t leave. There’s some people who want the hard Brexit. Theresa May is having a hard time trying to build a coalition to back her deal. The people advocating for a second referendum hope that people will have come to their senses and change their mind. But it’s not clear that anything would change. The EU is trying to negotiate a trade agreement that would be beneficial to the countries that remain. My sense is that people will become more open to a deal as the withdrawal deadline gets closer.

[19:25] How does Ireland and the “backstop” figure into Brexit?

The issue is over the border between the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the UK, and Northern Ireland, which isn to part of the UK. The backstop is a way of saying the UK can pull out of the EU but not have a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. No one is quite sure how that would happen. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 went a long way toward solving the problems of terrorism in Northern Ireland. No one wants to go back to that, but it wasn’t a big part of the consideration during the Brexit vote. Most people who thought about the Good Friday agreement were confident that the UK would vote to remain in the EU.

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Mar 11, 2019
Brazil’s tenuous relationship with democracy
00:39:48

Gianpaolo BaiocchiGianpaolo Baiocchi

To say Brazil has had a complicated history with democracy is a understatement. The country has bounced in and out authoritarian regimes for hundreds of years, with democracy never having quite enough time to really take hold. Following the election of Jair Bolsonaro in October 2018, many are wondering whether the cycle is about to repeat itself again.

Gianpaolo Baiocchi is a professor of individualized studies and sociology at NYU, where he also directs the Urban Democracy Lab. He’s from Brazil and has written extensively about the country’s politics and social movements. He joins us this week to talk about Bolsonaro’s appeal, the use of misinformation on WhatsApp during the election, and why Bolsonaro is often called the “Trump of the tropics.” We also discuss Brazil’s history of activism under authoritarian governments and whether we’ll see it return now.

Next week is our final episode about democracy around the world. We’ll be talking with Penn State’s Sona Golder about all things Brexit.

Additional Information

Gianpaolo’s website

Urban Democracy Lab

Brazil’s unraveling political institutions – article by Gianpaolo in Democracy Journal

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What is the role of social movements in Brazil?
  • Do you think Brazil will retreat from democracy under Bolsonaro?
  • What is the role of the military in Brazil?
  • How is Brazil politically involved with other Latin American countries?

Interview Highlights

[3:07] What is the history of democracy in Brazil?

Brazil, a very unequal country, has had this relatively short and checkered history with democracy. Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in the world. In 1964, Brazil had a military coup that lasted with a military regime that lasted until 1985. Social movements really played a very important role in the transition to democracy, but also in helping build the institutions of democracy. Brazil’s constitution of 1989 has some very progressive elements in it, has things about direct democracy, has gestures and participation municipalities, and have a lot of power.

[7:08] Where did social movements  in Brazil come from?

Social movements comes in the mid-1980s. There are urban movements, the movement for the right transport, the movement against poverty, student movements, a lot of movements to the progressive church, so kind of Liberation theology, we have movements very important of patients and users of the health system.

[10:38] Who is Jair Bolsonaro and why was he appealing?

People are going to be talking about the Bolsonaro phenomenon for a long time. He’s been a politician for a long time and he’s mostly known for shocking statements. He’s been a guy who likes to say provocative things about rape, about affirmative action, and sort of anti-political correctness. His platform is law and order, it’s about God, it’s against political correctness, and it’s pro-business. He definitely has the elite support in Brazil, but because Brazil is an unequal country, that won’t go very far.

[16:18] Why is Bolsonaro compared to Donald Trump?

There are definitely similarities between Trump’s Make America Great Again rhetoric and some of Bolsonaro’s language. They’re both populists and have both been involved in scandals, yet always seem to skate by and remain in power. Trump and Bolsonaro have also sought to undermine democratic institutions. However, the institutions in Brazil were weaker to begin with because democracy does not have the long history there that it does in the U.S.

[19:05] Can you give us some examples of how institutions in Brazil are weaker?

The judicial system, the courts begun to play a very openly political role. The Minister of Justice was the judge and prosecutor over Lula, the former president of Brazil, who’s currently under arrest and during the process of the prosecution investigation. This judge was very openly partisan in social media and releasing things and it has given people the sense that the law is just something that you use. One of the things that has happened because of Bolsonaro being elected is that people has a free license to commit hate crimes. The only openly gay member of Brazilian Congress has had to flee the country.

[23:02] Did misinformation play a role in Bolsonaro’s election?

Yes. Social media and fake news were a huge part of the election. In particular, a WhatsApp investigation a few days before the election itself revealed that foreign money and industrialists had paid for all these bots to repeat these fake news.

[24:49] How is Bolsonaro playing throughout the rest of Latin America?

The balance of the continent has definitely shifted. All eyes are in Venezuela right now and early on in his campaign. Bolsonaro said he would be for a military intervention and I don’t think that’s actually going to happen, but Bolsonaro’s election does feel like the region has definitely turn right and turned authoritarian in a very real way.

[28:44] Social movements have risen up before in Brazil. Do you see the same thing happening again now or in the future?

Yes! In the weeks before the election as it look like Bolsonaro was really going to win, people came together in a way that hadn’t really been seen in a long time in Brazil.

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Mar 04, 2019
Yellow vests and the “grand debate” in France
00:37:21

Cole StanglerCole Stangler

This episode is the second in our series looking at democracy around the world. France is the focus this week. Our guest is Cole Stangler, an independent journalist based in Paris who covers French politics.

The yellow vest movement, named for the safety vests that all drivers are required to carry in their cars, began in late 2018 over rising gas prices. The movement succeeded in having the gas tax repealed, but the protestors still took to the streets around the country every weekend. Why? Like a lot of social movements, it’s complicated.

Cole has been on the ground covering the movement and joins to discuss its origins, the reaction from President Emmanuel Macron, and where things might go from here.

Next week, we’ll focus on Brazil for a discussion about the appeal of Jair Bolsonaro, who has been called Brazil’s Donald Trump.

Additional Information

Cole’s website

Interview with Cole about French politics on the Commonweal podcast

Story from The Atlantic on the “Grand Debate”

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you think will be the future of the yellow vest movement?
  • Will the “grand debate” be effective?
  • What are some of the challenges associated with large-scale movements like this one?
  • How can the movement overcome those challenges?

Interview Highlights

[5:03] How did the debate from Yellow Vest Movement in France come about? And what is President Macron looking to accomplish by doing it?

This great national debate was rolled out as one of many concessions that was designed for the yellow vest protest movement. In addition to the government canceling the fuel tax, in response to these mass protests the government also increased a state wage subsidy and some other more modest measures. One of the big measures they design here to deal with that is to meet with Mayors. The government is going to take into account the results of what they’re hearing from from citizens and what they’re hearing from Mayors.

[6:39] France has very high voter turnout levels. Do you think that that level of participation will carry over into this great debate?

I don’t think so. In general in France in terms of elections participation is much higher than in United States and over 70 percent was a big deal last year. People are worried about participation dropping below 70 percent, but it was still much higher than that in the United States.

[15:45]  What type of backgrounds do protesters have?

That’s the huge question because even in France people don’t know exactly who these people are coming from. They seem to be people that don’t have much background in politics. The profile seems to be people protesting core economic issues. People think they are being taxed too much, they think the government is treating them unfairly and being overly generous to the rich and not to themselves.

[22:09] Is there any consensus among protesters about what some solutions to these issues might be?

No, but the citizen referendum seems to be the clearest actual coherent demand. In terms of actual coherent demands it remains very vague.

[27:32] Where do things go from here for the movement?

It depends a lot on what city you’re in and what town you’re in because this moment varies a lot from place to place. I suspect when the weather gets nicer you could have more people coming. In France, historically students have played a pretty integral part in protests or partisan moments and we’ve seen unrest from students for a variety of reasons. One key issue among others is the government trying to hike tuition fees. I think it’s kind of silly to speculate about the movement because no one knows where this is going.

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Feb 25, 2019
Viktor Orbán’s “velvet repression” in Hungary
00:41:40
John Shattuck

This episode begins a four-part series examining the state of democracy around the world. First up is Hungary, a country that’s often referred to in a group of countries in central and Eastern Europe that are seeing authoritarian leaders rise to power. You might have heard of Viktor Orbán or know that the country is in some way associated with George Soros, but beyond that, it’s not a place many of us spend a lot of time thinking about.

We could not have found a better guest to help us make sense of what’s happening there. John Shattuck is the former President and Rector of Central European University, which Hungary’s Prime Minister recently forced out of the country. He is currently Professor of Practice in Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In this episode, John discusses Viktor Orbán’s rise to power, how he is waging war on democratic institutions, and what people in Hungary are doing to fight back.

Additional Information

How Viktor Orbán degraded Hungary’s weak democracy – John’s article in The Conversation

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What impact has Viktor Orbán has on democracy Hungary?
  • Is there anything that the rest of the world can do to constrain Orbán’s actions?
  • What does the future of democracy in Hungary looks like?
  • Do you notice any similarities between democratic erosion in Hungary and other countries?

Interview Highlights

[6:18] Can you start off by telling us a little bit about Hungary?

Hungary is a small country of about 9 million people in the middle of Europe. It’s been for centuries kind of prize for Invaders; Mongols, Turks,  Russians, Germans, Habsburgs and the Soviets. It was a strong economy during the Communist period for 40 years. It had a communist government dominated by the Soviet Union and was a member of the Warsaw Pact. It has almost no history of democracy. There have been many people coming in from outside who are mixed with Hungarians, but it’s also fairly monochromatic homogeneous that language of Hungarian is extremely difficult, spoken pretty much only by Hungarians, and are very few people outside of the country who speak it. In 1989, it emerged from the Soviet era the Communist era and became at least initially a democracy and a market economy. And it was performing quite well in the early days of the post-cold war within 15 years that had joined NATO and also became a member of the European Union.

[10:42] Who is Viktor Orbán?

Viktor Orbán is a Hungarian politician and was Hungary’s Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002. He did not have a very successful term as prime minister, he was fairly unpopular. He was a moderate at that point and when he was defeated at the polls in 2002, he moved sharply to the right because he began to realize that he had an opportunity to appeal to Hungarian nationalism and thereby increases popularity because the party of the right was rising in Hungary. He turned a country that had the beginnings of the democracy and was doing reasonably well democratically into an authoritarian state by using the levers of democracy, the institutions of democracy, by basically taking over the country and taking over its institutions taking control of the courts, the media, civil society, the legislature, and eliminating checks and balances.

[13:12] What were some of the tactics that Orbán used to can gain power or to assemble the power that he has now?

One big factor was the financial crisis of 2009, which hit Hungary harder than almost any other country in Eastern Europe. Other major factor was that after all, Hungary had no previous real experience with democracy. Another factor was the what the isolationist victim mentality aspect of Hungarian culture and society that has been present throughout the country’s history.

[15:55] Was there an element of nostalgia in Orbán tactics?

There was certainly an element of that. Hungary after World War I had been divided up, so many Hungarians were no longer inside Hungary and the country have been made much smaller by the peace process in World War One and the Hungarians never forgot that. They felt they had all these Hungarians living in what then became Serbia or Romania or even Germany and other places, but they felt were part of their country. They felt they were victimized by Germany because Germany ultimately let them down and Germany lost the war. All of these feelings were out there for Orbán to be able to pray upon as he began to move into his authoritarian mode.

[21:47] How is Viktor Orbán getting this power? And what is he doing with it?

He says he is building and illiberal democracy, but he claims that he is building a democracy and in some ways he has a legitimate claim to that in the sense that he has been elected now, he’s been elected twice actually, three times if you consider his earlier election. He’s using the major institution of democratic governance, which is an election to seize the path to take power legitimately. But then this is where the “illiberal” term that he uses comes in to eliminate what are the basic elements of liberal democracy and that is checks and balances, freedom of the media, independent judiciary, independent civil society, and a pluralist governing system instead.

[31:06] What does civil society look like our people in Hungary starting to fight back or push back against any of these actions?

There’s been a lot of coverage of what’s happened in Hungary by the international media, by the American media, and there’s some evidence to suggest that people in Hungary are starting to push back against government actions they don’t like. Orbán has been constantly attacking the higher education, which culminated in the closing of Central European University in Budapest. The University is now located in Vienna and some of the faculty and students from Hungary commute back and forth. It’s another example of the political and intellectual hegemony that is being exercised by this authoritarian regime.

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Feb 18, 2019
A brief history of “people power”
00:40:38
James Miller

In his book Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World, James Miller encapsulates 2500 years of democracy history into about 250 pages — making the case that “people power” will always need to be at the heart of any successful democracy.

James is a professor of politics and liberal studies at the New School for Social Research. in New York City. He is the author of Examined Lives: From Socrates to NietzscheFlowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947–1977, and Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago. He was recommended to us by Astra Taylor, and you’ll hear some similarities between how James and Astra view democracy and our role within it.

Starting next week, we’ll be expanding our focus to look at the state of democracy around the world, starting with Hungary. We’ve talked in broad strokes about how democracy is on the decline outside the United States and are excited to dive into what’s happening in a few specific countries.

Additional Information

Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you make of the notion that democracy is “people power?”
  • Based on the definition James provides, is the United States a democracy?
  • What are the origins of democracy?
  • Where do the ideas of democracy comes from?
  • What can affect democracy or democratic processes?

Interview Highlights

[4:50] In your book you talk about the ideal of democracy survives. What that ideal is and where it comes from?

The term democracy comes from ancient Greek and it’s not just cuddly abstract power. It really connotes people who have weapons in their hands and you have to respond to them. A literal translation of the word democracy in the English would be “people power.”

[8:34] What can history tell us about trying to marry this the ideal of democracy with what what it ends up being in practice?

It’s very misleading to try to draw direct lessons from history because so much in politics is situational. It depends on the context, on the culture, on the level of development of the people or a group that’s trying to become self governing. In the modern period the democracy is an idea and as an ideology, it’s inherently unstable because there’s a core ambiguity about to what extent it can be realized in practice and there’s a further ambiguity and that it’s proven to be a very powerful legitimating mechanism as an ideologies, and you end up with regimes that talk about democracy but don’t for a nanosecond really mean it and the cases of communist countries like North Korea and China are to most Americans self-evident.

[14:22] Where did the French get their ideas about democracy?

They obtained some ideas from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who grows out of a modern Republican tradition and ends up backing into a kind of support for democracy. There is an American version of democracy that does appear in the course of the 19th century and it develops on a different path than democracy in Europe and yet in the United States think we invented democracy. So the one of the more weird facets of the story of modern democracy is America preening itself on being the birthplace of modern democracy, which is false and being a place where the great protector of democracy which we’ve used repeatedly in the 20th and 21st century as a rationale for imposing by gunfire democratic ideals on foreign countries.

[18:40] Can you talk a little bit about what the people’s party and the people’s constitution in Rhode Island look like?

At the time of the Revolution after the Declaration of Independence most of the states, the colonies, drafted their own constitutions, but during this whole ferment Rhode Island basically just ratified as Colonial Charter and kept it in. A convention was declared and there’s a draft of the new Constitution which of course by the rules of the state legislature in Rhode Island was illegal. It ends up a short of the Civil War.

[22:11] In the 20th century, public opinion polls enter the picture. How did they impact perceptions of democracy?

The conception that allows that to happen is the notion that democracy is ruled by public opinion, and this is proposed as a definition of modern democracy by Woodrow Wilson in writings before he became president of the United States. This nascent science of the monitoring of public opinion takes root in the United States. First of all in commercial applications through market research, but very quickly spreads to politics and emerges as a kind of practices in the 20s and into the 1930s. Finally, in the 1936 presidential campaign for the first time you have newspapers and magazines printing public opinion polls on who supports the different presidential candidates for the first time in history. Is that public opinion polling? It’s a two-way street. You can find out what people think they want and then you can try to manipulate it and you can manipulate it in part by the questions you ask.

[27:29] Knowing what you do about democracy’s history, where do things go from here?

The vitality of democracy in a modern setting, in effect, depends on the continued irruption into the public sphere of the voices of ordinary citizens and that this eruption of voices will often be unruly and may even create chaos. That’s the nature of democratic revolts. I have no sympathy for people who keep denouncing what they call populism which to me just means it’s people power that they don’t like. It’s a group of people who are advocating policies they disagree with.

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Feb 11, 2019
The power of local government
00:42:38
Peter Buckland

No matter where you live, chances are that your local government is filled with things like feasibility studies, property tax assessments, and endless meetings governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s difficult to keep track of, but yet could fundamentally impact your day-to-day life in ways that few state or national-level decisions do. This week’s guest says that citizens and the governments themselves have a role to play in changing the conversation.

Peter Buckland is the Chair of the Board of Supervisors in Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania. You’ll hear him describe the area and the structure in the interview, but really Ferguson Township could be just about any municipality in America. He outlines three ways that citizens and local government can work together to create more informed and more vibrant democracy at the local level:

  1. Citizens should pay attention to meeting agendas.
  2. Municipalities should use a variety of communication tools to let constituents know what’s happening.
  3. Everyone should support local media so it can do its job of reporting on local government.

All of the small places add up and Peter shows how local governments working together can have a big change on national or global issues. Peter lead an effort to adopt a resolution calling for carbon neutrality in Ferguson Township by 2050. It’s easy for a cynic to say that one municipality of 20,000 people can’t change anything, but as you’ll hear, the idea is already starting to catch on.

Additional Information

Peter’s op-ed in the Washington Post about Ferguson Township’s carbon neutrality resolution

Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania

Two local government podcasts we enjoy: GovLove and Building Local Power

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What is the importance of the local government?
  • Why people would be aware of what’s happening in their local government?
  • Which are the challenges local governments face?
  • How are local governments related to democracy?
  • What can people do to be more involved in local government decision making?

Interview Highlights

[5:22] Can you tell us who you represent and your municipality fits into the larger structure of state government?

I serve as the chair of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors and we represent the roughly nineteen to twenty thousand people who live in about 50 square miles west of State College Borough.

[9:07]How does being an elected official differ from what you thought it would be as an outsider?

Before I ran, I underestimated the slowness and the deliberate transparency. When you’re running, you are excited and you think these people are trying to get something over on me. I could have actually gotten more information than I had before I ran.

[11:19] What are some strategies for how people can find out what their local governments up to?

On the citizen side, the agenda of a meeting it is public. It is easy to access I would guess pretty much anywhere in the Commonwealth. So getting those and simply looking through what’s on the agenda, you can see what they’re working on and the stuff that affects your daily life.

[13:42] What can local governments to do connect with their constituents?

Something that we do on the township or the municipal side is that every couple of months we do a coffee and conversation. We’re in different parts of the township. We invite citizens to simply come and talk with people who work at Ferguson Township, and we also invite State officials to come, like the local Representatives because they represent to the state.

[17:16] What pressures do local governments face?

One of the things that happens at all levels of government is that people are trying to make money no matter what they’re doing. In a way developers can practically capture a department with bags of money, they have a lot that they can do and can overwhelm a local government like that.

[20:17] What can local governments do to try to get issues out in front of people before action is taken on them at a meeting?

There are three possible strategies. First, individuals should pay attention to agendas. Second, the township or city or whoever should very deliberately let people know what’s coming do as much as they can to publicize and be transparent about pending decisions.And the third thing is that local media in this country is not doing what it needs to do.

[23:37] What Ferguson Township is done regarding climate change?

I took a resolution that Don Brown had authored and I had quasi co-authored and I adapted it for our Township couching it in terms of Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which is the green amendments. I said we need to have a net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050. We’re also working on a solar-powered public works building.

[26:59] It’s easy for for a cynic to say that one small township can’t make a meaningful impact. Does it really matter?

It matters hugely. If you can assist in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of all of the individual people within your municipality, that’s good, and if you have 500 of those places doing that, you have 500 times 20,000 what you end up with a million people.

[28:33] Did it take any convincing to get your fellow supervisors on board with this idea?

That resolution passed four to one. The lone dissenter is no longer on the board and I think she was ideologically just sort of opposed to it. The other three on the board were open to it. I think one of them might have been a little bit hesitant about it simply because of the potential ideological backlash that we might get.

[29:58] How did you learn all of the information needed to make these informed decisions?

It’s a combination of having good training. The regional government trains you in all of the sort of different things that it does and makes these sort of lunch and learns available. When we came on the board the manager of the township. Did a sort of training session with us to take us through the Home Rule charter and that’s my learning zone.

[31:32] Why people should want to be part of their local government?

If you care about where you live and you want to improve the quality of life for yourself and your neighbors and you think that someone needs to do that, that person might be you. If you just think “someone has to do something about this,” that person very well might be you.

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Feb 04, 2019
Using the tools of democracy to address economic inequality
00:36:06

Democracy and inequality have been at odds for as long as democracy as has existed. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too does trust in political institutions and faith in democracy itself.

Chris Witko, associate director of Penn State’s School of Public Policy and author of The New Economic Populism: How States Respond to Economic Inequality, argues that states can step in to address economic inequality while the federal government is embattled in political polarization.

Witko argues that democracy and capitalism will never fully be reconciled, but lessening economic inequality will go a long way toward strengthening democracy.

Additional Information

The New Economic Populism: How States Respond to Economic Inequality

The Conversation: States are on the front lines of fighting inequality

Penn State School of Public Policy

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What is the relationship between democracy and economic inequality?
  • Whose responsibility is it to address inequality?
  • What policies should be taken in order to reduce inequality?
  • Do you think that individual states are doing enough to reduce inequality?
  • Do you think that multiple states adopting politics like minimum wage increases will spur federal action?

Interview Highlights

[6:02] Why are income inequality and democracy closely linked?

We are going to have some inequality in a capitalist system, but when we are in a democratic capitalist system that assumes some level of equality, there is a concern when you have extreme levels of extreme inequality.

[6:53] Talking about problems of Democracy in United States, do you agree with the statement that we can’t start to fix what is wrong with democracy until we address the issue of inequality?

Yes. When you see the extremes of wealth and inequality, you see that wealthy people can use their money for politics, so that generates an unequal political influence.

[7:50] Whose job to fix the problem of inequality?

In the United States we tend to think that the public is not concerned about inequality and that’s relatively true in comparison with Europe, but according to survey data, the public is really concerned about inequality and they want the government to do something to fix it.

[10:15] If public opinion really does supports action on inequality, why isn’t it moving forward?

The polarization is preventing anything getting done, and when you have big interests and the wealthy has gib influence in politics, that makes it really hard to get any chance of getting any egalitarian policy in Washington DC.

[13:09] How can we use the tools of democracy to fight inequality?

We do have in the states that we don’t have in Washington DC is direct democracy, in which desires from majority are expressed, but sometimes terrible policies can restrict rights from minorities.

[14:30] If a state want to take action either in minimum wage or thru the earning income tax, it is a tipping point to take action at the federal level?

Yes. We have seen it in the past. A lot os states has a higher income wage than the federal minimum wage an at this point it is natural that there’s not an opposition at the federal level because a lot of businesses are already adjusted to that level of income wage.

[15:17] What is the Earned Income tax Credit? How that it be a solution for that states that are looking to solve inequalities?

It’s a tax credit that comes back to workers who don’t earn a lot of money so you can actually end up getting cash back from the government when you file your tax return. That’s something that started at the federal level and then has proliferated down to the states and now the states are doing more to expand their earned income tax credits. It’s another policy tool that you can use in a more conservative area where maybe you don’t want to increase taxes on the wealthy, but you want to bring up the incomes of lower income workers.

[16:49] Can you talk about how populism fits into this inequality conversation?

The public is concerned about inequality and a lot of the policies that would actually address inequality or that we’ve used in the past to reduce inequality are actually really popular with the public. Minimum wage increases and tax increases on Millionaires and billionaires are very popular with the public. There are policies that a majority of the people want and we’re not really getting them in Washington DC due to the political dynamics there, but some of the states are actually doing this.

[17:44] What are those points in history that let large-scale changes, like the New Deal, to move forward?

What happened during the New Deal is a unique set of circumstances, you had a massive congressional majority of Democrats, Franklin Roosevelt’s terrible economy and people were ready for action, but we don’t want to have another Great Depression. With those political conditions we really did see the federal government pioneering new policies to address problems and we’re not seeing that because you have the the influence of the wealthy and politics in Washington DC, which is similar in some states but not as great in other states, so the states have more room for action and you have the mass of polarization in Washington DC which prevents anything from getting done.

[19:54] Can people try to do in their own way to make progress on some of these issues?

Voter turnout is really important to the types of policy. We need to do more to mobilize lower income voters, so any supporting organizations to make that happen is a good idea.

[20:59] Is there any type of ideal that we should be looking for?

No. I don’t think we can specify a mathematical point at which we’re good and within 2 percentage of points of this it’s bad, and that’s part of the danger of this situation. You never know when things have gotten too extreme. I don’t think many Americans would support everybody earning the same income or pure equality and that’s not going to happen, but just avoiding extremes of inequalities.

[23:11] How things like the Affordable Care Act and some of the other kind of more drastic proposals like Medicare for All are a factor?

The Affordable Care Act is interesting because it is one of the few real major egalitarians policies that we’ve seen enacted. There are some problems with how the ACA was designed. We’re seeing a similar logic where liberal states expanded medicaid right away, but even some of the more conservative states have done so through the particularly, through the initiative, but in some some cases not even through the initiative.

[24:36] Do you think that we can really do anything to move forward on addressing inequality without talking about the current state of campaign finance and the influence of money in politics?

Yes. Stricter campaign finance laws would probably be a good thing. The problem is right now the Supreme Court and a lot of state courts are really against regulating money in politics. The other thing we can do is to just try to increase money from other voices into the system.

 

 

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Jan 28, 2019
What is democracy? A conversation with Astra Taylor
00:37:59

We begin our third season with a fundamental question: What is democracy?

Astra Taylor grapples with this question in a documentary of the same name and a forthcoming book. We talk with her this week about what she learned from traveling the world and talking with people from all walks of life. As you’ll hear, she did not set out to make a documentary about democracy, but kept coming back to that question.

Taylor is a writer, documentarian, and organizer. In addition to What is Democracy?, her films include Zizek!, a feature documentary about the world’s most outrageous philosopher, and Examined Life, a series of excursions with contemporary thinkers including Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Cornel West, Peter Singer, and others.

A companion book, Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, was released May 7.

Her writing has appeared in The Nation, the London Review of Books, n+1, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and elsewhere. She is the editor of Examined Life, a companion volume to the film, and the coeditor of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America. Her 2015 book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, won an American Book Award.

Additional Information

What Is Democracy? 

Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss it When It’s Gone

The Debt Collective

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What does democracy mean to you?
  • Does it matter that people have different views of what democracy is?
  • What do you see as the relationship between equality and democracy?
  • How do you practice democracy in your day-to-day life?

Interview Highlights

[5:36] Why did you want to make a film about democracy? 

I kept coming back to democracy and I think for me the big takeaway of making this film and writing the companion book that goes with it is that I’ve actually become more of us, more democrat. It’s sort of inspired a deep conviction in the concept, in the practice, and things that bothered me about the term, it’s a vagueness? What does it mean? All sorts of people say that they believe in democracy. I mean North Korea uses the word “democratic,” but it is a vague use of the word.

There’s a sense that democracy was corrupted, that it was synonymous with bureaucracy so I would have been more attracted to words like freedom, equality and justice and even socialism, a revolution. Things are really changing, we are in a very different political moment. We are in a moment when people are feeling we are in a political crisis and democracy we had for granted is declining, and people’s reaction is “I better pay attention to this thing I was ignoring”.

[8:55] Did you see people’s perception of democracy change over the course of making film?

The last week of filming was the 2016 election. I filmed for a few days after Trump’s victory and you know like most people I was surprised. I think people became more concerned with democracy. They got more sort of panicked and yet, I think what’s interesting about the film and how it turned out in the editing room is actually the footage that I shot earlier was somehow more power it didn’t lose its relevance because so many problems existed and have existed for decades. The closer we got to the moment of crisis of the election. I found that people almost couldn’t think the interviews weren’t as good because people were just in the state of panic that was not very philosophical.

[11:57] Is it a problem that people don’t have a standard definition of what democracy is?

I think the fact people have different answers is a good thing, but I actually I didn’t find that people had answers that were particularly in depth, and actually nobody said democracy was equality to me. That was a word that I sort of expected to hear but it wasn’t something I encountered. So I found that when I really engage people started asking they could have quite interesting things to say about their lives and the political situation, but when I pose directly the question “what is democracy?” their answers could be kind of cursory or there could be platitudes and I think that’s a sign, a symptom that something is wrong. That people can’t really robustly or personally explain this concept that is supposedly so essential to our society. I don’t think democracy is something people really feel they experienced in today. And that’s part of why I think people have a hard time defining it.

[14:14] How does liberalism fit into the definition of democracy?

I think at different points there was a lot more about the rule of law and sort of thinking about because I sort of thought about different sort of tensions and democracy as I was going into it and sort of rule of law or the rule of the people rights with sort of and that it just didn’t end up being the most sort of compelling issues, so there is stuff about sort of structure. Nobody uses the word “norms” but there’s stuff about structure and rules will been throughout the film in sort of who writes the rules. Part of my attempt also was to raise sort of these fundamental issues, but in language, that’s not necessarily the typical academic or philosophical language because when regular people meaning just you know, we’re all regular people but meaning non-experts, meaning those of us who read and engage the scholarly literature. I mean people bring up these issues. They just don’t use the academic or philosophical or left-wing rhetoric. I think I feel like it’s sort of hinted at but it’s just in sort of common tongue.

[16:38] Do you have a sense of where the line between democracy and populism is?

I’m still thinking through the term populism because I think there’s also another word like liberalism and like democracy. There’s a huge literature around it and it’s up for debate and I think there’s a battle over different definitions of populism and there are attempts to claim populism on the left and the right. I think the right is making them a much more successful pitch. I’ve noticed actually a lot of conservative intellectuals actually calling themselves now populists and which is interesting. This idea of popular sovereignty is in the film.

[21:26] The film spends a lot of time looking at the relationship between inequality and democracy. Did you gain any understanding through the course of making this film about how we might address inequality?

I’m definitely of the mindset that you cannot have political equality, that people cannot enjoy the political rights that they have on paper under conditions of extreme inequality. So the question though how to rein in the engines that are producing these conditions and this immense concentration of wealth is a real challenge, so I think part of the film is and that’s the work I do as an activist.

[26:53] After doing all this work for the book and the film, what does democracy mean to you?

I think democracy is a promise going back to that. But I think it’s not a promise that the powerful make and then break right, they’re not doing our democracy for us. I really think it’s a promise that can only be fulfilled by the people. Taking the time and thinking, acting, and making it as real as it can be and I don’t think it can ever just be fulfilled. It’s not something that we ever just grasp and then we get to just relax and tweak on the margins. I really think it’s a perpetual struggle. We had our founding fathers, but I think we need to be perennial midwives birthing this democracy into being.

 

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Jan 21, 2019
Trump on Earth: The Red State Paradox
00:30:01

Trump on Earth logoWe’ll be back with new episodes starting next week. This week’s episode comes to you from our friends at Trump on Earth, a podcast that’s taking a closer look at all the changes coming out of Washington on the environment — from what’s happening at the EPA to how our public lands will fare under the Trump administration.

This episode features an interview with sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild about her book Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Rightwhich chronicles her time with conservatives in Louisiana. Hochschild found people there who had become sick from industrial pollution or lost their homes due to an industrial catastrophe yet were resentful of the federal government.

Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front, a public media outlet based in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. All of their episodes can be found at trumponearth.org.

Jan 14, 2019
It’s good to be counted [rebroadcast]
00:32:38

For this week’s rebroadcast, we revisit an episode on the U.S. Census that originally aired in May 2018. New episodes return January 21 when we talk with “What is Democracy?” director Astra Taylor.

Jennifer Van HookJennifer Van Hook

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.

The normally routine process has been disrupted this year by Trump administration, which is pushing for the reintroduction of a question about citizenship. As you may have heard, there’s a debate going on about whether this question is appropriate, and whether the resource-strapped Census Bureau will have time to implement it before 2020.

Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography at Penn State, served on the Census Advisory Board from 2007 to 2011 and is an expert on how census data is collected, how it’s evaluated, and how it’s used. She talks about the process for creating and testing new questions, the implications of asking about citizenship, and some of the ways you might not realize census data is used.

Additional Information

Jennifer’s piece about the Census in The Conversation

2020 Census website

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think it is necessary for a democracy to have this sort of information that the census gathers?
  • How often do you think the census should be performed?
  • Do you think the citizenship question should be added to the census? Why or why not?
  • If you could add a question to the census, what would it be?
  • Do you plan on participating in the 2020 census? Why or why not?

Interview Highlights

[6:06] What do you see as the role the census plays in a democracy?

Jennifer: It is fundamental for a representative democracy. The United States was actually the first nation in the world to require that a census be conducted. This was done because they wanted to distribute power according to population within the states. The number of representatives each state gets in the House is proportionate to the population. Therefore, the census is very important.

[7:28] In addition to determining representation in Washington, what are some of the other purposes of the census? 

Jennifer: One of the other uses is the civil rights legislation that has been passed since the 60’s. This helps tell us if certain groups are under represented. This information can show us if certain groups are being discrimintated against within society. The people conducting the census are expected to be non-partisan. Therefore, they collect the information while not saying anything about the data. They simply give it to the public because they want to stay out of the politics of this information.

[9:20] In the era of “fake news” and people being able to cherry pick their facts, how will the census be viewed and used going forward? 

Jennifer: The staff that conducts the census takes considerable measures to strip the data of any political leanings. One way this is done is by having multiple authors for all reports to prevent any one bias from impacting how data is reported. They also work in large teams with multiples checks for each bit of data collected.

[10:40] There are reports that the there is underfunding for the census. How will the organization continue to meet its standards with this funding issue? 

Jennifer: There is no set director of the census bureau. This lack of direction could cause a problem. One of the thing people have been worried about is the ability of the bureau to conduct out reach and inform people about the census. For example, many people don’t realize that the bureau can’t share its information with Ice. This is significant to share with immigrants who might fear participation in the census out of immigration police fears. This goes to the importance of building trust amongst the public to get them to participate.

[12:35] How does the bureau actually go about counting everyone in the country?

Jennifer: Everyone gets a postcard in the main informing them they have to participate. If you don’t respond to that, you might get follow up contact. This is the most expensive part of the process. If people don’t respond to the first contact, and they have to be contacted again, this is where the cost can really increase for the census process.

[13:25] How does the bureau use past experiences to improve the process? 

Jennnifer: They do but it takes a lot of time. They try to improve their operation. However, this is difficult given the size of the debarment. It is difficult to turn on a time and change the way they conduct their business. Any small change takes a lot of time.

[14:30] What goes into deciding on the wording of a question for the census? 

Jennifer: Every part of the question is tested. The introduction of a new question typically takes several years because of all the test to make sure people interpret the question correctly as intended. We also consider a question from the standpoint of its impact on people’s willingness to participate in the census in light of it. In terms of the citizenship question, this has become more of a hot button topic especially given the anti-immigrant rhetoric in society today. This means that the field test questions done in the past for this topic might have to be changed because we just don’t know how people will respond to it this time.

[16:37] Wilbur Ross has said that he thinks the benefit of the citizenship question will outweigh the potential risks of lower response rates. Do you agree with that? 

Jennifer: No, I don’t. I don’t think the bureau has shown that this question is really necessary. Typically, questions that make the census form have to be dictated by law as being necessary. So you can’t just add questions because you think they wont’ harm the utility of the census. Every question has to be there because it is required. There is another survey called the American Community Survey. They have been collecting citizenship information for years. This data has been used to enforce the voting rights act. I’m not aware of any problems with this survey being used to gather citizenship information.

[17:50] Can you talk about how this survey differs from the census survey? 

Jennifer: It is a much longer survey. The questions change from year to year. It is administered to roughly 3.5 million people every year. It provides more detailed information on an annual basis for the population. It provides us with more specific information even down to the county level.

[19:37] How is census information used to impact federal policy?

Jennifer: It is particularly useful when we need to know something about the populations health. One example would be looking at the changing life expectancy. This information wouldn’t be known without procedures like the census. It is the backbone of our federal statistical system.

[21:20] What would you say to someone about why they should participate in the census? 

Jennifer: It is good to be counted because we don’t know about our population unless we measure it.

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Jan 07, 2019
When states sue the federal government [rebroadcast]
00:31:13

Our holiday break continues this week as we bring you an episode with with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that originally aired in October. Happy New Year!

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.

Since taking office in January 2017, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been involved with more than a dozen suits brought against the federal government on matters ranging from family separation at the border to EPA emissions regulations. Though Shapiro is a Democrat, he says his chief motivation in joining these suits is the rule of law and a commitment to do what’s right for people of Pennsylvania.

Whether or not you agree with Shapiro’s politics, he does present an interesting take on the role that states play as a check on the federal government. This power is a unique part of the American experiment and speaks to the power of democracy in the states.

Before the interview, Chris and Michael dive into the origins of federalism, including Federalist 51, the 10th Amendment, and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Additional Information

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General

Federalist 51

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you think should be the balance between the states and federal government in terms of power?
  • Do you think states should be active in legal action against the federal government?
  • Do you think that state attorneys general are becoming too political?
  • Do you see state as a shield to protect a state’s residents against federal overreach?

Interview Highlights

[5:12] When you took this office, did you expect yourself to be this active on federal issues?

Shapiro: I said when I was sworn in that if someone was going to try to mess with Pennsylvania that they would have to go through me. I see the constitution as giving the states broad authority. States rights isn’t something progressives have pointed to, but it is something I value. If someone in the federal system is doing something to undermine our rights, I’m going to stand up to take action.

[6:32] How do one of these suits against the federal government get started?

Shapiro: The first question is whether the action comports with the rule of law. I put aside what I agree or disagree with personally and instead focus on the law. Once we deem that an illegal action has been taken, be think about what is the best way to file an action to challenge that activity. We discuss whether or not Pennsylvania should be the lead state. There are sometimes strategic reasons why we file a suit in a particular state. What we are not doing is constructing opposition to the president just for the sake of opposing him. What we are doing is organizing ourselves around the rule of law.

[8:43] What issues or possible suits have you turned down?

Shapiro: We’ve been involved in about fifteen cases since taking office. I’m very careful about what we engage in on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania. Again, it is not my job just to weigh in whenever I personally disagree with the president. It is my job to weigh in when the rule of law is being threatened.

[9:31] What is the timeline for one of these cases?

Shapiro: I spend the majority of my time going around to differnt places listening to people. I think I have a good feel for where the people of the state are. I don’t poll test these issues. Instead, I try to do what is right and what adheres to the rule of law.

[10:36] Under Obama, we saw a lot of states file suits against the federal government much like what is happening now with Trump in office. Do you think this goes to the partisan nature of government?

Shapiro: I would actually push back on that a little. Most of what I do is bipartisan. It’s just that the media usually doesn’t report that. The vast majority of the actions we take are really bipartisan.

[12:34] President Trump has stated that he thinks the attorney general office should be more of a political one. What are your thoughts on that?

Shapiro: We are above politics in this office. I’m a proud Democrat. People know I have progressive leanings. They knew that when they elected me. However, we check our political views at the door everyday when we come into the office. If you look at our track record, we’ve held democrats and republicans accountable. We do our job in a way that the people of the state can be proud that the justice system is fair. We are diverse in both appearance and thought.

[15:23] What does the term “rule of law” mean to you?

Shapiro: It is the very foundation of everything that I do. It helps you be above politics. My job is to understand the law, apply the facts and evidence, then make a decision in the best interest of the people of Pennsylvania.

Shapiro: The tenth amendment makes it really clear that states have a role to play in our democracy. I believe that if the federal government is making an overreach into our state business, then I’m going to be a shield to guard against that. However, states have also at times been the thing infringing upon rights. However, more often than not, they are expanding rights. The fight for marriage is a perfect example of that. Justice Brandies spoke eloquently about states being the laboratories for democracy. That still holds true today. States need to be a shield against overreach and a sword in promoting the rights of their citizens.

Dec 31, 2018
Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom [rebroadcast]
00:35:10

While we take a holiday break, we are going back into the archives to rebroadcast a few of our favorite episodes from earlier this year. This one originally aired in September.

Mark KisslingMark Kissling

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.

The term most often used to describe this is civics education, which probably brings back memories of learning about the branches of government how a bill becomes a law. As you’ll hear this week, true civics education is about so much more than that. In in a polarized political climate, are teachers afraid to engage controversial subjects? How should they address things like citizenship and patriotism? How do they have time to engage in these wide-ranging discussions given the constraints they face to prepare students for standardized tests? Mark Kissing helps budding teachers find their way — strengthening their commitments to democracy so they can pass that spirit along to their students.

Mark is an assistant professor of social studies education at Penn State. His work focuses on citizenship education, or the practice of preparing civic-minded individuals. We’ve recently seen the importance of civics education play out in the months since the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Our look at Generation Z and the future of democracy earlier this year is worth revisiting as proof that what Mark and his colleagues are teaching is having an impact.

Recommended Reading

Mark’s post about the National Anthem ritual on the McCourtney Institute blog

Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy: Yoni Appelbaum in The Atlantic

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What was your civics education like? Does anything you learned still stick with you today?
  • What role should the formal education system play in creating civically engaged and aware young people?
  • How should teachers and the field of education in general react to concepts such as “fake news” and alternative facts?
  • When a significant current event happens, should teachers and professors take time away from the structured curriculum to address it?
  • Given the access that students have to information outside of the classroom, how should a teacher handle a student who brings in a theory or an idea into the classroom from the internet?
  • What role should parents have in deciding how controversial subjects are addressed in the classroom?
  • People often complain today about the state of political rhetoric. What if anything can be done within K-12 education to help change this for the future generations?

Interview Highlights

[4:34] What do you think an education in civics looks like?

Mark: In school, social studies usually has a civics education built into it. This fusion came about in the early 20th century. I tend to think about it in terms of teaching about a civic society and what it means to be a participatory citizen. It does include the basic stuff about how government works. However, I think it also entails an introduction to how citizens interact with that government in a democratic system.

[6:12] What does the idea of citizenship education actually look like in the classroom?

Mark: For me, I think it involves looking at where teachers and students are in terms of their own lives, such as where they’ve been and the circumstances of the places they live. Then consider what participation with society looks like in these areas under theses circumstances. That is then pulling in history and other factors. Importantly, this is place based education.

[7:08] As a social studies teacher yourself, how did you approach this in your classroom?

Mark: One of the courses I taught was a street law course. I taught the class in Framingtown Massachusetts, which was the largest town in America at the time. Therefore, most of our issues were centered around local town government. I think this focus on place occurred naturally at this time. However, I’m more continuously aware of place today.

[8:45] Today, the political climate is very polarized. We also have concepts such as “fake news” and “alternative facts”. How do you prepare teachers to address and handle these issues with their students?

Mark: How one would address that in their class would be molded by where that course is physically. For example, these issues would be handled differently between a rural school as compared to a more urban located school.

[9:40] Do you find that your students are receptive to this notion of place?

Mark: They are immediately receptive to it. However, their broader schooling experiences don’t lead them towards being receptive to it. There is a really big gap between the lived experience of a particular area and the curriculum students are provided with. One of my missions it to ground social studies in the context of the experience of where the students in a particular school actually live.

[10:45] How do you balance providing students both local and national awareness in a field like social studies?

Mark: It would be a mistake to focus only on the local issue and ignore the broader national and global context. However, it’s typically the other way around in that were focusing on the national or global perspective and ignoring the local perspective. I certainly think there is a need to traverse across those scales. For example, when talking about something like patriotism, we should talk about what it means both in the context of protests around the world as well as local instances such as the national anthem issue at the local Spikes game.

[12:00] Do you think teachers should sort of play the role of a journalist in that they stick to the facts and keep any personal opinions out of their lessons?

Mark: I think there is an expectation of that. Also, they’ve been schooled that way. I actually had an instances recently with a group of soon to be teachers following the events in Charlottesville. I asked them how they’d be handling this situation in their own classrooms. Most of them said that they wouldn’t address the issue at all. Part of this game from a fear of lack of information as to what was happening. There is also a political charge to it that teachers often feel worried about taking on in front of their classes. However, if we want to take on schooling as a community based effort, we have to be willing to engage with students on these difficult current event issues. We have to have conversations across these divides.

[14:35] What is your advice to those teachers who said they wouldn’t address this issue with their own classroom?

Mark: My comment is that you are taking it up by not addressing it up or pushing it to the side. Any statement, including the lack of a statement, is a message that you send to students. In the absence of a class discussion about Charlottesville, you’re being socialized not to talk about difficult issues like that. That’s troubling. We need to also consider treating the classroom as a place where students can engage, often for the first time, in difficult dialogue on challenging issues, such as what took place in Charlottesville.

[17:00] How do you balance dialogue on current events with the increased focus on “teaching to the test”?

Mark: It is a little different in social studies as compared to other subject areas because this field isn’t tested nearly to the degree of other topics. I do think standardizing education is important. I work with teachers to find the balance between engaging students on controversial current events while also ensuring that they’re prepared for these standardized assessments.

[19:30] Everyone is familiar with the image of the angry parent beating down the door after a controversial topic is address in a class. How do you prepare future teachers to handle something like that?

Mark: I think it is important to listen and understand what the parent is saying. It is important to build your justification for how you structure your classroom and properly present this to the parents. It can be a slow and brutal process. However, I think it can be a very productive exercise.

[20:50] In light of the events at Parkland, have you seen a change amongst your students in terms of an increase interest in taking on some of these more controversial civic topics?

Mark: I think the civic engagement of the Parkland students themselves will have a big impact on my students. I think this is something I’ll see reflected in them this coming semester. I also think that my students have some sense of fear of living in a school on lock down. There is also the teacher side of this. How does a teacher handle teaching in an environment where being on lockdown is becoming more of a norm?

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Dec 24, 2018
2018: The year in democracy
00:38:42

Michael Berkman

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.

Chris Beem

Thank you to everyone who supported Democracy Works this year. The show has been more successful than we ever imagined. If you like what you’ve heard this year, please take a minute to leave us a rating, review, or recommendation wherever you listen to podcasts.

We are excited to bring you more great discussions about all things democracy in 2019. New episodes will begin in mid-January. If you have suggestions for episode topics or guests, we would love to hear them! Email us at democracyinst@psu.edu or complete our contact form.

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Dec 17, 2018
The complicated relationship between campaign finance and democracy
00:33:55

Caroline HunterCaroline Hunter

In the United States, voting is a very private act. You step into the booth alone and, for a lot of people, it’s considered taboo to tell someone who you voted for. Campaign donations, however, are a different story.

The Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory agency established after Watergate, collects donor infomration from candidates, makes it available to the public, and enforces federal campaign finance laws. Anyone can go online and look up records to see who gave money to a particular candidate — to a point, anyway.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that political spending was protected under the First Amendment. The decision opened the door to “dark money” groups that allow corporations and other organizations to give to a Political Action Committee (PAC) that in turn backs a candidate. Much of this spending is not publicly disclosed and it added up to more than $500 million in the 2018 midterms.

FEC Chair Caroline Hunter joins us this week to explore the relationship between campaign finance and democracy. Hunter has been on the commission since 2008 and has seen the impact of the Citizens United ruling firsthand. She makes an interesting connection between PACs and political polarization — and how it all ties back to democratic participation.

Caroline is a Penn State alumna and, prior to joining the FEC, she worked for the Republican National Committee. The FEC is a bipartisan commission with three Republicans and three Democrats, though two positions are currently vacant. Caroline talks about how that bipartisan nature might expand to other parts of the government and who reads FEC filings.

Additional Information

Federal Election Commission website

Citizens United v. FEC

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What impact do you think the Citizens United ruling had on campaigns in America?
  • Should people be able to donate to a particular issue group without their names being made public?
  • Would the public sharing of donors names prevent you from giving to a particular campaign?
  • Are you worried about “dark money?”
  • What changes, if any, would you like to see made to campaign finance regulation?

Interview Highlights

What is the mission of the FEC?

Hunter: Many think that the Federal Election Commission has control over election administration, which it does not. State elections are run by state and local governments.

What does the day to day work of the commission look like?

Hunter: It receives many complaints from the public about things people see in campaigns around they country. When we see a case that seems to have merit, we’ll investigate and come to a determination as to whether or not campaign laws were violated. This is really the bulk of our work.

What sorts of things do you tend to see in these complaints?

Hunter: There are trends in each cycle. Two cycles ago we got a lot of complaints regarding presidential hopefuls who weren’t properly reporting their campaign fundraising. We’re still actually working through some of those now.

What is the time frame from the filing of a complaint to an official ruling from the commission?

Hunter: There is a statutory 60 day deadline to get the investigation conclusion back to the public. If it’s a matter relating to a campaign, we have to provide result within 30 days. The enforcement division takes more time. It can take up to several years. This time spans is due to due process protections afforded the accused. This can included responses from the accused and additional investigations. These investigations can take a good period of times.

In some of the longer investigations, it could be the case that a candidate has already won the race. How does this factor in to eventually punishing someone who violated campaign laws?

Hunter: It’s difficult to come to a conclusion on a complaint before the end of the race because so many are made right before the end of the election. Therefore, many times the race will have ended before we come to a conclusion on a particular complaint.

There are currently open seats on the commission. How does this vacancy impact the work that you do?

Hunter: The commission has three members of each party. For anything to happen, you must receive court votes from these six people. This means the decision has to be bipartisan. I thin this is good because it prevents one party from taking over the commission. It is something the federal government should consider doing in other parts of the government. Most of our decisions actually come to a bipartisan result. Only rarely do we see a three to three split.

How has your work changed since the Citizens United ruling?

Hunter: That ruling and others have enabled more people to become involved in politics. The citizens ruling enabled corporations to engage more by running commercials for or against candidates. When people think of a corporation, they often imagine a massive company like Starbucks. However, included under the title of corporations are interest groups and grass roots movements that are often coded under the tax law as corporations. I think this is a good thing for democracy. While they are limited as to what they can do, they are now able to engage more in the political process.

Do you worry that some campaigns are becoming too large to effectively regulate?

Hunter: There certainly has been an increase in the amount of money raised. However, I don’t think this is necessarily a problem. Much of this money is raised from individual donors through the campaigns website. You could look at this as increased democratic participation. However, one concern that many have is that these groups will get so large that they won’t really be impacted by the fines that we may place upon them.

The commission is about 40 years old. Do you think it has kept with the world around it?

Hunter: I think we have. Our mission of highlighting who is donating to federal elections has not changed and we’re still effectively accomplishing that. When you talk to people from other countries, they’re amazed at our systems and what we’re able to do

Is there an organization similar to the FEC that follows complains about voter suppression and voter fraud?

Hunter: There is sort of a group that does that work. It is called the Election Assistance Commission. It doesn’t have a lot of power. It is still really run by the state governments. I think it actually makes sense to keep this policing power at the state level rather than have the federal government get involved with policing state elections.

A term we hear a lot is “dark money.” Can you explain what it is and how it relates to the FEC?

Hunter: After Citizens United, people were concerned that there would be basically unregulated money flowing into campaigns. However, every dollar that goes into super packs is registered with us. Also, corporations have to report all political spending they engage in within two days of doing so. Your “dark money” is coming from 501c(4) groups. They’re able to spend politically where as they weren’t able to before this court ruling. Again, I think this is good for democracy because it enables greater participation in the political process. The reason these donations are referred to as “dark money” is because the identification of donors to these groups is not reported to the commission. The reason for this is that they’re not political committees. They are referred to as issue advocacy groups, like the NRA or the Sierra Club. Groups like this are seen as not existing primarily for the purpose of political activity. This is actually the topic of serious debate within the commission.

Could this be the future of political donations?

Hunter: I think it could. One reason is that people would like to donate to a particular cause without facing public harassment. There is a wave of hostility right now from a particular side of the isle where there is blowback on someone if they give to a certain organization.

Do you have any interaction with members of Congress?

Hunter: In my experience, those in Congress are not very interested in talking about campaign finance law. This is largely due to the fact that we regulate all of their campaigns.

Do you think that relationship has an impact on democracy?

Hunter: While I don’t think it necessarily impacts democracy, I think it would be useful to have the two sides be in closer communication.

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Dec 10, 2018
Bonus: Capturing the nation’s mood
00:28:06

Eric PlutzerEric Plutzer

We end almost every episode of the show with four questions that come from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll. Rather than simply addressing people agree  agree or disagree with a particular point of view, the poll uses open-ended responses to understand why people feel the way they do. Every poll asks respondents to describe in their own words what makes them angry, proud, worried, and hopeful about politics and current events.

We interview a lot of smart people on this show and it’s not surprising the they have interesting and thought-provoking responses to these questionsl. We revisit some of those responses in this episode and hear from Eric Plutzer, the poll’s director, about how what our guests say matches up with what everyday citizens say in the poll.

Responses in this episode

Anger

[2:30] Rebecca Kreitzer, University of North Carolina

[5:02] Brad Vivian, Penn State

Pride

[8:14] Forrest Briscoe, Penn State

[10:19] David Frum, The Atlantic

Worry

[13:42] Robert Asen, the University of Wisconsin

[16:24] Lara Putnam, the University of Pittsburgh

Hope

[20:10] Sophia McClennen, Penn State

[20:43] Michael Mann, Penn State

Additional Information

Mood of the Nation Poll

Dec 06, 2018
Are land-grant universities still “democracy’s colleges?”
00:32:02
Penn State Provost Nick Jones

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.

Penn State, Pennsylvania’s land-grant university, is the home of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and this podcast. We invited Nick Jones, the University’s Executive Vice President and Provost, to join us this week for a conversations about the tension between staying true to the land-grant mission and ensuring that the university remains financially stable as funding from the state remains flat or declines.

We also talk about the the skills needed to be good democratic citizens and the skills needed to obtain a high-paying job — and why land-grant universities in particular must pay attention to both.

Recommended Reading

Chronicle of Higher Education article on the role of universities in a democracy 

Land-Grant Universities for the Future

Land-grant universities as “democracy’s colleges”

Why doesn’t the United States have a national university? 

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as a university’s key responsibilities?
  • How do you think the role of university has changed over time?
  • Do you think schools have done a good job making their case as to the importance of higher education?
  • What do you think is contributing to the trend of many seeing higher education as being less valuable than it once was?
  • Do you fear that universities will be poisoned by the level of political polarization that we’ve seen take hold of so many institutions over the last few years?
  • How can universities address the problems pointed to in the last two questions?
  • If you are either a current student or a college graduate, do you think you’re getting a good return on your investment?

Interview Highlights

Land grant universities have often been referred to as ‘schools for the people’ in the sense that they’re accessible to the pubic. To what extent do you think this label still applies to such institutions?

Nick: I absolutely believe that view of land grant institutions still applies. One of the key tenants of a democracy is an educated and informed citizenry. Our mission here is to ensure that we’re helping to produce that educated citizenry to enable democracy to function.

Penn State manages many things that don’t directly relate to education, such as arenas and medical facilities. How does this tie into its mission as a land grant institution?

Nick: The service duties of institutions like Penn State have changed since their founding as land grant institutions. Today, in 2018, providing medical services is seen as one of these duties of an institution like Penn State. Doing things like managing concert venues goes to another part of our mission which is to expose those in the commonwealth to the arts.

What goes into the process of deciding to increase the offerings of Penn State?

Nick: First and foremost, I think it is critical that we always stay focused on our mission as a university. It truly is the case that all of my decisions are made through the lens of the mission statement of Penn State. Whenever a new project or opportunity is presented to us, we always ask ourselves whether this is vital to our mission as a land grant university. If the answer is yes, we do it. If the answer is no, we don’t.

How do changes in funding from the state impact your decision making process?

Nick: When this process first began of the state reducing their level of financial support, it was ok because tuition costs for families was still relatively low. However, as support has continued to decline, the burden on students and their families has continued to creep up. This increased burden occupies a lot of our time. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to ensure that a valuable Penn State education remains accessible to all types of people across the commonwealth from all walks of life.

Do you see a change amongst the students as to how they view a degree? For example, do they see it as simply a requirement for getting a job or as acquiring a tool to enable them to contribute to the public good?

Nick: We want to ensure that we’re preparing students for life as well as for a career. We are mindful of ensuring that an education from Penn State prepares them for both aspect of the future in a balanced way. We want students to be successful both in their personal career lives as well as in their lives as part of the community.

We’ve seen a trend as of late of devaluing the idea of a liberal education. In part due to a conflation of the idea of a liberal education as being a politically biased education. Do you see this trend as being a problem? How does the university address it?

Nick: We do hear that a lot. We firmly believe that creating students who can address issues analytically is really important. We fundamentally believe in the importance of an educated citizenry.

Do you worry that higher education is going to get caught up in the political  polarization that has crept into nearly every part of our lives?

Nick: We do worry about that a lot. We need to ask why this is happening as well as what we can do to address this. We also have to take ownership of our role in contributing to this problem. We need to again make the case that higher education is important to society and make a significant contribution in a democratic society. One example of a place where I think we have made progress in this regard is in the area of agriculture.

Dec 03, 2018
Norman Eisen’s love letter to democracy
00:34:14
Norman Eisen

As we’ve previously discussed, there are a lot of books about democracy filling book store and library shelves right now. Norman Eisen could have written a book in the vein of Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky’s How Democracies Die or David Frum’s Trumpocracy, but chose to go in a different direction.

In The Last Palace, he tells the story of the Petschek Palace, where he lived while serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. The palace and its residents sought to defend liberal democracy throughout both world wars and the Cold War. The book, which one review calls a “love letter to liberal democracy,” also shows the ways in which ambassadors do the hard work of democracy abroad.

Eisen describes the cycles of democracy that occurred as public support waxed and waned over the years. He says that we are now an inflection point that will determine support for liberal democracy moving forward. Ever the optimist, he’s confident that democracy will come through this seemingly dark period to triumph once again.

Eisen is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings and chair of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. Prior to becoming ambassador, he advised the Obama administration on ethics — a job that earned him the unofficial title “ethics czar.”

Additional Information

Norman Eisen’s book The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you think is the role of an ambassador?
  • What impact do you think corruption has on democracy?
  • Where do you see democracy being harmed by corruption around the world?
  • There have been claims that corruption is harming democracy here at home. Do you agree?
  • During the interview, Norman Eisen spoke to the ability of democracies to be strong and fight back against corruption. Do you think the United States is in a good position to be able to fight back against efforts to undermine our democracy both at home and abroad?
  • What do you make of the large number of vacant ambassadorships currently in America?

Interview Highlights

[5:20] What made you want to tell the story that you tell in your book The Last Palace?

Eisen: There were multiple objectives in wanting to tell this story. Before even arriving, I heard so many stories about the residence itself. I continued to collect such stories while I was there, and I thought these would be something people would like to hear. However, I also thought there was a larger story about democracy itself in this place over the last hundred years. I wanted to tell that story as well. So the book is really a story of five people, an amazing house, and the history of transatlantic democracy itself.

[6:00] There is a quote on the back of the book of a love letter to liberal democracy. Was that your intention with this book?

Eisen: I didn’t realize the story of democracy that would come out of the research of past ambassadors and the unique residence. By the time I finished the book, yes, I intended it to be a love letter.

[7:40] In your book you take about the ebb and flow of democracy over time. Where do you think we are at right now?

Eisen: We’re at an inflection point. There have been three great surges of democracy in the past century. One was the post-WWI boom that included the founding of the League of Nations. The second was after WWII when the modern security structure of NATO was established securing Western Europe. The third was the post-cold war era. We had hopes after this third boom of greater growth of democracy into Eastern Europe and maybe Russia itself. However, unlike following WWII, we didn’t create anything like the Marshal plan to ensure growth of democracy into these new territories. Also, the United States looked away. One of the key stories of this century is when the United States looks away, trouble brews. That is where we are now with Putins rule and his partner Donald Trump.

[10:02] Your book tells the stories of ambassadors who have lived in the Petscheck Palace. What lessons can we take from their stories?

Eisen: One story is that democracy has endured in the face of much greater challenges than we face today. However, another important takeaway is that we can’t assume this will happen on its own. Over the last hundred years, it makes all the difference when the friends of democracy fight for democracy. We need to continue to fight that good fight if we want democracy to succeed.

[11:40] Has our ability to fight for democracy become weaker than that of past generations?

Eisen: In the initial days of the Trumps administration, those same tools of social media which he utilized to win office served as a vehicle to bring people together. Hopefully, these tools will lead to greater oversight of the president with the new Congress. Our polarization is no worse now than it was following the Civil War.

[14:00] We currently have many ambassador positions that are not filled. What impact does that have on the role of promoting democracy that ambassadors do?

Eisen: The fact that this administration has failed to at least nominate people for some of the most important ambassadorships does lead to a democracy deficit. It is incredibly important to have some sort of head executive, confirmed by the Senate, who can work on the behalf of our values and democracy in a foreign capital city. They are there to speak up for our Wilsonian post 1918 idea of western values. Having an ambassador established in a foreign nation enables us to work with civil organizations to promote all of the core tenants of a democratic society.

[16:00] What is the relationship you see between authoritarianism and corruption? How does that impact democracy?

Eisen: It is a problem that authoritarians, including our own president, always see it as part of their initiative to get control of the public’s purse. We’ve seen this through world leaders such as with Mr. Putin who some have said has become the worlds riches man through corruption. We’ve also seen this with President Trump who has tried to benefit himself and his family. That is a sign of autocracy.

We are heading the first ever case in which a judge has found a cause of action for accepting forbidden government cash benefits relating to the president. This has helped established a climate in the public where people are now keeping an eye on these issues. Another key part of this effort to control corruption is the Muller investigation. We are now awaiting his report as to whether the president obstructed justice or not. I think the rule of law system is working as it should.

[19:30] In your book, you show how you’re more optimistic while your mother is more pessimistic. Do you think democracy works better when both points of view are represented?

Eisen: Perhaps if we had been a bit more pessimistic following the Cold War we would have put in place some sort of Marshal Plan for Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time we have to be aware of the profound difficulties we’ve overcome. It all fits in together. I try to lay out this balance in the book.

[22:00] Can you expand further on the dangers posed to democracy by corruption?

Eisen: Corruption in a democracy infringes upon the voting freedoms as well as others that are critical in a democracy. You can see this playing out here in the form of campaign contributions. The special interests have more money to spread around than average people. They spend more on elections, they get people elected, then they call in favors of those they helped get elected. This is legal corruption.

Nov 26, 2018
Winning the “democracy lottery”
00:40:37

Robin TeaterRobin Teater

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.

CIRs, which organizers called the “democracy lottery,” bring together groups of voters in an intensive four-day, jury-like setting to research the basic facts of initiatives and referenda on the ballot. These citizen panels draft joint statements that provide clear, concise, and accurate information to their fellow voters, removed from campaign messaging and financial influence. It’s been implemented in Oregon, Arizona, and California, and is currently in a pilot phase in Massachusetts. Our guests have been at the forefront of making this process happen.

John GastilJohn Gastil

Robin Teater is the Executive Director of Healthy Democracy, an organization that designs and coordinates innovative deliberative democracy programs. The organization helped implement the CIR process and remains committed to helping it expand across the United States.

John Gastil is a Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at Penn State and an expert on deliberative democracy. He’s studied CIRs throughout the United States and Europe. His research gauges how effective CIRs are at making voters more informed, and how being part of a CIR impacts participants.

This is our first show on deliberative democracy. It’s a topic we hope to return to soon.

Additional Information

Healthy Democracy

John Gastil’s work on the Citizens Initiative Review

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think the Citizens Initiative Review is an effective way to educate people about complicated or numerous ballot initiatives?
  • Would you prefer to read the measure yourself or have a summary provided for you?
  • Do you trust the process as described as being non-partisan or free from the influence of interest groups?
  • Could the CIR process work in your state or country? Why or why not?
  • What other applications do you think this program could have beyond its current use in the area of ballot initiatives?

Interview Highlights

[5:00] What is a Citizens Initiative Review?

Robin: It involves a randomly selected group of registered voters between the ages of twenty and twenty four. They’ll spend roughly four days measuring a ballot measure. They’re selected based on demographics of a particular state. The relevant factors are age, party affiliation, gender, and geography. They’re job is to be representatives for their fellow voters throughout the state they’re in. The final result is a summary of the key facts concerning the ballot initiative. They also produce arguments for and against the ballot initiative.

[7:00] What are the motivations people have for wanting to do this?

Robin: Reasons why people respond to our recruitment mailer include curiosity amongst others. Also, there is a stipend paid to participants. We also have some young people who are either looking for the money or who are getting pushed to do it by their parents while they’re home from school.

John: We’ve also heard from mothers who participate that it is a chance for them to get away from the home for a few days. There are also some who admit that they participated because of the financial incentive.

[8:50] Can you speak to the need for this program and how this program fits a need?

John: We wanted to bring about a more deliberative democracy. However, you can’t ask all voters to be engaged in deliberation on ballot measures. What we know is that those people in the electorate who have the time and willingness to deliberate can do a very good job. In just a few days, people can say very insightful things about random topics such as highway budget planning measures. This was a good place to start because legislatures realized that the voting public was at a loss as to these long ballot measures that voters had to make a quick decision on when in the booth. Some people got the ball rolling independently in Oregon, and here we are.

[11:50] What does the relationship with special interests look like since this program has been operating?

Robin: It is tricky because they make enormous investment into their own messaging. They realize that this program is a great opportunity to have influence on how people see initiative as well as to get feed back from actual voters.

John: These are professional campaigners who spend a lot of money crafting very detailed messages. They also have almost no control over this program. They can bring a good message to our participants, but they have little to no influence after that.

[13:35] On the first day, participants listen to presentations from groups on measures. How do you go from this first day to the final product?

Robin: Even before the first day, participants are engaged in training to teach them how to ask good questions and get the relevant information they need in order to make good decisions. Part of this process is just making sure these participants are comfortable working in such a diverse group. After that, they hear the opening statements from the campaigns on each side of the ballot issues. The next day is a question and answer panel with the campaigns. The panelists actually rank their questions ahead of time before asking them of the campaign representatives. This is then followed by a panel of policy experts. Day two ends with a discussion with the participants trying to glean from them the information that stuck with them from the presentations throughout the day. Day three is a series of editing groups. Participants look at the written claims of the campaigns of each issue and decide what should make the cut for the final summary and what shouldn’t. At the end of this day, we do a key vote on the findings. This includes the eight most reliable comments on a particular ballot measure. Day four is all about writing the pro and con aspects of the measure.

[21:21] Where else has the CIR been used?

Robin: Massachusetts, learning from the mistakes of Oregon, passed legislation to fun the program through state funds. We’ve also been in Arizona which is publicly funded by the elections commission. They are the first state to publicly fund the CIR. We’ve also done pilots in Colorado and California.

John: There was also legislation in the state of Washington, but it didn’t come to a full vote. The program has also been talked about in other nations. One example is England to run a possible re-vote of the Brexit measure.

[22:50] How do you measure whether voters were impacted by the CIR or not?

John: We’ve had funding from a number of sources which enable us to conduct polling on voters responses to this program. We poll people who read the ballot initiative both with and without the CIR summary. What we find is that those who read the measure along with the CIR summary are more knowledgeable on the issues. They have a better factual grasp of the issue.

24:30: What is the process to get people to believe what they see on the CIR?
Robin: It is baked into the process because the panel is randomly selected. The also can’t have any ties to campaigns or interests groups. This enables us to tell the voters that the summaries they’re reading are by accurate representatives of the people. Our tag line is that this is work by the people for the people. There are other entities that produce good summaries of these measures, but they aren’t completely unbiased. They still have a stake and an angel on the issues. The credibility to these reports is strengthened by the diversity of the participants in the program. It is also strengthened by the fact that these are not professional consumers of this sort of information.

John: The average voter seeing this page on the ballot gets the general idea that this was prepared by a body of citizens.

[27:20] How can this program develop in the future? Can it become a mechanize for candidate selection?

John: That is something that has been experimented with here and abroad. This has considerable applicability in terms of candidates in the primary races where someone can’t just pick the republican or democrat as they normally would in a general election. This is also the situation people face in many judicial races or places where candidates don’t have an official party endorsement. Therefore, I think this process could be very powerful in the lower visibility elections.

Robin: I agree. I think there are infinite applications of this program.

Nov 19, 2018
From soldier-statesman to the warrior ethos: Gen. Wesley Clark on the military and democracy
00:39:41

Gen. Wesley ClarkGen. Wesley Clark

We observe Veterans Day this week, 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.

Active duty service members represent less than one percent of the U.S. population and service has increasingly become something that is limited to the communities that surround military bases and the families who live there. As the military’s makeup has shifted, so too has it ideology — to one that is increasingly focused on combat rather than diplomacy.Things didn’t always used to be this way. Up until the end of the draft in the early 1970s, service provided an economic opportunity for millions of Americans and shined a light onto what it meant to serve the country with duty and honor.

With more than 30 years in the military and a subsequent career in politics, Gen. Wesley Clark has a unique perspective on this transformation, and some ideas about how to bridge the empathy gap between soldiers and civilians. We also talked with him about veterans running for political office, his support of Colin Kaepernick, and whether democratic dissent has a place in the military. Clark visited Penn State to promote Renew America, a new nonpartisan organization aimed at reducing polarization and ideological divides in America.

Recommended Reading

Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military — by Kori Schake and Jim Mattis

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think military service has changed in America? If so, do you think that change is good or bad?
  • Do you think it’s a problem that a vast majority of our military comes from a shrinking portion of society compared to when a draft was in place?
  • General Clark speaks about the importance of all young people being involved in the protection of the nation or service in some way. Do you think this is something we should require from young people?
  • General Clark also speak about the need for national service in terms other than military. Can you think of any way to implement such a program?
  • Do you agree with General Clarks’s stance on this and his support of Kaepernick?
  • During the episode, the issue of a “warrior ethos” is brought up where the military is becoming more combat minded. What do you think about this?
  • What changes would you make to the military today to improve it?

Interview Highlights

[4:30] What inspired you about Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech?

General Clark: Just before I attended West Point, General MacArthur made what would be his final public speech. When my class arrived in 1962, we got a printed form of this speech. When you read it, it just made you shiver. He talked about what it was like to be a solider and a soldiers responsibilities. He spoke about how soldiers were supposed to win the nations wars and not question policies. It was incredibly inspiring.

[7:00] We hear a lot about an empathy gap between different parts of society. Does such as gap exist between those within the military and those outside of it?

General Clark: Oh absolutely. People don’t serve the way they used to. Back during the draft, if you went to a land grant institution like Penn State, you knew you were going to be in ROTC. You were a part of the nation defense. If you look at these schools now, there is not this military participation. Something changed in the way we serve following the end of the draft. A few years ago I was teaching and some students expressed concern that the volunteer service wasn’t representing the nation. I think when young people who didn’t serve offer thanks to those who did, they don’t get it. That isn’t what serving is about. That doesn’t really help. We should all be in this together. We should all share this duty and this sacrifice.

[10:13] What is the solution to closing that gap?

General Clark: We need to pull the country together. What I’d like to see is real national service. This country needs major work done, such as our infrastructure system. If young people could come together for a year with those different from them socially and economically, they would be greatly enriched. The military is also becoming less representative of society. Children often follow their parents. Therefore, if your parents didn’t’ serve, you’re unlikely to do so.

Another change is the mindset of those in the military. There used to be an idea of the solider as being thoughtful and well read. However, we have now moved towards a warrior ethos. This change occurred in the 90’s. Today, the Army is very focused on winning its mission at the tactical level. This drives a wedge between different generations of the military.

[14:00] What does that change of ethos towards a warrior mentality mean for democracy?

General Clark: When these men come out of the military after several tours, they simply can’t give it up. There was just an article recently about how former military were being hired as mercenaries to kill political opponents. That is very disturbing when you take those skills out of the service and apply them for financial gain.

[15:00] Did you see this shift happening during your career?

General Clark: I just saw the beginnings of it. It was really the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation that brought about this change. Some of this change was good. There were some changes that needed to take place to prepare people to fight. You also need a form of outreach to the American people, and it can’t just be about your favorite gun.

[17:00] What do veterans bring to the table as elected officials?

General Clark: First off, it really depends on the person. What you’d hope to see is someone with a better understanding of the military and an appreciation for sacrifice. Many of these veterans are just as indoctrinated as those who haven’t served.

[18:36] It seems as though democrats have struggled to get veterans out as a voter group for them. Why do you think that is?

General Clark: If you look at veterans holding elected office today, roughly two thirds of them are republicans. Today, the democrat party has become the “mommy party” and the republicans have become the “daddy party”. Democrats stand for fairness while the republicans stand for security.

[20:00] We’ve seen a decrease in support amongst veterans for Trump. How do you balance following orders from someone you may disagree with?

General Clark: There is no tension. You follow the orders; period. People asked this of me when Clinton was in office. Until he is removed from office, he is the boss.

[21:12] Do you think that democratic dissent has a place within the military?

General Clark: No. I think that if you get an illegal order, then your obligation is to not follow it. If you get an order you don’t like, you can disagree with it, but don’t expect your boss to agree with you. You always have the right to speak up, but you then have to face the consequences. This isn’t to say those in the military can’t vote. However, voting is private. You don’t bring that back into your job.

23:00: What went into your decision to come out in support of Collin Kapernick?

General Clark: I’m one of the few people to be at the top of the military, political, and business world. When you get to see things from that perspective, you see that there is a lot of injustice. Sometimes we don’t live up to our values. This stems back to our founding in our founding documents. I think treating people with respect is the absolute foundation of democracy. So when Collin Kapernick took a knee, I didn’t see that as an insult to the flag or the military. I saw that as standing up for the values we fought for.

[25:16] We have seen many military figures serving positions within the Trump administration. How do you see this impacting how government works?

General Clark: I think General Mattis is proving to be a very solid Secretary of Defense. H.R. McMaster was very capable, but he wasn’t prepared for the position he was put into. Any White House is difficult to work in due to conflicting agendas. This is a situation unlike the military where doing a good job can get your promoted. In the White House it is more of a popularity contest. John Kelly is also in a difficult position, but he is taking his challenges head on. He also has to deal with ethical issues, such as Trumps children receiving Secret Service protection while conducting private business in the Middle East.

[30:01] You are starting an organization called “Renew America.” Tell us a little about that.

General Clark: We’re trying to engage with young people interested in renewing the country. Politics today is a very nasty and dirty business. If you look throughout history, politics goes through cycles with different focuses, such as economic and social policy concentration. You have to see the big picture then break through the entertainment news cycle. I’m hoping that we’re going to mobilize a core of young people who are going to demand answers from people running for office. If you’re asking real questions you will change the political system.

[31:00] How do you think Renew America fits in with similar efforts to increase youth engagement in politics?

General Clark: We are interested in working with everyone. We make no claim to have a monopoly on this effort. We simply want to offer a platform for people to speak with others who are likeminded on a nonpartisan basis. There are many similar groups, but they are partisan. We are not.

Nov 12, 2018
Protecting democracy from foreign interference — recorded live at the National Press Club
00:32:37

Laura RosenbergerLaura Rosenberger

With the midterms this week, all eyes are on the threat of election hacking and interference. Electoral integrity is important, but as you’ll hear in this week’s episode, the threats to American democracy go much deeper than that to the very basis of information and conversation. Laura Rosenberger has been one of the most important voices in the efforts to combat this interference and ensure that democracy becomes even stronger and more resilient.

Laura is the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Before she joined GMF, she was foreign policy advisor for Hillary for America, where she coordinated development of the campaign’s national security policies, messaging, and strategy. Prior to that, she served in a range of positions at the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council (NSC).

She describes the lack of response to foreign interference prior to 2016 as a “failure of imagination” and, through her work at the German Marshal Fund, is determined to ensure that imagination does not fail again. Laura is a Penn State alumna and a member of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Board of Visitors.

This week’s episode was recorded live at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Additional Information

Hamilton 68: Tracking Russian Influence Operations on Twitter

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you believe that Russia and other foreign entities are trying to interfere with our democratic norms and institutions? Why or why not?
  • How much damage do you think these attacks can have on our country?
  • Do you think you’ve come across any Russian “bots” on social media?
  • During the interview, Laura stated that she wants social media companies to take more action to prevent these attacks. Do you think they have a responsibility to take action? If so, what should they be doing?
  • Are you concerned that in an effort to limit the effectiveness of these attacks we might infringe upon our own rights such as freedom of speech?
  • Do you think our institutions will survive these attacks going forward?

Interview Highlights

[3:25] What are you hoping to accomplish with the Alliance for Securing Democracy?

Laura: It is a bipartisan effort founded a little over a year ago. Some are surprised to see a volunteer for Hillary Clinton and a volunteer for Marco Rubio work together in an organization like this. My response to that is that if we can’t work together to defend democracy, then we’ve really lost a lot. We disagree on many issues, but it takes a health and safe democracy in order to be able to have a place to have those debates. Jamie and I realized that we some times have to tend our own garden so to speak. This is the idea that our own democracy needed some work. We have to actually defend it because it can be undermined by those who want to weaken us. From a national security perspective, we think it is incredibly important that we understand how foreign powers are trying to undermine our institutions. We also must build resilience into our democracy. Entities such as Russia are exploiting our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

[5:37] What is Hamilton 68?

Laura: The names comes from the Federalist papers. Specifically, number 68 where Hamilton warns about the threat to our democracy from foreign powers. Today, this situation with Russia seems to have jumped out of a spy novel. Many people still ask if this is something that is really an issue. The idea of foreign threats to our democracy, and the importance of guarding against them, is a core aspect of the birth of the nation. The founders warned about this very threat. What the dash board does is track Russian backed social media accounts and the messages they are pushing out into the public. These accounts have taken a position on a wide range of issues. Also, they will often take both sides of an issue so as to creat as much division as possible. With the use of bots, which are automated social media messages, these foreign entities can manipulate the online information ecosystem and make certain issues appear more prevalent and important than they really are. We have used this tool to educate policy makers and journalists about the actions of these foreign entities.

8:35: What is the intended use of this tool?

Laura: It was designed to be a very publicly accessible tool. When we launched this program, many of the media companies were still refusing to acknowledge that there was this foreign misinformation effort on their platforms. So the intent early on was to bring attention to the fact that this issue was still a problem. While we’ve usually talked about this misinformation campaign effort in terms of the elections, many of the issues we see these accounts engage in are not election issues. We really just wanted to expose these actors and bring attention to them. If we can educate people as to the tactics used by these foreign entities, maybe we can get people to be more cautious when seeing certain information online.

[11:04] Looking to the upcoming midterms, how likely do you think it is that we wake up on the day after the election and realize that something is not right?

Laura: It is important to remember that many of these efforts by foreign actors are not about elections. While there is electoral interference efforts here, there are also broader long term democracy interference efforts going on. I see the election interference efforts as one part of this larger effort to attack democracy. Given how important elections are for a democratic system, they are ripe targets for those trying to negatively impact democratic nations. There were also several attempts to probe state election infrastructures. The efforts here aren’t so much about actually changing specific votes, but to attack things like voter roles to get people off of them to prevent them from being able to vote. These efforts can also do something very damaging, which is cause people to doubt the legitimacy of elections. This distrust can spawn conspiracy theories. Such developments are dangerous for a democracy.

One possible scenario on the day after the election is even just a story that a states infrastructure was hacked. The validity of this claim is irrelevant in terms of the damage such a story could do. It could take months to investigate such a claim. We also could see fake protests where these Russian accounts essentially goat people on both sides to participating in a fake protest. If you push fake stories about a hack and create fake protests pushing for violence, you’ve then create complete and total madness into the system.

[16:30] How has you imagination about what is possible in terms of threats to our democracy changed?

Laura: The report on the 9/11 attacks spoke about the failures which enabled the attack as failures of imagination to potentially see such an attack be launched. For me, what we saw around the efforts in 2016 was also a result of a failure of imagination. When we saw these actions being taken in Ukraine, we thought it was a regional effort and not a test run for similar attacks on us here at home. Social media companies didn’t realize that the platforms they used to connect us could be used by foreign entities as weapons to turn ourselves against each other. It is important for us to both understand what happened as well as to understand what is still possible in the future.

Another concern I have in terms of potential future threats involves artificial intelligence and machine learning. A specific concern amongst tech companies is something called “deep fakes”. Essentially, this is manipulated and augmented video and audio content using artificial intelligence tools. With these tools, seeing may no longer be believing.

[19:36] Should we be worried about China?

Laura: Yes, China in engaging in political interference in places around the world, such as in Australia. However, it is important to know that China is a very different actor from Russia. In part, due to the different strategies they utilize. There are still many unknowns as to Chinese interest in interfering with us. In terms of China, I’m more concerned about the long term political covert efforts they tend to engage in.

I have one last point I want to make. The vice president recently stated that China in interfering with our election because they don’t like the president, and I think that is very dangerous. We can’t politicizes this idea of democracy interference. When we start to think this is about one party, we lose our ability to mount a united fight against these efforts to undermine our institutions. They care about attacking us as a nation, not any particular political party.

[25:10] How have the Russians changed their approach given that we’ve started to catch on to what they’re doing?

Laura: One change we’ve seen is that these Russian actors are putting much more effort into making their outreach on social media appear real. Rather than putting out rather basic recruitment posts for protest or counter protests, they are now actually contacting certain activists and trying to get them to buy into their efforts. They are embedding themselves more into real communities in America. This does two things. First, it makes it harder for companies to detect these fake Russian accounts. Second, this makes it more difficult for companies to choose to remove the content because they’re also removing content from real users who the Russians have attached themselves to. This also has the effect of casting doubt on democratic efforts such as protests. People don’t’ know if you’re there to honestly advocate on behalf of something or if you’re simply some fake Russian effort to undermine the country.

[28:30] What are some things that we should be doing to combat these attacks?

Laura: One thing is that we have to come together as a nation on this. We’ve got to get out of the partisan trap on this issue. I think we are capable of doing this. We could also benefit greatly from a bipartisan commission similar to the one we had after the 9/11 attacks. Government and the private sector needs to take action. Also, citizens themselves need to take action to fight back.

Nov 05, 2018
Will Millennials disrupt democracy?
00:37:44

Stella RouseStella Rouse

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.

Our guest this week literally wrote the book on this topic. Stella Rouse is co-author of The Politics of Millennials, which draws upon existing data about Millennials, as well as surveys and focus groups that Stella and co-author Ashely Ross conducted. They found that events like 9/11 an the 2008 financial crisis profoundly shaped the way Millennials view the world and their place within it — views that run counter to older generations and their views of democratic engagement.

Stella is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics, Director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, and Associate Director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll at the University of Maryland.

Additional Information

The Politics of Millennials

Can young people revive civic engagement? A conversation with Peter Levine of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think Millennials are politically active?
  • If so, do you see them engaged more traditionally in campaigns and voting or non-traditionally in the form of protests?
  • How do you think Millennials world views will translate into public policy?
  • If you are not a Millennial, what is the biggest difference you see between this younger generation and your own? Also, what similarities do you see?
  • What do you think the political views of this generation will look like in 20 years?

Interview Highlights

[4:49] How do you define a millennial and what about them made you interested in studying their generation further?

Stella: Generally the accepted timeframe is those from the late 80’s to the late 90’s. Millennial are those who grew up mostly around the turn of the century.

[5:30] What are the identity characteristics of this generation?

Stella: It’s composed of a number of factors. Most notably, it is a very diverse generation in American history. They’ve lived around different races and ethnic groups more so than any other generation in the nations history. They are also the first “digital natives”. They don’t know what it’s like to be without the internet or a cellphone in their pocket. This impacts how they experience politics and communicate with others. Also, the events of 9/11 is a significant aspect of this generation in terms of how it views the world around them and the role of America in it.

[7:30] How to millennial see themselves as citizens?

Stella: Millennials are more engaged in non-traditional forms of engagement such as voting or working on campaigns. People look at this and then see the generation as being apathetic politically. However, this doesn’t take into account their engagement in more non-traditional political formats such as protests and rallies. They are also more engaged in the local level than the national level. The key question is how is this activity translated into voting. I don’t have a straight answer for that. A lot of it involved getting them into the habit of voting.

[10:08] Do you sense any momentum on the part of this generation to shape the political system to fit to its interest rather than it adapting to the current political climate?

Stella: Yes. We are seeing a lot of Millennials run for office. Particularly, minorities of this group are running for office. I think in the next few years we’re going to see this continue. Then, once in office, they’ll be able to shape the political landscape to better reflect their world view.

[11:10] This generation also identifies at a greater rate than those before them as global citizens. How does this square with their involvement in local political issues?

Stella: When I say local I don’t mean they’re voting at the local level. Where the participate traditionally is still higher at the national level than the local level. One thing about this generation is that they’re very distrustful of institutions. This includes political parties. This makes sense given the fact that their time has been filled with the greatest partisan divide in American politics in generations. Therefore, they are much more likely to identify as independents. Their lack of identification along party lines leads to lower levels of traditional political engagement in the form of campaigning and voting.

[13:00] We’ve talked about the separation of liberalism and the democratic norm of institutions. Do you see this divide growing as this generations comes into political power?

Stella: It could be, but the jury is still out on this. They have an internal conflict that they distrust institutions but they know they have to play by the rules in order to change it. It’s not clear if they’ll play the game and try to bring about change from the inside or whether they’ll maintain their outsider status and try to change things from the outside.

[14:35] We saw Obama and Sanders as two political figures who resonated with this generation. What about them do you think made them so appealing to this generation?

Stella: They spoke to the issues they cared about. Particularly, Obama really addressed them in the mediums they cared about, such as social media. Even though he is not a millennial, he became the millennial president.

[16:09] How does Donald Trump play among Millennials?

Stella: Not too well. He is not very popular amongst them. That’s not to say there isn’t a segment of the generation who support him, but about two thirds of the generation don’t support him or his policies. His policies related to immigration and diversity go against the preferences of millennials.

[17:02] Is there anything to suggest that millennials will become more conservative as they get older?

Stella: That is a really good question. An important point we try to make is that this group is not monolithic in that they aren’t all liberals. On a number of policies they are more liberal, but on others, they look a lot like older more conservative generations. One particular issue is abortion. Their numbers on this issue look more like those of generation X or the baby boomer generation. This is also repeated when it comes to issues of the economy. They aren’t some socialist block. However, they are very liberal on issues such as healthcare where they think it should be a government protected right. This has a lot to do with the time in which they came to age. Especially on issues such as student loan debt which is another issue area where they’re very liberal. It remains to be determined whether these positions will drift to the right as they get older.

[22:32] What do the older generations need to know in order to work better with Millennials?

Stella: I think one reason why those in government don’t’ reach out to millennials is because they don’t’ see them as an electoral threat because of their low voting numbers. To reach out, they have to meet them halfway. They need to acknowledge that millennials have a lot to say. However, they have to reach out to them in their preferred medium. Ultimately, I don’t think we’ll see politicians change their approach until millennials force them to by showing up on their radar as an electoral issue.

[24:00] What role does the financial situation of this generation have on their willingness to engage politically in more traditional formats?

Stella: Economic power speaks to political power. Their inability to acquire economic power due to unemployment or underemployment prevents the acquisition of this power in order to challenge political leaders. However, we’ve always had this issue amongst the current young generation at any given time.

[28:00] What do you expect to see in terms of Millennial turnout in the 2018 midterms?

Stella: I suspect that we’ll see higher rates than we’ve seen in previous elections. Whether this motivation actually translates to votes is still open to debate. If I had to guess, I’d say we’ll see an increase in voter participation amongst this generation.

Oct 29, 2018
David Frum on developing the habits of democracy
00:40:25

Around the McCourtney Institute, we like to say that we’re “partisans for democracy.” We can think of few people who better embody that notion today than David Frum. He was among the first people to talk about the Trump administration’s impact on democracy and remains one of the loudest voices defending democratic norms in the United States. David is a longtime contributor to The Atlantic and author of Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. The book was part of our democracy summer reading list and we invited him to speak at Penn State earlier this fall.

In many ways, this conversation speaks to the very idea of this podcast. Democracy, no matter where it’s happening in the world, is most successful when people come together to build something greater than the sum of its parts. As you’ll hear, David is a strong advocate for joining organizations that require deliberation and working with people who might hold different political beliefs than you do — in person and away from social media.

The gradual shift away from those habits of democracy is one of the things that paved the way for the Trumpocracy that David writes about in his book. Rebuilding those habits, he says, is part of the cure for what ails democracy and must happen in tandem with voting to restore faith in democratic institutions and reduce polarization.

For more on democratic erosion, listen to our interview with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt.

Additional Information

Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic

David Frum’s writing at The Atlantic

Interview Highlights

[6:06] Was Trump’s candidacy the reason you started righting about the state of democracy in America?

David: It was a catalyst in the sense that a catalyst triggers a response between elements that were already present. In the spring of 2015 I was doing a story in Hungary where fascism has been on the rise. However, that story was cannibalized due to the fact that what we had observed over there was starting to happen here. I was sort of ready for what we’re seeing now.

[7:29] Can you explain your journey from being a well known conservative to someone who voted for Hillary Clinton?

David: I remain a very conservative person today. When the question next comes up in an election, people might be surprised to see me retain those conservative views. However, these values have to be able to play out in a stable democratic framework. The lessons of Europe should teach us that the institutions that we see today as being rock solid look a lot less solid today. It is important to protect these democratic institutions in part because of how this instability can impact global economic markets

[8:50] Would you say that is the through line that unites yourself and other conservatives who have come out against Trump?

David: Yes. But it is also a throughline which explains why this has become an international issue. Studying the European examples is very useful. Democratic institutions aren’t doing as good of a job producing for voters. This has led to a bit of a crisis around the developed world. This can lead the population to lean towards less democratic forms of government. While this is happening to the ideological right here and in Poland, it can also happen to the left, such as in England and in Italy.

[10:09] Do you feel like the message is being received that fascism could take root here?

David: It is happening here. We always think that when a reaver spreads that we in America will get it last. This is not just an American problem right now. In nations around the world, democratic institutions are weaker than they were just ten years ago. A country like Turkey which was clearly a democracy ten years ago is now an outright dictatorship.

[11:30] Who do you think is the leader to be able to bring back these democratic norms?

David: The search for leaders is the problem. The problem is that we have these charismatic figures popping up saying that they alone can solve the problem. When young people ask me how they can help, I tell them to join something. Join something that has meetings. This helps develop the habits of democracy. Social media is important here. What it offers and delivers is a completely personalized experience. You only see what you like and agree with. Actual politics couldn’t be more different. You have to be able to work with people who are different than you and who disagree with you.

[16:33] What do you make of some of the civic renewal efforts to get people engaged again such as with voting?

David: This is super exciting and important. The more local, the better. Also, don’t be consumed with the national questions and issues that you disconnect from the local situation. If following stories is distracting you from stories about local issues such as budgets, then it is becoming harmful.

[18:43] What do the “guardrails of democracy” mean and where do they stand today?

David: This is about a series of restraints that we imagined were there to protect democracy that have since been crashed through. One of the keys guard rails is the concept of ideology. What we thought years ago was that each side (liberal and conservative) were being more ideologically extreme and that ideology was mattering more and more. What this meant is that we were demagogue proof in that a candidate had to stand for something in order to get enough support to win. But in 2016 with Trump, we learned that ideology doesn’t matter that much. He routinely broke perceived ideological norms for conservatives.

[20:40] Does this action by Trump explain the split in the GOP between those who stuck with the party and Trump and those who broke away?

David: I don’t think so. One example is the issue of international trade. The support for open international trade has been a hallmark of republican ideology since Reagan. When Trump came out against this idea, I wondered if this would jolt the Republican Party out of support for him. It has not. In fact, he is changing the positions of the Republican Party.

[21:58] Why are these people going against the party norms and embracing ideas they opposed just a few years ago?

David: Because once you get on board with Trump, you’re a prisoner. You have to go wherever it goes. The farther you go and the more awful things you accept, the more you have to defend the driver to defend yourself. People say don’t condemn Trump supporters. When people do something, we should seek to understand it. However, we need to recognize that Trump succeeds by appeal to what is bad about people and what is cruel about the. This is also part of the story. However, it is wrong to then look down upon someone as a child given this reality. Instead, when we see someone who agrees or identifies with something that is brutal or cruel, we should seek to understand why that concept or position resonates with that person.

[25:22] Do you think there was ever a time in our nations history were we had a sort of peak of democracy?

David: I don’t think we should ever look back. This is our time. There is a lot to learn from the past, but the past also has deep flaws. We should focus on making it better. For example, one of the biggest tells for whether or not someone voted for Trump was their level of social isolation. If you were a member of a stable family, you were much less likely to be a Trump voter.

Oct 22, 2018
When states sue the federal government
00:29:49

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.

Since taking office in January 2017, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been involved with more than a dozen suits brought against the federal government on matters ranging from family separation at the border to EPA emissions regulations. Though Shapiro is a Democrat, he says his chief motivation in joining these suits is the rule of law and a commitment to do what’s right for people of Pennsylvania.

Whether or not you agree with Shapiro’s politics, he does present an interesting take on the role that states play as a check on the federal government. This power is a unique part of the American experiment and speaks to the power of democracy in the states.

Before the interview, Chris and Michael dive into the origins of federalism, including Federalist 51, the 10th Amendment, and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Additional Information

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General

Federalist 51

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What do you think should be the balance between the states and federal government in terms of power?
  • Do you think states should be active in legal action against the federal government?
  • Do you think that state attorneys general are becoming too political?
  • Do you see state as a shield to protect a state’s residents against federal overreach?

Interview Highlights

[5:12] When you took this office, did you expect yourself to be this active on federal issues?

Shapiro: I said when I was sworn in that if someone was going to try to mess with Pennsylvania that they would have to go through me. I see the constitution as giving the states broad authority. States rights isn’t something progressives have pointed to, but it is something I value. If someone in the federal system is doing something to undermine our rights, I’m going to stand up to take action.

[6:32] How do one of these suits against the federal government get started?

Shapiro: The first question is whether the action comports with the rule of law. I put aside what I agree or disagree with personally and instead focus on the law. Once we deem that an illegal action has been taken, be think about what is the best way to file an action to challenge that activity. We discuss whether or not Pennsylvania should be the lead state. There are sometimes strategic reasons why we file a suit in a particular state. What we are not doing is constructing opposition to the president just for the sake of opposing him. What we are doing is organizing ourselves around the rule of law.

[8:43] What issues or possible suits have you turned down?

Shapiro: We’ve been involved in about fifteen cases since taking office. I’m very careful about what we engage in on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania. Again, it is not my job just to weigh in whenever I personally disagree with the president. It is my job to weigh in when the rule of law is being threatened.

[9:31] What is the timeline for one of these cases?

Shapiro: I spend the majority of my time going around to differnt places listening to people. I think I have a good feel for where the people of the state are. I don’t poll test these issues. Instead, I try to do what is right and what adheres to the rule of law.

[10:36] Under Obama, we saw a lot of states file suits against the federal government much like what is happening now with Trump in office. Do you think this goes to the partisan nature of government?

Shapiro: I would actually push back on that a little. Most of what I do is bipartisan. It’s just that the media usually doesn’t report that. The vast majority of the actions we take are really bipartisan.

[12:34] President Trump has stated that he thinks the attorney general office should be more of a political one. What are your thoughts on that?

Shapiro: We are above politics in this office. I’m a proud Democrat. People know I have progressive leanings. They knew that when they elected me. However, we check our political views at the door everyday when we come into the office. If you look at our track record, we’ve held democrats and republicans accountable. We do our job in a way that the people of the state can be proud that the justice system is fair. We are diverse in both appearance and thought.

[15:23] What does the term “rule of law” mean to you?

Shapiro: It is the very foundation of everything that I do. It helps you be above politics. My job is to understand the law, apply the facts and evidence, then make a decision in the best interest of the people of Pennsylvania.

Shapiro: The tenth amendment makes it really clear that states have a role to play in our democracy. I believe that if the federal government is making an overreach into our state business, then I’m going to be a shield to guard against that. However, states have also at times been the thing infringing upon rights. However, more often than not, they are expanding rights. The fight for marriage is a perfect example of that. Justice Brandies spoke eloquently about states being the laboratories for democracy. That still holds true today. States need to be a shield against overreach and a sword in promoting the rights of their citizens.

Oct 15, 2018
How “if it bleeds, it leads” impacts democracy
00:34:35

Peter EnnsPeter Enns

The problems with the prison system in the U.S. have been well documented, but what’s not talked about nearly as often is how things got this way. Why does there seem to be such enthusiasm for putting people in jail? One answer might be the shift toward “risk management policing” that Frank Baumgartner described in last week’s episode, but there’s something else at play — and that’s what we explore this week with Peter Enns.

Peter is an associate professor of Government at Cornell University and author of Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World. Peter argues that, since the 1970s, media coverage has shaped public opinion about incarceration, which lead to an increase in people going to prison even as the crime rate went down. This created a vicious cycle of people seeing news about crimes, becoming more supportive of punitive measures, and a shift away from viewing prison as a rehabilitative experience.

Much like we heard from last week about the empathy gap in policing, a similar gap exists between the people going to jail and the people watching or reading news stories about the criminal justice system. Peter taught in Cornell’s prison education program and saw firsthand what daily life looks like for inmates and the possibilities that exist for prison reform programs.

One final note: We added a new voice into the mix this week. Andy Grant, our audio engineer, had some questions for Peter that you’ll hear toward the end of the interview.

Additional Information

Peter’s book, Incarceration Nation

Cornell Prison Education Program

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Why do you think the general public has largely supported more punitive measures over the last several decades?
  • Do you think the saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ holds true? What role do you think media has here?
  • What other changes would you make to the current criminal justice system?
  • Is it antithetical to a democratic society to have so many people incarcerated?
  • We have a very high recidivism rate. This means once you’ve been to jail, you’re likely to end up going back due to a parole violation or another violation. How do you think the system can better prepare convicts to get out and stay out?
  • Going forward, do you think our incarceration rate will decrease?

Interview Highlights

[4:58] Why do so many people in the United States want others to face jail time?

Peter: A Key to this study is noting how public opinion has shifted on this issue over time. The trend towards supporting incarceration really picked up across the sixties through to the nineties. A large factor in this trend was how media covered crime.

[5:38] How do you think the media contributes to how the public perceives the issue of crime where they live?

Peter: There are two aspects of this. One is the “if it bleeds, it leads” aspect of media coverage of crime. Also, the number of crimes committed by racial minorities are largely over reported.

[7:15] How have things changes over time?

Peter: This is really interesting because the crime rate has actually been decreasing since the 90’s but many people aren’t aware of this. The public has become less punitive as crime rates have gone down. However, the trend is not in line with the rate in decrease of crime. While the trend in public opinion is starting to change, the problem is that there is such a massive system in place that it is difficult to reverse this high incarceration rate. It is not as simply as turning off a switch. However, some meaningful changes have been occurring.

One example is that there has been a lot of discussion recently around the cash bail system and how strange it is. The way this works is that if you’re arrested and can’t afford your judge set bail, you’re going to stay in jail until trial. Many localities are revisiting this. The decriminalization of drug offenses is also a massive development impacting the incarceration rate.

[9:45] How does the prison experience impact ones views on government when they eventually get out of prison?

Peter: A large role in how we view government is our interaction with aspects of government such as the DMV. Imagine being in prison and having life as a prisoner being your main interaction with a government entity or structure. That tends to have a negative effect on levels of political participation amongst those who have been previous locked up.

[11:53] Is there an empathy gap where those who are in power are not aware of the problems in the criminal justices system?

Peter: Absolutely. Another important aspect of this is to remember that those who have been convicted are being judges based on likely the worst thing they’ve ever done. Imagine how we’d feel if we were publicly evaluated over and over again based on the worst thing we ever did.

[12:50] Could you tell us about your work with the Cornell prison education program?

Peter: Most recently, I was teaching a course in Auburn correctional facility. What the program does is teach college level education courses to those in maximum security prison in the middle of New York State. The course I thought to the convicts was the same one I thought as part of a senior seminar for government students. The students did a great job and it was a phenomenal experience.

[13:58] In this program, did you see a difference in the way the inmates were handling the course as compared to Cornell students you had lectured in the past?

Peter: I would say there was a higher level of maturity amongst the students. A large misconception that I came into contact with is the idea that inmates have a ton of free time to just sit around and read. However, many of them are assigned work detail within prison. In this sense, they are a lot like your regular college student who also has a part time job they have to juggle along with school work.

[16:00] How do you think the public’s attitude towards incarceration match with its position on other issues?

Peter: A key concept here is how someone will reintegrate with society. The vast majority of those incarcerated right now will be released back into society. Regardless as to ones political association, data shows that we all want people to be successfully introduced back into society once released from prison. However, this common interest is over powered by the punitive state. A major problem here is the parole board system

We know there is a high recidivism rate. A large portion of this is due to technical violations of parole terms. Such as the use of drugs of those who are addicted to drugs. If someone relapse, which is very common amongst addicts, will end up in someone out of parole ending up back in prison. One way to address this could be to provide a better support system for those leaving prison. For example, people who I know who have been in prison faced living in a homeless shelter the first night out because there was no structure to hell them integrate back into society.

[21:00] There have been more discussion around this administration about prison reforms. Where do you think these conversations are heading?

Peter: I think we’ve seen an increase in efforts because of the role of public opinion, which as the data shows is trending towards a decrease in support for heavy incarceration. However, due to high level of political polarization at the federal level, most of the actual legislative progress that we’ve seen has been as the state and local level. A perfect example of this involves discussion to close Rikers Island in New York. The debate now is just how quickly it will be closed. It is sort of stunning think about this ironing symbol of incarceration in America facing closure.

[22:30] Do you think our criminal justice system is more structured as a punitive or rehabilitative system?

Peter: I think the balance has shifted over the course of time. Right now, I think it is shifting away from a punitive minded system. However, right now I think the system is certainly more punitive orientated.

Oct 08, 2018
A story about democracy, told through 20 million traffic stops
00:31:40
Frank Baumgartner

The lights flash in your rearview mirror as the police car comes up behind you. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach as the officer approaches. Sound familiar?  However, this is where the story can differ greatly depending on who you are and where you live. If you’re African-American or Latino, you are much more likely to be searched or have your vehicle searched — and much more likely to be pulled over in the first place, according to research conducted by analyzing data from millions traffic stops in North Carolina over more than a decade.

Frank Baumgartner, Robert J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, lead the team that analyzed the data published the book Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race.” In the book, Frank and his colleagues make the case that an empathy gap exists between people with political and social power and the people who are most likely to be pulled over. The result is that segments of the population who are already disenfranchised become even more distrustful of the police and the government and less likely to vote and otherwise engage with democracy.

We’ve long heard that racially-motivated police violence is the result of a few “bad apple” officers. However, the data from North Carolina show a much more pervasive suspicion from police officers about young men of color. Combined with a move toward what Frank describes as “risk management” policing, the result is a clear pattern of behavior that has direct implications on democratic participation.

P.S. A huge thank you to everyone who supported us in the 2018 Podcast Awards. We are incredibly humbled and grateful to have won during our first year.

More Information

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race

Frank’s profile on the Scholars Strategy Network

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you believe that there is racial bias in policing in America?
  • Based on your own experience with law enforcement, do you trust the police?
  • Do your interactions with law enforcement impact your view of the government and your willingness to engage in democracy?
  • Do you think the aim of police should be to solve crime or try to prevent crime?
  • Do you think policing in America is getting better? Why or why not?

Interview Highlights

[3:41] How did you come about the data for this book?

Frank: An investigative reporter in North Carolina conducted an investigation into possible racial profiling in the police department in 1996. This was also a time when people were becoming growingly concerned with racial profiling by police. At this time, North Carolina became the first state to mandate the recording of data about traffic stops, including the race of the individual stopped. I was then invited to look at the information they had collected in the early 2000s as part of a task force.

[5:25] Can you walk us through how a traffic stop experience might differ along racial lines?

Frank: As a middle class white man myself, I have very few interactions with the police. But when I do, it is always very respectful and by the book. It is extremely rare for someone in this demographic to get pulled over by the police. For someone of color, it would be frustratingly common. These traffic stops usually lead to no citation or ticket. However, such stops are more likely to extend into a search of the vehicle.

[6:54] What did you find to be the cause of this variance in frequency and nature of stops?

Frank: We think party of the problem is that police officers are usually dealing with a low information situation when making a stop. Too often, they rely on visual cues to evaluate whether someone is a threat or not. And under the law, which has been confirmed mostly by middle class white men, it assumes that these stops will only be temporary inconveniences. However, as the data showed, these stops are not that uncommon. There is also an empathy gap where white people have a difficult time understanding the situation faced by minorities in terms of traffic stops.

[9:18] In the book you refer to “risk management policing.” Can you explain what that is?

Frank: In the 1960s the focus of policing used to be reactionary in the sense that they used to simply work to solve crimes. However, there has been a shift where as police now are working to try to prevent crimes using methods such as profiling. Policing is now more proactive and aggressive. This system didn’t happen to white people. This happened on the other side of town to minorities. It happened to people who themselves were seen as likely criminal elements.

[14:24] What impact do these stop rates have on the level of democratic participation among minorities?

Frank: Just a single traffic stop can reduce the odds of that person voting by as much as ten percent. We found that in areas where black people have greater political power, the percentage of blacks that are stopped is considerably lower. There is a national effect. Unjustified stops do alienate people and cause them to not trust the government. In Fayetteville North Carolina, they instituted some policy changes. What resulted was that there were fewer stops. Also, the number of calls to 911 that actually resulted in a crime being committed went up. This showed that people who were no longer being wrongfully stopped began to trust the police more and were willing to reach out to them when they actually needed them.

[18:21] We often hear during the more salient cases that this is simply the result of a few “bad apple” officers. Is this the case or is this a more systemic problem impacting more officers?

Frank: The short answer is that it’s both. In our research, we were able to categorize and study the stop of every officer by their badge number. We did find many officers who showed trends of discriminatory trends in stops. The racial disparity were highest amongs men. While there are bad apple officers, there also is a more systemic problem.

[22:20] What impacts have your findings led to?

Frank: Many police leaders have started looking at their own statistics more closely. When these departments have done this internal investigation they have often found that they have discrimination problems. Ferguson, Missouri is just one example. While Ferguson is seen as the epicenter of bad policing, the situation in many others communities is not really that much better. We have to recognize that the data and the patterns are clear and consistent. It is time to question whether we are getting the right bang for our buck out of the random traffic stops as a mechanism to fight crime. This is alienating people without having much good to show for it.

Oct 01, 2018
Breaking the silence in Syria
00:35:36

We’ve talked before on this show about the importance of a free press, but this week’s episode brings a whole new meaning to the term. In 2014, Abdalaziz Alhamza and his friends started social media accounts to document the atrocities being committed by ISIS in their city of Raqqa. They called themselves Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and their work quickly grew into a website and a social movement that garnered international attention.

RBSS brought the work of citizen journalists to a global audience and helped provide a counter to increasingly sophisticated ISIS propaganda. Their work was chronicled in the 2017 documentary City of Ghosts. Aziz visited Penn State for a screening of the film sponsored by Penn State’s Center for Global Studies, which is lead by friend of our podcast Sophia McClennen.

ISIS was removed from Syra last year, but that does not mean life in Raqqa has improved. Aziz and his colleagues are now working to report on the Asad regime and militias who are trying to take power from it. They are also working to empower citizen journalists in other countries and help defend the free press at a time when “fake news” has become a rallying cry for authoritarian leaders around the world.

Additional Information

Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently

City of Ghosts documentary

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • How significant do you think groups like Aziz’s were in pushing back ISIS?
  • Given their access to information locally in the city, do you think they are a better new source than a foreign outlet such as CNN?
  • What was your initial reaction with Aziz mentioned that friends and family had been killed while trying to do their work as citizen journalists?
  • Does what they went through and are still going through change your view of journalists?
  • Does listening to the struggles of Aziz and his organization change your perception of democracy in America?
  • Would you be willing to take on the challenges and risks of covering the actions of ISIS if you were in Aziz’s situation?

Interview Highlights

[5:50] What has happened in Raqqa since the end of the film?

Aziz: A campaign began to defeat ISIS. However, this brought with it a lot of violence. Nearly 80% of the city has been destroyed. Most of the people have been displaced. The media stoped paying attention once ISIS was pushed out of the city. This is why we kept out campaign going to continue to share information about the city. There are still a lot of things happening in the city. For example, people are still being killed every day. They are still finding bombs in the city. Also, they are finding mass graves at different parts of the city.

[7:29] How have the conditions there changed the work that you’re doing?

Aziz: We do have more freedom now, but we still can’t do our work legally because we’re considered terrorists by some. If we can survive ISIS, then we can survive working around other groups. We have started an online program to teach people how to become activists and how to start their own movements.

[9:10] What was your motivation for starting this movement?

Aziz: Before the revolution, I wasn’t involved with politics at all. When everything started, I had that thing inside that motivated me to get up and do something. We started by filming protests. When ISIS started taking control they prevented media from covering what was happening in the city. At this point, we felt we had a duty to do something since we were all from Raqqa. None of us had any journalist education at all. We got some training, but now we actually work to train others to be journalists.

[11:20] How do you manage still covering Raqqa while also trying to expand your coverage beyond the city? 

Aziz: Cellphones are the magic. We can do most of our work remotely. They are both tools for communication as well as tools for learning stuff.

[12:46] What do you share with those you’re training to become activists themselves? 

Aziz: We have gone through many mistakes getting to this point that we try to help others avoid. We teach them how to handle a brutal regime or movement such as ISIS. For example, I went to Columbia to help activists there. They didn’t know what encryption was or the idea that the government could track their actions and communication without encryption. Some of the mistakes we’ve made have cost us the lives of friends, so we don’t want anyone to go through those mistakes like we did.

[14:30] Do you feel the work you did have an impact to ISIS ultimately being defeated in Raqqa? 

Aziz: The war with ISIS was not like a regular war with militaries. It was a war fought online. Therefore, they worked hard to shut us down.   They threaten us and killed family members. To get this reaction from ISIS showed us that we were doing something meaningful. They are still talking about us. To ISIS, we are the bad boys. ISIS didn’t want any other alternative media sources like us for the people to learn from. They just didn’t expect a group of teenagers being around and doing this stuff.

[16:27] How did you combat ISIS as they improved their propaganda efforts? 

Aziz: They spent way too much money on the media. For example, they spent millions on one media office in one city. Media was how they recruited fighters so they put a lot of money into it.

[18:25] Did you ever question if you were the right guys to do this? 

Aziz: Yes, at the beginning. However, this changed once our friends started to be killed. Since that, no one is second guessing this movement.

[21:50] How do you feel when you hear the term “fake news”? 

Aziz: It has become a huge problem even here in the United States. One network will say one thing while another will say the opposite. People get lost within all of these platforms and don’t know who to follow. We try to simply things and always provide evidence. I don’t think there is a way to kill fake news, but provide evidence is a good way to combat it.

[23:00] Do you videos that you use come from members of your group or do you get them from citizens? 

Aziz: They are mostly from our members, but we do get some stuff from other citizens. Even taking a photo is very dangerous. It is punishable by death. One of the first things ISIS did was try to scare people. They would have public executions in the middle of town. Because of this, people were afraid to gather information about them such as taking photos or videos.

[27:00] You have lost friends and family members through this effort. What is it like receiving that information? 

Aziz: It was scary when I would wake up and have to check my phone. I would wake up and pray to God that nothing bad had happened. I would feel powerless, but that didn’t last long because I knew there was something we should do about it. We knew that ISIS was killing us because they wanted us to stop our work. So we couldn’t stop and give them what they wanted.

[29:00] What does democracy mean to you?

Aziz: It means people being able to express themselves without being afraid. For those who are used to it, they don’t understand that people are dying around the world to try to get democracy.

Sep 24, 2018
Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom
00:33:55
Mark Kissling

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.

The term most often used to describe this is civics education, which probably brings back memories of learning about the branches of government how a bill becomes a law. As you’ll hear this week, true civics education is about so much more than that. In in a polarized political climate, are teachers afraid to engage controversial subjects? How should they address things like citizenship and patriotism? How do they have time to engage in these wide-ranging discussions given the constraints they face to prepare students for standardized tests? Mark Kissing helps budding teachers find their way — strengthening their commitments to democracy so they can pass that spirit along to their students.

Mark is an assistant professor of social studies education at Penn State. His work focuses on citizenship education, or the practice of preparing civic-minded individuals. We’ve recently seen the importance of civics education play out in the months since the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Our look at Generation Z and the future of democracy earlier this year is worth revisiting as proof that what Mark and his colleagues are teaching is having an impact.

Recommended Reading

Mark’s post about the National Anthem ritual on the McCourtney Institute blog

Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy: Yoni Appelbaum in The Atlantic

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What was your civics education like? Does anything you learned still stick with you today?
  • What role should the formal education system play in creating civically engaged and aware young people?
  • How should teachers and the field of education in general react to concepts such as “fake news” and alternative facts?
  • When a significant current event happens, should teachers and professors take time away from the structured curriculum to address it?
  • Given the access that students have to information outside of the classroom, how should a teacher handle a student who brings in a theory or an idea into the classroom from the internet?
  • What role should parents have in deciding how controversial subjects are addressed in the classroom?
  • People often complain today about the state of political rhetoric. What if anything can be done within K-12 education to help change this for the future generations?

Interview Highlights

[4:34] What do you think an education in civics looks like?

Mark: In school, social studies usually has a civics education built into it. This fusion came about in the early 20th century. I tend to think about it in terms of teaching about a civic society and what it means to be a participatory citizen. It does include the basic stuff about how government works. However, I think it also entails an introduction to how citizens interact with that government in a democratic system.

[6:12] What does the idea of citizenship education actually look like in the classroom?

Mark: For me, I think it involves looking at where teachers and students are in terms of their own lives, such as where they’ve been and the circumstances of the places they live. Then consider what participation with society looks like in these areas under theses circumstances. That is then pulling in history and other factors. Importantly, this is place based education.

[7:08] As a social studies teacher yourself, how did you approach this in your classroom?

Mark: One of the courses I taught was a street law course. I taught the class in Framingtown Massachusetts, which was the largest town in America at the time. Therefore, most of our issues were centered around local town government. I think this focus on place occurred naturally at this time. However, I’m more continuously aware of place today.

[8:45] Today, the political climate is very polarized. We also have concepts such as “fake news” and “alternative facts”. How do you prepare teachers to address and handle these issues with their students?

Mark: How one would address that in their class would be molded by where that course is physically. For example, these issues would be handled differently between a rural school as compared to a more urban located school.

[9:40] Do you find that your students are receptive to this notion of place?

Mark: They are immediately receptive to it. However, their broader schooling experiences don’t lead them towards being receptive to it. There is a really big gap between the lived experience of a particular area and the curriculum students are provided with. One of my missions it to ground social studies in the context of the experience of where the students in a particular school actually live.

[10:45] How do you balance providing students both local and national awareness in a field like social studies?

Mark: It would be a mistake to focus only on the local issue and ignore the broader national and global context. However, it’s typically the other way around in that were focusing on the national or global perspective and ignoring the local perspective. I certainly think there is a need to traverse across those scales. For example, when talking about something like patriotism, we should talk about what it means both in the context of protests around the world as well as local instances such as the national anthem issue at the local Spikes game.

[12:00] Do you think teachers should sort of play the role of a journalist in that they stick to the facts and keep any personal opinions out of their lessons?

Mark: I think there is an expectation of that. Also, they’ve been schooled that way. I actually had an instances recently with a group of soon to be teachers following the events in Charlottesville. I asked them how they’d be handling this situation in their own classrooms. Most of them said that they wouldn’t address the issue at all. Part of this game from a fear of lack of information as to what was happening. There is also a political charge to it that teachers often feel worried about taking on in front of their classes. However, if we want to take on schooling as a community based effort, we have to be willing to engage with students on these difficult current event issues. We have to have conversations across these divides.

[14:35] What is your advice to those teachers who said they wouldn’t address this issue with their own classroom?

Mark: My comment is that you are taking it up by not addressing it up or pushing it to the side. Any statement, including the lack of a statement, is a message that you send to students. In the absence of a class discussion about Charlottesville, you’re being socialized not to talk about difficult issues like that. That’s troubling. We need to also consider treating the classroom as a place where students can engage, often for the first time, in difficult dialogue on challenging issues, such as what took place in Charlottesville.

[17:00] How do you balance dialogue on current events with the increased focus on “teaching to the test”?

Mark: It is a little different in social studies as compared to other subject areas because this field isn’t tested nearly to the degree of other topics. I do think standardizing education is important. I work with teachers to find the balance between engaging students on controversial current events while also ensuring that they’re prepared for these standardized assessments.

[19:30] Everyone is familiar with the image of the angry parent beating down the door after a controversial topic is address in a class. How do you prepare future teachers to handle something like that?

Mark: I think it is important to listen and understand what the parent is saying. It is important to build your justification for how you structure your classroom and properly present this to the parents. It can be a slow and brutal process. However, I think it can be a very productive exercise.

[20:50] In light of the events at Parkland, have you seen a change amongst your students in terms of an increase interest in taking on some of these more controversial civic topics?

Mark: I think the civic engagement of the Parkland students themselves will have a big impact on my students. I think this is something I’ll see reflected in them this coming semester. I also think that my students have some sense of fear of living in a school on lock down. There is also the teacher side of this. How does a teacher handle teaching in an environment where being on lockdown is becoming more of a norm?

Sep 17, 2018
Behind the scenes of the “Year of the Woman”
00:26:46

Rebecca KreitzerRebecca Kreitzer

One of the biggest headlines to emerge heading into the 2018 midterms is the record number of female candidates in local, state, and national races. While it’s easy to point to this a post-Trump reaction, there’s much more that goes into persuading women to run and helping them raise the money and build the relationships needed to make it into office.

Rebecca Kreitzer, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has been studying the groups that exist to help elect women into office. She and Tracy Osborn from the University of Iowa have counted more than 400 groups around the country modeled in the tradition of Emily’s List.

Much like the groups Lara Putnam described, this is grassroots-level politics in action with women working to promote each other and make their voices heard. As you’ll hear Rebecca describe, there are several reasons why it’s important for women to have a voice in the legislature. However, with so many groups operating at the same time, there are bound to be conflicts and missteps, which Rebecca has also studied.

This interview was recorded at the 2018 American Political Science Association State Politics and Policy Conference, which was held at Penn State in June.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • How important is diversity in a legislature for a democracy?
  • How (if at all) do you think our democracy would change if there were more women in office?
  • Rebecca mentioned that female candidates are a harder time raising money. Why do you think this is?
  • What do you think is the best way to elect more women into office?
  • According to Rebecca, many group that support female candidates use abortion as a litmus test to determine whether or not to endorse someone. What do you think about this policy?
  • Beyond women, are there other groups you feel need to have a higher level of representation in elected office?

Interview Highlights

[4:09] Why do these groups exist for female candidates?

Rebecca: Around the world, there are structure in place to ensure a share of female representation in office, such as quotas. However, that doesn’t exist in the United States. In addition, you have other factors, such as the fact that women tend to have lower levels of political ambition. They also need to be encouraged to run for office. Unfortunately, elected officials are less likely to encourage women to run for office.

These groups are all around the country. Some of them are federal level groups. Others are loosely collected groups modeled after others, such as Emily’s List. There are over 400 such groups with at least one in every state.

[6:06] With so many groups, is there ever a problem of one group sort of stepping on the toes of another?

Rebecca: Some of them are coordinated. These are the ones that are chapters or branches of larger state or national groups. However, most of the groups do work in silos meaning that they work on their own and don’t share resources with other groups. We don’t really know why that is. We think it due to the fact that they’re competing both for resources as well as possible candidates.

[7:09] How do these groups go about recruiting someone who both meets their ideological aims but who can also win an election?

Rebecca: This is a problem because we know that those who are most involved with these groups also tend to enjoy high levels of privilege. Therefore, if these are your scouts, they are going to go after those who they think are good candidates. This could further explain the gap in the group of those who are privileged both financially as well as racially. Many of these groups have diversity goals yet lack plans to actually accomplish this mission. Unfortunately, we don’t know if these efforts are leading to more women being elected to office.

[9:43] What role does the issue of reproductive rights and abortion have in these groups determining who they will get behind?

Rebecca: Of the 400 groups we know of, roughly the same number (about 80) openly support either liberal or conservative candidates. While this gives the appearance of ideological balance amongst these groups, there are those in the middle with no official political affiliation. However, they aren’t as non-partisan as they make themselves appear. A large portion of them require a very pro-choice position from potential female candidates. A very small of these middle groups actually have either a pro-life stance or no position at all on this issue. When you take the issue of abortion into account, there are many more opportunities for pro-choice women than there are for pro-life women.

[11:24] What happens to these women when they win office? Also, why should we care how many women are in office?

Rebecca: Women legislators do face many challenges that male colleagues simply don’t. These include how the media covers them as well as how they raise money. These challenges can vary from state to state and from setting to setting. When it comes to actually making policy, women often lack the seniority which is crucial in actually getting legislation passed.

A popular caveat about women in politics is that they tend to win when they do run. However, this is largely due to the fact that these female candidates are often times much more qualified than their male counterparts.

As to why we should care about the portion of female representation, it actually matters for a number of reasons. One is that it is important for democratic legitimacy that their governing bodies accurately reflect those who they govern. This includes both gender as well as racial diversity. It also helps to empower women and increase legitimacy in our institutions. This is also important due to substantive representation. For example, women are more likely to address issues with policy that are important issues for women. Women tend to introduce and sponsor more bills that have to do with women’s issues. Diversity in government is also important because different people can take different bits of information from a situation and offer different takes on an issue than their counterparts.

Sep 10, 2018
The democrats in public sector unions [Labor Day rebroadcast]
00:32:08

Paul ClarkPaul Clark

This week, we are rebraodcasting our conversation about public sector unions from earlier this year with Paul Clark, director of the School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State.

Paul talks about how these unions exist at at all levels of government — from bureaucrats to bus drivers. Many could find higher wages in the private sector, but are drawn to civil service out of a desire contribute to the public good. Public sector union participation is higher than it is in the private sector, but in some cases the bargaining power those unions have is limited. Despite that, Paul says that these union members are finding creative ways to make their voices heard, which one of the fundamental elements of a democracy.

This episode was recorded before the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Supreme Court decision in late June. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that public sector unions that collected dues from non-members were violating the First Amendment by doing so. The impacts of the ruling mostly have yet to be seen, but as Paul explains, the loss of revenue could further weaken unions moving forward.

Sep 03, 2018
Middle America, Part 2: Grassroots organizing and rebooting democracy
00:34:49
Lara Putnam

Last week, we heard from Salena Zito about the segments of middle America who supported Donald Trump after voting for Barack Obama. This week, we talk with another Pittsburgh resident, Lara Putnam, about a different version of Middle America — the college-educated, middle-aged suburban women who have dusted off the organizing skills honed through decades of volunteering to affect change in their communities.

Lara is a Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author with Theda Skockpol of the article “Middle America Reboots Democracy.” in the journal Democracy. She argues that grassroots work is happening behind the scenes in “purple” suburbs, areas that are ignored in the red state/blue state and urban/rural media narratives.

Grassroots groups like those Lara observed in western Pennsylvania are mixing traditional organizing tactics with social media to raise awareness and push for change at the local and state levels, far away from the divisions that bog down national politics. To borrow a line from the article, “If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here.”

Thank you to WESA and WYEP in Pittsburgh for allowing us to use their community studio to record this interview with Lara.

Additional Information

Middle America Reboots Democracy in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What is the relationship between social engagement and political engagement?
  • How does the populism Salena Zito described differ from the populism behind the groups Lara observed?
  • Lara argues that local grassroots groups have been overlooked by the media and national political parties. Do you agree? If so, why do you think it’s happening?
  • Both Republican and Democratic grassroots appear to want to make America great again. Can both visions of America coexist? Is there a possibility that these two less ideological groups merge into a new political coalition?
  • Lara said that many of the grassroots groups she observed are lead by middle class women. Do you think the tone or activities of these groups would be different if they were run by younger women? Or by men?

Interview Highlights

[3:28] As a history professor, how did you come to write about a political movement?

Lara: After the 2016 election, I looked around at local politics to see where I could make a change. Based on the national political coverage, I expected to see high levels of energy and organization for progressive politics in the city and little in the suburbs. However, what I found was actually that I was missing the real story. What I saw in these smaller towns was people engaging again in the political process through organization. This wasn’t getting covered nationally. This is where I kicked into historical gear. We know that large scale changes nationally have their roots in local developments. Therefore, it leads us to believe that these changes at the local level should be looked at as the possible motivation behind future national changes. So face to face groups which appear insignificant, can actually lead to large political changes.

[6:35] What does middle America mean to you after your research?

Lara: These movements are being started by women. Particularly, women who had already been involved in the political movement prior to the 2016 election. What we mean by “middle America” here is that these democrat movements are taking place not in the stereotypical coastal democrat strongholds, but rather in small rural towns in the middle of the country.

[9:30] Why do you think the national media is missing this trend?

Lara: The national media is really obsessed with candidates. While this does impact the spread of movements like the ones we’re seeing, it doesn’t completely stop them. Remember that politics is local. Most political conversations and political knowledge is shared in local conversations such as when people are running errands in town. This is how information is usually shared. The media tends to underreport this type of grass roots kitchen table politics.

[11:30] Do these groups still see support from the Democratic Party?

Lara: Part of the story here is that the Democratic Party changed. This is why we’re seeing many of these groups being created recently. The party used to be structured in such as way that you could join it and know your fellow democrats. You had a sense that you belonged to an actual place with real people rather than simply an email list. How the party today has embraced these new organizations has varied around the country. In some places, the local party structure has embraced these new groups while in other places you’re seeing more resistance to bringing them into the fold. Whether or not this osmosis process happens depends a lot on the level of maturity of these groups. What I mean by that is how organized and structured they are. When a group is very structured, it tends to more naturally fold into a larger equally as organized group.

[17:25] Do you think there is room in these left leaning groups for someone who voted for Trump in 2016 but have since changed their minds?

Lara: I think there are many different “middle Americas” out there. People are complicated and terms such as progressive means different things in different places.

[21:31] How are these groups communicating and utilizing technology to advance their cause in 2018?

Lara: Some groups have become hybrids of older and newer models in that they’re utilizing both face to face as well as technological forms of communications. For example, groups will often have several facebook pages. One will be public where as the other will be private. This private page has sort of become the 21st century face to face conversation.

Aug 27, 2018
Middle America, Part 1: Populism and the Trump Voter
00:33:04

In the effort to understand the people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, a style of reporting has emerged that Chris Hayes recently described as “Trump pastoral.” You might not know the phrase, but, but you’ve probably read a piece or two like this in the past few years:

Salena ZitoSalena Zito

A reporter from a national media outlet based in a big city visits a small town in a rural community and spends a little bit of time there trying to understand the people who live there and why they are attracted to Trump. That sounds great in theory, but the life of an urban media professional and a small town working-class person can be pretty different, which makes it difficult to build the trust needed for a true window into emotions and motivations.

Salena Zito is trying to change that. She grew up in Pittsburgh and splits her time between small-town events and CNN’s airwaves. Along the way, she’s learned a thing or two about what caused parts of the country to vote for Donald Trump after voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. She captures those stories in a book called The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, which was part of our democracy summer reading list episode.

We traveled to Pittsburgh to talk with Salena about how she gets to know people and what everyone can learn about trying to understand those who live different lives than we do. The lessons she’s learned apply far beyond journalism. We also talked about the coalitions that Salena and co-author Brad Todd argue helped Donald Trump become president, and whether they will remain in tact moving forward.

This is the first episode of two that will look at what’s going on in “Middle America.” Next week, you’ll hear from Lara Putnam, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who offers a different take.

Additional Information

Salena Zito’s book, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Many of the voters Salena interviewed said that the 2016 election was about something more than Donald Trump. What were those bigger ideas?
  • Did Trump create the new coalition Salena describes, or was he in the right place at the right time?
  • What does the new coalition Salena describes say about the future of political parties in the U.S.?
  • Think about a time when you went outside of your comfort zone to attend an event or have a conversation. How did you feel and what did you learn?
  • Will Trump be re-elected in 2020?

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

4:40: What motivated you to write this book?

Salena: We wanted to look and see if the Trump victory was a fluke or an example of a more significant change within the country. I went out to the five Great Lake states that voted for Obama twice then switched to vote for Trump. We wanted to get beyond the media stereotype of what a trump voter was. What we found is that these voters we much more complicated and diverse.

6:04: How did you get people to trust you enough to be willing to open up to you and explain their voting decision?

Salena: This is where my geography and upbringing helped me greatly. I live in Pittsburg. With this more Midwest background, I was able to connect with these people better than say someone who came to them from New York or Washington.

7:13: Did you have anyone skeptical of you and asking if you were part of the “fake news”?

Salena: The shocking thing I found was that democrats have the same misgivings about the news media as republicans do. They also have the same sentiments about larger institutions as republicans. I think this new populism is a healthy pushback to all things big across media and business.

8:08: Have you kept in touch with those you interviewed?

Salena: Yes, we have. Also, no one has changed their position on who they supported from 2016. An interesting development we saw was how these people reacted to the media’s coverage of events in the administration thus far. Specifically, I’m referring to Trumps tweets. What we hear from these people is that they’re sick of the cookie cutter politicians statements. While Trumps comments aren’t clean and crafted, they are more representative of how normal people actually speak. This is something that those we spoke with could identify with. I think sometimes my peers have a hard time understanding this largely because of geography. They aren’t from these types of places.

10:35: You sort of exist in both words by interviewing these people in middle America while also appears on CNN panels as part of the media cloud. Do you see yourself as sort of an ambassador for middle America?

Salena: I want to help people understand that just because someone consumes things different than you do doesn’t make them your enemy. They just have a different life. We don’t allow people to coexist.

12:25: Fox News was mentioned many times in your book. Is that something that came up a lot in your interviews?

Salena: There was a cross section of what these voters watched as far as news. However, most of these people get their news from their local stations.

14:30: We talk a lot about a split happening between classical liberalism and populism. How do people you speak with see the recent electoral developments in middle America?

Salena: I think those in this coalition see it as still the idea of classical liberalism that we’ve always see in American democracy. This is the first time we’ve seen a new major coalition form probably since the new deal amongst democrats. I think that coalition broke apart in 2012. This happened in part because of the push from the left of ideas like multi culturalism and the idea of global citizenship. People on the coasts simply missed this realignment.

16:52: What do you think these new coalitions look like?

Salena: The new coalition within the republican part has a lot of the old new deal democrats. This means that things like entitlement reform aren’t happening in this generation. The suburban voter is still in the republican tent. However, what matters here is where your suburb is.

18:22: Those who study democracy have been looking at Trump as a new sort of autocrat. Do the voters see him that way?

Salena: They don’t see that at all. While people in the press take him literally, the people I spoke with simply don’t. While they take him seriously, they don’t take him literally.

21:11: You’ve been able to get to a deeper level of dialogue with these people by cutting under the rhetoric at the national level. What is your advice to those who wish to do the same?

Salena: Challenge yourself by exposing yourself to something or a situation that you aren’t familiar with and that you don’t know. First, step back and just be an observer. Then watch how people interact with each other. This gives you a better understanding of people and who they actually are. This will help prevent a snap judgment about them.

24:10: Do you think that anyone you spoke with would vote for a democrat?

Salena: As the party exists right now, no. They would have to make some fundamental changes. The thing about this coalition is that they simply don’t feel welcomed by the current democrat party.

Aug 20, 2018
Facebook is not a democracy
00:37:35

Matt Jordan

We have access to more information now than at any other time in history, but we trust that information less than ever before. A Gallup survey recently found that 58 percent of respondents felt less informed because of today’s information abundance. As with a lot of things in life, too much of a good thing might not be so good after all.

If you’ve followed any of the recent news about Facebook — from Mark Zuckerberg’s comments about Holocaust survivors to the decision to ban InfoWars — you’ve probably heard the company make claims about giving its community a voice and other things that sound very democratic. However, as Matt Jordan explains in this episode, that is not the case at all.

At the end of the day, Facebook is a company and its goal is to make a profit. The result of that, Matt argues, is an algorithm-fueled avalanche of information that mixes news with opinion and fact with fiction to reinforce existing thoughts and feelings rather than exposing us to new ideas and perspectives.

Matt has also spent time studying the history of the term fake news and found that it goes back much farther than Donald Trump. He talks about how fake news in 2018 looks different than it did in 1918 and what responsibility journalists and news consumers have to push back against it.

Matt is an associate professor of media studies at Penn State and co-director of the Social Thought Program. For a look at how journalists are working in this media landscape, check out our interview from last season with Halle Stockton of PublicSource, a nonprofit news organization in Pittsburgh.

Note: This episode was recorded before Alex Jones and InfoWars were banned from Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, and other platforms.

Recommended Reading

Matt’s article on the history of fake news

How can democracy thrive in the digital age? From the Knight Foundation Commission on Trust, Media, and Democracy

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think that Facebook’s mission of building community is a cover up for collecting and selling data?
  • Have the scandals surrounding Facebook and other social media over the past year changed your view of the platforms or how you use them?
  • What role should social media play in a democracy?
  • Do you think we’ll ever move away from a scenario where people use social media as their primary news source?

Interview Highlights

[3:23] How did you get drawn towards studying the concept of fake news or fake information?

Jordan: I’m always looking to see how structure of media are impacting cultural conversations. This concept of fake news has become a coercive presence in our media that has continued through 2016 and into 2018.

[4:20] Has the impact of fake information and news continued to today?

Jordan: It has continued through the body of the car into the interior.

[4:35] Can you tell us about your work chronically the history of the term “fake news”?

Jordan: Despite Trump claimed the credit for creating the term, which is a very “Trump” move, it actually came about with the end of the 19th century as a way to lie in media. It was a creation of the muckrakers who used misleading and fake information in the media to impact how the conglomerates at the time controlled media. They came up with this term to discredit both completely fake reporting as well as reporting that left out important information on a particular report. Therefore, the label of “fake news” became something that liberals and progressives used to discredit the large for profit news sources.

[6:00] Are there examples of the use of fake news in this manner today?

Jordan: I think you can look at Fox News and use the label of “fake news” to describe what they do. For example, they often times omit important information from their daily coverage. There will be a major story of the Mueller investigation but Fox will spend their time covering a small student protest on a college campus and the push back they got from liberals as an example of liberals not allowing free speech on campus.

[7:40] Media has changed considerably over the last one hundred years. What impact has sea ranch engines like Google had on the development of fake news?

Jordan: One example of how these creations have impacted our media consumption is a term that Mark Zuckerberg likes, which is information that is “relevant to us”. This is information that we would be predisposed to believe gives our personal sensibilities and opinions. This creates feedback loops where we’re just being exposed to information that we tend to believe or agree with ideologically. The new profit incentive is to keep us interacting.

[10:41] How do media outlets balance this dedication to the truth while allowing all people to access their platform?

Jordan: Facebook is shrewd enough that all of their talking points are related to democratic ideals. For example, their use of the term “voices” referees to the democratic ideal that we should allow more voices into the public discussion on an particular issue. This is a struggle for people to talk about democratic theory. While we say we are going to have “voices” involved in a conversation is not to say that this is inherently going to lead to a fruitful or productive conversation on a topic just because more sides are represented. Do we need more wars? Do we need more Alex Jones out there? Probably not. It is important to remember that outlets like Facebook benefit form having more Alex Jones type characters getting people going emotionally. This makes the media more sticky. It is interesting when they use these democratic ideals of “voices” to cover up their own interests, which is to create more emotional news which increase their profits.

[12:33] Given that, what do you see as the path forward?

Jordan: Whenever you have an explosion of new media formats and sources of information, you’re going to have an explosion of misinformation and fake news. At each time this has happened in history, the government has had to come in and regulate who can use the platforms to spread information. Therefore, those who say that the market can help clean up these news sources are simply wrong. Mostly because the markets have little financial incentive to limit certain sources of media as part of cleaning it up.

[15:36] In the Trump administration, do you see a place where government oversight can take place?

Jordan: The only way this would happen is if the democrats sweep in the midterms and the Trump administration ends up on the back end of the national mood. This would mean they would want to limit messages to try to get on the right side again. I simply don’t see this happening. The right has done a good job of making people think that regulation is simply bad across the board. It is going to be a difficult battle to get people to warm up to the idea of introducing government regulation to current mass media platforms like Facebook. The system we have today of fact checking media simply can’t keep up. For example, I heard in a recent sort of ad hoc way that we receive more information today than those alive in the 15th century would receive in an entire lifetime.

[19:17] What responsibility do journalists have in these situations?

Jordan: They have a huge responsibility. The purpose of freedom of the press has always been to limit the ability of those in power to get away with lying to the people. However, in order for them to get the public’s trust back, they have to show that they are working to find the truth rather than to protect the interest of their shareholders. The future for these journalists is at the local level. People really love their local news. While national coverage is an emotional wrestling match, it is the coverage of local affairs that people can relate to which gets them to come out and get involved in government. I think local media that can inform people of things that directly relate to them in their communities is how journalism can lead the fight against the current media climate that fake news is flourishing in.

Aug 13, 2018
How will we remember Charlottesville?
00:29:35

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Unite The Right rally and counter protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that claimed the life of Heather Heyer and set off a firestorm around President Trump’s remarks about who was to blame for the violence. One year later, the Robert E. Lee statue at the center of the controversy is still there, and it seems the conversation about what it stands for has stalled.

Brad Vivian

The Lee statue is part of a complicated public memory about the south’s Confederate past. These shared stories of the Civil War and what it means make it difficult to change the conversation and have a productive dialogue about how to move forward.

Joining us to unpack the public memory around Charlottesville is Brad Vivian. He is the director of the McCourtney Institute’s Center for Democratic Deliberation and a professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State. Brad studies public memory, particularly around Confederate iconography. He also grew up in the Charlottesville area and recounts some of his experiences there during the interview.

We are excited to begin the second season of Democracy Works with such an important and timely topic. If you like what you hear, make sure to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts.

Recommended Reading

Brad’s op-ed about Charlottesville and democracy in the Philadelphia Inquirer 

Vinegar Hill neighborhood, by the Virginia Foundation for Humanities

History of Market Street Park, now known as Emancipation Park

Brad’s book, Commonplace Witnessing: Rhetorical Invention, Historical Remembrance, and Public Culture

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • What are your memories of the events in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017?
  • Do you think that the national narrative following the events was focused on the right issues?
  • What do you think leads to the development of an inaccurate memory of past events? Especially ones that tend to look at past actions through rose colored glasses?
  • How do you think the concept of public memory relates to democracy?
  • What do you think we can do to ensure that the story of past events maintains more truth over the years?

Interview Highlights

[2:20] What was it like growing up in Charlottesville and what went through your mind as you watched the events unfold there last summer?

Brad: It is sort of a closely held secret. It is a great college town. It has sort of this small town living with a sort of metropolitan feel to it. Sort of like State College. The town is part of this growing corridor from DC down to Richmond Virginia. A lot of those coming here to study from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey are turning a once red state into a purple or even a light blue state.

[3:50] While you were growing up there, was the Robert E. Lee statue something people would talk about?

Brad: Everyone knew it was there but it wasn’t really a part of the discussion in the circle I was in, which consisted of the university. Surprising, after the riots, we didn’t really talk much about the statue. What we did talk about was Thomas Jefferson and his legacy there.

[6:20] What is public memory and how does it form?

Brad: It’s really a metaphor. For example, people say we have a collective memory of what the civil war was like. The way this is formed of long ago events is how they’re talked about in the immediate aftermath by those who experienced them. This then gets carried on throughout the ages. Part of these stories might have some accuracy to actual historical fact, but they don’t have to in order for this memory to form and take hold. There is a lot of fact but also mythology here. This sense of memory is very important in that it creates a personal connection to the event.

[10:00] What many don’t realize is that these statues didn’t go up until long after the end of the war. How does this speak to your concept of a public memory?

Brad: Public memory can become very political when a certain group wants to change the way that a particular story is told in public. In my view, this can be a very anti-democratic practice especially when this group tries to use the threat of force to effect this change.

[11:50] How do you have conversations around something like these monuments when so many have personal connections to wanting to protect and keep them?

Brad: One of the reasons this is so difficult to do has to do with the way the main stream media frames discussions. What the media does is light of these sorts of events is put attention towards what power holders say. In the case of Charlottesville, it was the comments by Trump that got all the attention and drove the narrative of the discussions after the event. Another problem is the softer mythology of the Civil War and its figures, such as Lee. For example, the textbooks in the south portrayed the war as a battle between two honorable sides. This is not a good framework for having a discussion as to what these statues actually mean. In order to get to important conversations such as what these statues really mean in terms of southern pride, we have to break the trend of the media coming in and setting the narrative around comments of those holding power.

[15:00] Where can people go to get these conversations away from the established narrative from the media?

Brad: One place to go would be southern black communities. There are millions in this community that don’t identify with the idea of confederate pride image of southern pride. We need to acknowledge that the south is a rather diverse place with different ideas of what the culture is and what pride of the south is.

[16:20] At what point does public memory start to form? For example, when will the memory of the events in Charlottesville begin to form?

Brad: I think it will be a relevant point for a while. Especially in black communities. I’m still concerned that we aren’t going to be able to have important conversations, such as one about the events in Vinegar Hill around the issue of desegregation. I think the people in the city will be debating this issue for a long long time. I know the city is still divided over it.

Aug 06, 2018
A democracy reading list
00:51:44

If you’ve been to a book store or the library lately, then you’ve probably seen at least a few books on democracy on the shelves. The 2016 presidential election spurred a lot of conversation about the current state of our democracy and where things go from here. These books are not what most people would call beach reading, but they are important to understanding what’s happening in the U.S. and around the world right now.

We know you probably don’t have time to read all of them. Hopefully this episode will help you choose one or two to tackle. Here’s the rundown of the books we discuss:

And here are a few others we recommend but didn’t have time to discuss in this episode:

Thank you to everyone who supported us on the first season of Democracy Works. Season two will begin in mid-August with a look at Confederate monuments and public memory on the anniversary of last summer’s riots in Charlottesville.

Jul 09, 2018
Bonus: A dose of optimism about the future of democracy
00:12:40

If you need a sense of hope about the future of democracy, you’ve come to the right place. Stephanie Keyaka, editor-in-chief of The Underground and one of the McCourtney Institute’s Nevins Fellows, is spending the summer interning for Zeke Cohen on the Baltimore City Council. She believes Baltimore is on the cusp of something big and is doing everything she can to help bring that change to fruition.

Stephanie Keyaka

Stephanie’s spent her summer canvassing in support of an amendment that will give the council and the city’s residents more control over its budget and answering calls from city residents who are looking for help for problems ranging from the serious to the mundane. During the course of those conversations, she’s had the chance to deliver some optimism about the city’s future.

The Underground is an all-digital news platform at Penn State that covers campus and community events through a multicultural lens. Stephanie sees firsthand the power of the free press in a democracy and tries to instill a sense of passion and tenacity in the reporters she oversees.

Stephanie, like all of our Nevins Fellows, is extremely bright and very well spoken. It’s hard not to feel at least a little hopeful about the future of democracy with people like her poised to take the reins.

Jul 05, 2018
The constitutional crisis episode
00:24:19

This is one we’ve been wanting to do since we started the podcast. The term constitutional crisis is frequently used but often misunderstood. Like democracy, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Jud Mathews

If anyone can provide a definition, it’s Jud Mathews, an associate professor of law at Penn State. He has a law degree and a Ph.D. in political science. Jud says we’re not in a constitutional crisis yet, but that constitutional norms — much like democratic norms — are eroding more and more each day.

Jud also cautions against using the term constitutional crisis too loosely because of the “boy who cried wolf” problem that we’ll become so desensitized that we won’t recognize one when it actually occurs. Beyond being a legal scholar, he has made the Constitution his life’s work. He’s passionate about what it represents and understandably upset to see its force as a roadmap for the country called into question.

If there’s one bright spot to take from this conversation, it’s that there are many dedicated public servants throughout the government who are committed to upholding constitutional norms and preventing a crisis from occurring.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think were currently in a constitutional crisis?
  • If so, what role do you think citizens play in solving it?
  • In a situation similar to that described above where one branch ignores the constitutional order of another, how should we go about enforcing the rule of law?
  • Are you concerned that the pace at which current events develops today will prevent us from either identifying a constitutional crisis or being able to handle it when we spot it?
  • What role do you think the rising polarization of politics will have in being able to handle and correct a constitutional crisis if one were to develop?

Interview Highlights

[3:00] What is a constitutional crisis?

Jud: You can think of the constitution as a road map. One way to think about a constitutional crisis is that the government is going off the road or off the rails. Such a situation could be the fault of the public or it could be the fault of the document itself. For example, we might face a situation that the constitution does provide guidance for. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very much in our system. It is also possible that the constitution does provide clear guidance, but we have a single actor who simply refused to follow this guidance and do what they want.

[4:30] Are there examples where we’ve been in such a situation in the past?

Jud: I think the biggest example that people would look at would be the secession preceding the Civil War. The constitution doesn’t really tell us what to do when a state wants to leave. This arguably led to a war over this issue. My definition is rather strict. Therefore, I wouldn’t say we’ve face many constitutional crisis type situations. One reason I’m strict on my definition is because of a potential “boy who cried wolf” problem. Here, someone complains of so many false emergencies that no one listens when there is an actual crisis. Another reason for the strict definition is that being in a crisis situation leads to serious uses of force potentially.

[7:15] We’ve heard people around the president say that he is above the law. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jud: There is a strong respect within the constitution for the idea that while the president isn’t completely above the law, he is subject to it only through his own actions in executing the law. Under the constitution, the executive is charged with ensuring that the law is effectively carried out. Because of this, there is little the other branches can do to control the executive. While this does not mean that the executive is above the law, it is not the place of another branch, such as congress, to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the executive. Given this level of power, it’s incredibly important that the executive respect the law. To ensure this is done, there are many norms in place to sort of curtail the actions of the executive. What concerns me with this administration is at best an indifference and at worst a hostility towards these constitutional norms.

[9:42] What happens when these norms are violated?

Jud: There isn’t law about what happens when these norms are violated. However, elections can serve as a control when these norms are violated. When an executive violates a particular constitutional norm, they can be voted out of office in a following election. There is also the impeachment process. This is largely a political control option. While the constitution does spell out specifically what can be the ground for impeachment, whether the house goes through with filing charges or not is largely a political decision.

[11:00] Another view of a constitutional crisis is when one branch doesn’t follow order from another. Could you speak to a situation like this in terms of a constitutional crisis?

Jud: I think something like this with the executive not following an action by the legislative, such as overriding a presidential veto, absolutely is a constitutional crisis. However, it is possible that this stems from a legitimate dispute between the branches as to what the constitution requires. This is also a situation where there is not really a great solution or end game. Here, one branch is going to have its power limited and look inferior to another. However, if nothing is done, then we all loose as the constitution is disrespected. Something similar to this happened during the Civil War when Lincoln disregarded an order by the Supreme Court to honor the right to habeas corpus. Eventually, the country fought through it and got past it. However, the court perhaps lost some power and legitimacy as a result of the executive never really being held accountable for this.

[14:00] Today we see the events in the news greatly outpace development of the law. How do you see this impacting respect for the constitution and law?

Jud: It seems as thought our political life is on fast forward right now. I think this has a numbing effect on those who watch the legal actions of the administration.

[15:00] As a constitutional scholar, how does it make you feel to see constitutional norms being eroded?

Jud: It does make me concerned. One thing I think the president has yet to understand and respect is the fact that we have a set of legal norms to protect the proper role of constitutional governance. Many of the factors that influence constitutional governance will never see the inside of a court. These important matter will be decided by those in the administration. To ensure that these decisions are proper and respect the constitution, there is a large number of procedures in place. The president simply doesn’t show a lot of respect for these procedures. That being said, I’m confident because there are still a lot of very talented dedicated public servants in departments all around the government.

Jul 02, 2018
Unpacking political polarization
00:31:25

Polarization is a term that’s thrown around among political pundits as one reason for the decline of American democracy — often without an explanation of what it really means. We’re even guilty of it on this show.

Boris Shor

To set the record straight, we talk with Boris Shor, an assistant professor at the University of Houston and an expert on political polarization. Boris breaks down what polarization means, and how it looks different in the legislature and in public opinion. This is an important distinction that is often lost in the efforts to frame the narrative in a tweet or a soundbite.

He also argues that polarization is not always an negative, especially at the state level, and that it might not be time to blow up the entire party system just yet. While we hear a lot about polarization in the media and from politicians (who themselves are polarized), the rest of the country might be more in the middle than you think.

This conversation was recorded at the 2018 State Politics and Policy Conference, which was hosted by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and brought more than 100 political science scholars to Penn State.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Have you seen politics become more polarized where you live?
  • Do you think one side has become more polarized than the other?
  • Do you think this is a dangerous trend in politics?
  • Have you either questioned or changed your party identification recently due to increased polarization?
  • What do you think is responsible for the increase in political polarization in American politics?
  • Do you think this problem will get worse in the years to come?

Interview Highlights

[4:00] What is political polarization?

Boris: Primarily, it is an ideological separation between two sides. This can also mean that the division within a particular party is decreasing. This means that the party is becoming more homogenous in terms of ideology. The internal division of ideology within parties goes away as polarization becomes more severe.

[5:50] Do we see this pulling apart happening within the political parties?

Boris: We are seeing this happen in the legislature. IT has been happening for a while now. It is less clear if this is happening in public opinion. In the area of public opinion, we are seeing people be more set in their parties. For example, those who may have been republicans but shift over to the Democratic Party are now much more likely to remain in the Republican Party.

[7:00] What does this polarization mean for democracy?

Boris: We’re concerned specifically because of how many veto points there are within our system. At many points, opposition can shut down certain initiatives. As the two sides become more polarized, the chances of government shutting down become greater. This is usually from a small group. One example is the freedom caucus within the republican side of Congress. This is a very small portion of the body, but one that can shut down legislation. Things operate a little differently at the state level where they are fewer such veto points. Also, we have fewer super majority requirements at the state level. Another important aspect of state politics is that you often have single party dominated states. For example, California is dominated by democrats. Therefore, if you’re a democrat, you like polarization in California because that means you can pass more progressive policies easily.

[10:30] Officials in California changed their primary process. What this an attempt to curtail polarization?

Boris: Yes, it was. Those leading the effort, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, were concerned about not having a political home given that they were moderates. The idea was to get away from the party controlled primary process which usually gives us very partisan candidates in the general election. Under the new system everyone runs together. We studied this system to see if it really had a moderating effect. A problem we’re seeing is lower voter turnout in the primaries. In order for this new system to work, you need higher turnout. We’re also seeing the problem of lockouts where the party splits their vote between multiple candidates and end up without a candidate getting to the state of the general election. Our study shows that this process worked for democrats in California but not the republicans. However, where it has been successful in increasing competition.

[13:50] How does this new type of system work in a more polarized public?

Boris: We know that polarization is significant at the primary stage of elections. We know that there are usually Marco movements in political opinion within the public. For example, we’ll have a long run of leadership of one party or the other, but then people will simply want a change and go with the other side. Overall, I think public opinion is more moderate that that of elites in politics.

[16:00] What effect does gerrymandering have on polarization?

Boris: It probably has less of an impact on polarization than people would expect. A good example of this is the US Senate. These state boundaries have been set for a long time. However, we still see these elected officials being more and more partisan. The point of gerrymandering is to create districts where your party firmly controls. This should actually lead to the majority party in a certain district having to moderate itself a little since they’re trying to appeal to a larger portion of the electorate. So I don’t think polarization is the chief concern as it relates to gerrymandering.

[18:00] How can states ensure that those in office truly represent those who live there?

Boris: Part of the problem is that we don’t know all of the relevant factors impacting political polarization. While we might not be able to impact the causes, we may be able to limit the effects, such as gridlock often caused by polarization. One way to do this would be eliminating the supermajority requirements in legislatures. However, this then leads to a debate about federalism and the idea of elections having consequences in that the majority who won gets to pass the policies they were elected to implement.

[20:00] What factors lead to “party switchers” which is someone moving from one party to another?

Boris: Party switching can be dangerous because you simply make a lot of enemies. What I think it points to is the importance of ideology. The increase in this phenomenon is a result of the parties becoming more and more polarized. Now we see moderates who simply don’t fit within what the respective parties have become.

[23:00] Following the 2016 election, some have proposed simply blowing up the traditional party structure. What do you think about that?

Boris: There is a reason we have two parties. This is due to the structure of our electoral system. What I’m more interested in is internal changes within the parties along ideological lines. For example, within the Republican Party, we’re still waiting to see if its going to become the party of Trump. There is reason to think this won’t happen given how trump candidates have faired in state elections. Switching over to democrats, here we are seeing the party becoming more polarized with prospective 2020 candidates now all supporting Medicare for all or single payer healthcare.

Jun 25, 2018
What should voting look like in the 21st century?
00:27:43

Across the U.S., the process to register to vote and cast a ballot is different in every state. And we’re not just talking about minor details. The entire registration process and timeline can vary widely from one state, as do the regulations surrounding campaign finance and electoral maps.

Kathy Boockvar

Pennsylvania tends to fall on the more restrictive side of things, and Governor Tom Wolf is trying to change that. Earlier this year, he announced the 21st Century Voting Reform Plan, which includes same day voter registration, changes to the absentee ballot process, as well as campaign finance reform.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar traveled to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to build consensus the plan. We talked with her about using technology to increase voting access without compromising voter data in the process, and about the criticism from Pennsylvania Republicans that the voting reform plan is a convenient tactic for a Democratic governor in an election year.

While this episode talks specifically about Pennsylvania, the compromises that must be made across counties and municipalities exists everywhere and is indicative of why states are sometimes referred to as “laboratories of democracy.” It’s also an insight into the hard work that it takes to make large-scale change to one of the most fundamental parts of democracy.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Are there any problems that you’ve noticed in your state’s voting procedures?
  • If so, what improvements would you like to see your state enact?
  • As voting systems move more towards technological advancements, are you worried about data security?
  • Do you think the systems we currently use have been influenced by foreign entities?
  • Do you think there is a political motivation behind the efforts in Pennsylvania to changing voting procedures including the redistricting campaign?

Interview Highlights

[4:30] What do you think of when you hear the term “electoral modification”?

Kathy: We have a chance to advance both our technology as it relates to voting, as well as enabling more people to get to the polls. One example is the replacement of our aging voting machines. Also, we want to improve the way in which we register people to vote.

[5:40] Can you talk a little about how the governor’s voting plan came about?

Kathy: The governor is dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to vote. Globally, we actually have a very low level of voter turnout. This plans includes not just the effort to increase vote turnout but also to address campaign finance reform and redistricting efforts. So there is a lot of work to do.

[6:30] Is there something you’re trying to tackle first?

Kathy: Absentee voting is one area we are addressing now. The State department has been working with the counties to work on improving this process, such as not requiring an excuse to be able to vote absentee. The way people travel and commute has change. We think this should lead to an updated voting procedure. We think we can really streamline the entire process

[8:00] It sounds like a daunting task. What do you think has contributed to the inability to make these changes in the past?

Kathy: There are many important partnerships between the state and local municipalities. This change doesn’t happen in a vaccine and requires cooperation with all of these small local governments.

[9:00] Do you find that concerns are different throughout the state, such as between urban areas like Philadelphia as compared to more rural areas?

Kathy: Every county is different from the next. Due to this, we aren’t going to find a magic solution that makes everyone happy. Therefore, coming to an agreement is going to require a lot of give and take between everyone.

[10:30] Do you look around the country and see the process of any particular state as a goal to reach here in Pennsylvania?

Kathy: All of the aspects of the plan we’re trying to instill have been introduced in other places. I’ve spoken with those in other states to discuss what they’ve done to improve their operations, such as updating the voting machines. Another example is same day registration, which has been adopted by many other states including D.C. This gives us a lot of great models to work from.

[11:30] Some have expressed concerns about Russia being able to hack the older voting machines. Is this a concern of yours?

Kathy: What a lot of people don’t realize is just how many security measures we have in place to protect the election. Also, that we are constantly expanding these. It is actually very difficult to conduct wide spread hacking of our system because of these checks. However, another problem is the age of our machines. One problem this brings is that newer operating systems may not be supported by these older machines going forward.

[13:20] Can you speak a little about the redistricting effort that we’ve seen?

Kathy: I think it’s becoming rather clear that the way in which these lines have been drawn does not reflect the intentions of the founders. Also, it doesn’t serve the best interests of the voters themselves. Therefore, we strongly support a change of the procedure to put the decision making in the hands of those who aren’t directly invested in the outcome of the redistricting. We also support not having political considerations involved in the process of drawing the lines. These efforts should get us back to the original intentions of having nice square districts that group similar communities together.

[15:00] How do you strike a balance between using technology to advance the system while also keeping voter information safe?

Kathy: Data security is going to be an issue we have to worry about for a long time going forward. This impacts every area of our life from medical information to our voting information. In terms of voting information, it is important to remember that there are many checks in place protecting your information. Also, it is important that people know that their voting results are never connected to the internet. Our systems are never linked up to any network. All results are personally delivered to the higher ups who officiate and confirm the election results.

[17:20] Republican opponents of the governor have claimed that this effort he is engaged in is simply a political move. Could you speak to that a little?

Kathy: The governor has been dedicated to this effort for decades well before he became governor. At the same time, we’re realistic about the political climate here and we realize that this won’t all pass this year. It is important to start this conversation. Given that we’re a battle ground state, it is concerning that we rank around the middle of the pack on voter turnout.

[21:00] What motivates you in this work?

Kathy: You never feel more connected to the idea of democracy than when you’re working to expand those who participate in the process via voting. The conversations with the individual counties is absolutely a part of that process in Pennsylvania. The people involved in this are very committed to making sure every vote is counted.

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The post What should voting look like in the 21st century? appeared first on Democracy Works podcast.

Jun 18, 2018
When the “business of business” bleeds into politics
00:26:08

What is the role of a corporation in a democracy? If you asked Milton Friedman, the answer would be none at all. He famously said in the 1970s that the only corporate social responsibility a company has is to turn a profit for its shareholders.

Forrest BriscoeForrest Briscoe

Some 40 years later, the answer to that question looks very different. Companies are increasingly stepping up to fill what they perceive to be a void left by polarized and paralyzed government. In the past year, we’ve seen Patagonia advocating to protect national parks from the Trump administration and Dick’s Sporting Goods banning the sale of assault weapons after the Parkland shooting. These organizations wield a lot of power, both financially and in swaying public opinion.

Forrest Briscoe, a professor of management in Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, has been studying the gradual closing of the gaps between business, government, and civil society and talks with us about what it means for employees, for companies, and for consumers.

The echo chambers we experience among our friends and our media may be bleeding over into the workplace — which has some serious implications for democracy. In a tight job market, a company’s political beliefs may even be a deciding factor when someone is considering multiple job offers.

The space between business, government, and civic life is closing faster than you think. We argue that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something that we should be aware of as workers, consumers, and democratic citizens.

Interview Highlights

[5:00] How have we gone through this change of corporations being single minded on profit to now being concerned with activism?

Forrest: We’ve come from a time where the idea of business doing something other than business would detract from their efforts of profit. A key characteristic which has changed over time is the fact that business and government aren’t these completely separated spheres like they used to be years ago.

[6:36] What are the factors that would impact a businesses decision to get involved with a certain cause?

Forrest: Sometimes companies will be forced to change because they’re being targeted by activists. However, we’re now seeing those at the top of companies wanting to actually reach out to these social movements. So we’re seeing effects work in both directions. Also, companies might see profit opportunities by embracing a certain cause or campaign. Another persuasion tactic is this use of benchmark competition that some movements have tapped into. For example, we see that LBGTQ groups have created rankings of the most friendly companies to their cause. This touches upon an driving interest amongst businesses, which is to beat their competition in some benchmark test.

[13:00] Do you think there is a danger in companies becoming too homogenous in political views as they get more and more involved in politics?

Forrest: Yes, and this is something we’ve been trying to study in our research. Any institution can have a varying amount of diversity along lines of political ideology. If this is paired with functional communication, it can be productive like a democracy. However, without the right culture, you can have a Balkanized effect where the company struggles with constant conflict along these ideological differences. I also worry about companies becoming too aligned with partisan ideas. If this continues, we could see a worsening of the partisan divided if our companies join the divide along with those in government.

[16:00] Can you address the consumer side of this issue?

Forrest: With boycotts, I think their increased numbers, but remoteness as to actual buying habits could reduce their overall effectiveness. There is also a new phenomenon known as “buycotts” where people are supporting those who they agree with ideologically by only doing business with the.

Jun 11, 2018
Michael Mann’s journey through the climate wars
00:36:48

This episode is not about climate change. Well, not directly, anyway. Instead, we talk with Nobel Prize winner and Penn State Distinguished Professor of Meteorology Michael E. Mann about his journey through the climate wars over the past two decades and the role that experts have to play in moving out of the lab and into the spotlight to defend the scientific process.

Doing so is more important now than ever, he says, as corporation-funded think tanks continue to churn out information that deliberately sows skepticism among the public about our role in climate change. But it does beg the question: How do square the idea that in a democracy, everyone’s vote is equal but everyone’s opinion is not?

Mann was part of the team that created the now-infamous hockey stick graph that showed how quickly the rate of warming on the planet had accelerated during the latter half of the 20th century. In the 20 years since graph was published, he’s had his email hacked, been called to testify before Congress, and been hounded by Internet trolls long before social media existed.

He chronicled those experiences in his 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Despite it all, he’s more passionate than ever about spreading the good word about science and cautiously optimistic that things might turn out ok after all.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think we have a problem in America with having rational and logical fact based discussions?
  • If so, why do you think this has grown to be a problem?
  • Do you think your political affiliation impacts your opinion on this issue and whether or not you’re willing to change your position on it?
  • Can someone subscribe to an ideology yet disagree with that ideology on this particular issue or any particular issue?

Interview Highlights

[6:00] In 2012, you wrote a book where you expressed cautious optimism that we were heading in a positive direction on climate change. Do you still have that same level of optimism?

Michael: Even today when there is cause of pessimism in the area of climate science, we are seeing progress on this issue at the state and local level. Also, we’re seeing progress on this issue of climate science in the private sector where corporations are taking it upon themselves to improve their practices. For example, when Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement, state and local leaders joined a pledge signifying there were still on board with the initiative. Given all of these efforts, we would still likely meet the goals under the initiative regardless as to whether we officially leave the agreement or not. However, meeting the Paris agreement is not enough to control global temperatures below dangerous levels. In order to accomplish this, we’ll have to do even more. However, we are starting to see a positive bend downward in global temperatures.

[9:00] In an era of government gridlock, we’ve seen an increase in private activism from companies and individual activist. Can you speak more to this?

Michael: This is perhaps the primary reason for optimism. In this atmosphere of hostility towards fact based discussion and action, we’ve seen a rebirth of citizen engagement on this issue. The science march in DC is a good example of this. We can’t just sit back after publishing the articles and let the government sort of figure it out. That doesn’t work anymore.

[10:30] You talk in your book about scientists having to come out and be advocates of facts. Can you speak more about that challenge?

Michael: I would have been happy to have been left alone in the lab doing what I love to do, which is scientific study and solving problems. The last thing on my agenda was the idea that I’d get in the debate over human caused climate change. It is not what I signed up for. However, whether I liked it or not, I was thrust out into the public arena when we published the hockey stick graph. It is an uncomfortable place to be. Partly because this isn’t what we’re trained for. We are trained to live in a world where facts and logic rule the day. When you leave this sphere, the rules of engagement are completely different. Here, facts and logic don’t play the same role as they do in the field of science. Here, rhetoric wins over logic. If you’re going to succeed as a scientists in this political sphere, you have to adapt how you convey information to the public in an adverse atmosphere. Over time, I’ve become comfortable in this role.

[14:00] What is the Serengeti Strategy? How was it used against you and then how did you turn it back against those who disagree with you?

Michael: It is an analogy for how critics of climate science attack those who stray from the pack of climate science. I coined that phrase after a trip to the Serengeti where we say a group of Zebras lined up side to side. Our guide informed us that this is a strategy for confusing predators. With a wall of stripes, the predators don’t have a single target to lock in on. Essentially, it is a defense strategy. The critics know they can’t take down something like an entire government panel on climate change, but they can single off a particular scientist and go after them.

[16:45] At any point during the attacks you experienced did you question what you were doing?

Michael: I was very confident in our science. Also, the fact that dozens of other studies have supported our original findings, I’m even more confident in the work we were doing at that time.

[17:30] In light of the Serengeti Strategy, is there a belief within the scientific community that you have to sort of present a unified front?

Michael: I don’t think so. There is robust within the field about different approaches to study and to solving the problem. Scientists spend most of their time arguing about advancing the science between what is known and what isn’t know. It is by disagreeing and challenging popular opinion that advances and new discoveries are reached. This is also how people get funded. However, this is often used by opposition to argue that we’re just in this for the money. That is just not the case.

Another important thing to point our is the significant of a scientific organization coming out with a definitive statement about the impact of climate change. Usually, the scientific communities strays from such strong statements. The fact that there is enough agreement from a diverse field for an institution to make this statement is something people should take note of.

[20:40] Do you have an opinion on the idea that in a democracy all votes are equal but opinions are not?

Michael: There is an attack on expertise and fact based debates. While this is a new issue broadly speaking, this is something we in the climate science community have been dealing with for years. All of the tools used against our research years ago are the same ones we’re seeing be employed today along a broad range of topics at the national level. What I think we’ve seen is that the environment around discrediting our work has metastasized to infect our entire body politic.

[24:00] What do you think is the treatment or cure for some of the problems we’re seeing in fact based debate nationally?

Michael: Ultimately, the only real solution is democracy and the democratic process. This includes people getting out to vote. If we allow special interests to continue to outweigh the voters, we’ll see a continued push back against our efforts.

[26:00] Can you speak about a time where you saw someone’s opinion on climate science change after speaking with you?

Michael: There have been some great examples. An employee of the AEI, which is a Coke brothers front group, came to the realization that he had been fighting for the side of evil. He is still a republican, but he is now trying to be on the right side of the science. I’ve come across many skeptics, which is not inherently a bad thing. All good scientists are skeptics. However, being skeptical in the fact of overwhelming evidence is not good skepticism. There have been many instances where I’ve had people come to me after a lecture and tell me that they are a least questioning their prior position. This is all we can ask for. We can’t want to replace one sort of evangelism with another. We want people to be able to critically evaluate the evidence. We have to help them to be able to do that.

Jun 04, 2018
Can young people revive civic engagement?
00:26:04
Peter Levine head shot

Peter Levine is one of the country’s leading scholars in the area of civic engagement. He is the Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life and author of “We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America.”

The very idea of civic engagement has changed drastically in the past decade or so as communities form online instead of in person. Does this mean young people are more likely to become engaged in civic and political issues? And, will that engagement translate into votes? Peter and his colleagues study these questions and will be watching closely heading into November’s election.

The interview with Peter also touches on what today’s young people can learn from their predecessors 50 years ago. We heard from Tommie Smith about the struggles he faced in 1968; Peter reflects on how civic engagement looks different today and how students today can keep activism alive.

For more information on Peter’s work, visit the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at civicyouth.org or his website at peterlevine.ws.

Interview Highlights

[7:00] What do you think about the activism of Generation Z?

Peter: I am excited about what they’re doing. I would attribute a lot of this to good civil education. I also think its relevant that they’re coming to age in an era of political energy and engagement. While I wouldn’t say this is exactly the dawning of generation z, I would say it is the beginning of a very interesting time in American history.

[8:15] How can people find a common ground to facilitate discussions on difficult topics?

Peter: I wish I had a good answer for this. For example, the gun debate is a good one to have but I’m not sure how much change it can lead to. I think the kids protesting for gun control have the right to do that. However, they shouldn’t be carrying the burden to do so. Also, it isn’t their responsibly to lead a balanced debate on the topic. They are allowed to advocate for their specific stance on the issue.

[11:00] We are in a very important anniversary year of 1968. What can youth activists learn from their predecessors fifty years ago who found themselves in a contentious time?

Peter: The most inspiring stories to me are the high points of the civil rights movement during that time. There is also a lot to be learned from that movement. For example, it’s important to teach students that Rosa Parks wasn’t just some tired old woman who had simply had enough. We should teach kids that in fact she was a long time activist with the NAACP, and that this was a planned political action. This teaches kids how to operate activism today.

[12:20] How do you ensure that proper history is being thought to kids?

Peter: There are several problems with ensuring accurate teaching of this history. One problem is that its presumed that this civil rights movement was led by a relatively small number of individuals. Most of them being men. Also, it is incorrectly described to children as a rather spontaneous movement and development. When it reality, it was a long fight that is still being fought today.

[13:00] Do you thin that social movements today still need the sort of big movement leaders of the 60’s?

Peter: This is difficult to balance. Especially given the fact that we’re in a time of celebrity politics where our president is in the position due mostly to his celebrity status before taking office. On the other hand, we have social movements that are almost allergic to any one figure being the leader. They don’t’ like to structure themselves with strong leaders. Occupy Wall street would be a good example of this disdain for structured leadership within a movement. There is absolutely a less prominent role within these movements than the movements of the 60’s. It feels like a rapidly shifty terrain where we have an increased value of celebrity along side of movements that are focused on not having specific leadership structures.

14:30: Another key question about youth engagement is whether or not they’ll vote. What is your take on this aspect of the issue?

Peter: I do think they’ll boost youth turnout. However, it will be an increase from a terrible point in the last election. This turnout will also make a difference in terms of who will win these races. For example, the different results in the 2006 and 2014 midterm races can be explained by the variation in youth voting. I think the Parkland kids have a potential to impact turnout by a few percent specifically because of their focus on getting out the vote.

[16:10] Why do you think the youth turnout in the 2016 race was the lowest we’ve ever seen?

Peter: It had been pretty bad for a long long time. There are many relevant factors leading to this. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a concerted effort to getting out the youth vote. Many tend to ignore the youth vote. While we see good youth turnout in the presidential races, this dips considerably in mid term races. This is due partly to the fact that smaller local races don’t have the resources to target the youth vote. Also, it is easier for young voters to get to the information they want without having to come in contact with information about their local races. This negatively impacts their interest and therefore their participation in these races. Also, young people are less connected to large institutions that would have informed them of these local races.

[17:45] Do you see anything coming up to replace these traditional institutions that used to get the youth involved in voting?

Peter: I think there is a variety of possible replacements. From social media to apps, there are many places for young people to gather. However, none of them have the infrastructure or business model of the traditional media outlets or churches from the 50’s. It is mostly a question of how to transform these possible replacements into more substantive long term institutions. I don’t think we have that yet. The channels available now weren’t designed specifically to be these new institutions. This is also causing a problem.

May 29, 2018
Bonus: Democracy In Action #1
00:07:25

We love talking with scholars and thought leaders on Democracy Works, but we’d also like to bring you the everyday stories of democracy in action. This the first installment in that series.

We visited the central Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action and heard how they are using the power of conversation to reframe the gun debate and reinvigorating a sense of civic engagement among members. A recent meeting also included a “government 101” presentation that covered the basics of how a bill becomes a law and the best way for someone to contact an elected official.MOMS Demand Action logo

In this mini episode, you’ll hear from Lori Wieder, who is a founding member of the central Pennsylvania Moms Demand Action Chapter, and from Katie Blume, deputy political director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Both Katie and Lori are firm believers — as we are — in the power that can come from everyone exercising their power as small-d democrats regardless of political affiliation.

Do you have a story of democracy in action? Drop us a line at democracyinst@psu.edu; we’d love to hear about it and consider it for a future Democracy Works episode.

May 24, 2018
A conversation about conversation
00:32:26

This week’s episode seeks to answer one simple, but very important, question: Why is it so hard for people to talk to each other? There are a lot of easy answers we can point to, like social media and political polarization, but there’s another explanation that goes a bit deeper.

Laurie Mulvey

Laurie Mulvey, executive director of World in Conversation, is the perfect person to help us explore this question. World in Conversation has facilitated more than 10,000 dialogues over the past 15 years. They bring people from all walks of life together to have dialogues about important issues from climate change to race relations. In the process, they break down the misconceptions and preconceived notions that often get in the way of one person understanding — and relating to— someone else.

Of course, most dialogues do not happen in a controlled environment with a facilitator in the room. Laurie shares some advice for how to handle your next family dinner or other situation where things might get a little heated. She also shares how the World in Conversation is preparing the next generation of democratic citizens to overcome the partisan divides that bog down political discourse.

As we say in the episode, Laurie raises the optimism quotient of this podcast quite a bit.

Interview Highlights

[6:06] Why is it so difficult for people to engage in dialogue today? 

Laurie: What I think happens is that we end up needing facilitators. Just like in sports we need referees. Here they would be dialogue referees.

[6:55] What are the elements of a good dialogue?

Laurie: Candidness and disagreement with respect is important. Having mutual respect is especially important. When we don’t talk with an understanding of each other’s positions they aren’t as productive and they don’t show us as much.

[14:00] What impact do you think social media has had on our ability and willingness to engage in dialogue? 

Laurie: Personally, I don’t notice much of a difference. We actually have a lot of conversations. However, they’re either with like minded people or they are a “hit and run” type conversation with people who don’t think like us. The only change that social media has brought is that we’re doing this with people from our living rooms.

[15:40] We have seen our culture become more polarized politically. Have you seen this reflected in the conversations you lead?

Laurie: We try to find polarizing topics and get different sides represented in our conversations. Therefore, I’m not sure if we see an increase in the extent of the polarization. Actually, we try to get people in our conversations to say the things that are controversial. At this point, the polarization becomes apparent. However, I don’t think this is real. I dont’ think most people live in this polarity that we like to talk about.

[17:40] How can we take the work you’ve done working with conversations and apply it in the real world such as at dinner table talks?

Laurie: It is important to be in the mindset for listening. The mindset you need to be in is ‘tell me something I dont’ already know’. However, I strongly believe that even in these settings we need a facilitator to help navigate the conversation.

[19:24] What skills does someone need to be a good facilitator? 

Laurie: Fundamentally, you have to be able to talk all sides. You have to find what is true in all sides of a conversation. As long as you can do that, you can sort of fumble through everything else.

[20:22] Is there a certain point in a conversation where you would advise people to end a conversation? 

Laurie: I think we all know intuitively that there is a time to end a heated conversation.

[21:30] Given all of the conversations you’ve been a part of, are there any memories that really stick out?

Laurie: There was one conversation between Israelites and Palestinians where one guest from Palestine said he couldn’t even go in the room. But by the end of his time working with me his greatest challenge was that he came to understand so much about the Israelis perspective that he wasn’t sure what it meant given his position as a Palestinian. I do the work because the people who have the hardest positions will get the most out of it.

May 21, 2018
Ten thousand democracies
00:27:36

One of the things we talked about in our episode with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt is the “grinding work” that it takes to make a democracy function. School board meeting rooms around the country are some of the places where that happens at the grassroots level.

Robert Asen

If you’ve ever been to a school board meeting, you know that they’re not always exciting. However, the work that these boards do directly impacts the schools, the children who attend them, and the community at large. Board positions are not full-time and the people who hold them are rarely career politicians. Rather, they’re everyday citizens who want to make an impact — exactly the type of people come together to make democracy work.

We talk about the role that school boards play in a democracy with Robert Asen, a professor of rhetoric, politics, and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Asen is the author of Democracy, Deliberation and Education, which is based on a yearlong study of three school boards in Wisconsin. While the examples he references are specific to Wisconsin, it’s easy to hear the conversations and deliberations playing out at schools across the country.

Asen visited Penn State to deliver the 2018 Kenneth Burke lecture in the McCourtney Institute’s Center for Democratic Deliberation.

Interview Highlights

[6:00] What are the factors that motivate people to join a school board?

Robert: What connects people to these groups are often times their own experiences, including those with their children. There were others who didn’t have children at the school, but saw the school board as an opportunity to get involved with their community.

[7:30] Did you find that people joined the school board because there was a particular change they wanted to see?

Robert: It wasn’t the case for everyone, but there were some who wanted to see particular policy be passed. Across the districts we looked at, there was a more general sense of bringing about change in an effort to improve the schools. They were more focused on improving the lives of students rather than any one particular issue.

[8:40] While these board members are voted on, they are not what we would think of as politicians. How does this play out?

Robert: One of the things that separates these governing boards from other types of elected positions is that these members are not politicians. They don’t have dedicated staff or resources. Many of these members also worked another full time job. This was an additional burden they decided to take on. There are many democratic institutions in our society run by people without formal government education or training. However, they manage to succeed nonetheless. There really is a strong sense of connection to community here. These board members very much see themselves as part of the community working to improve things for citizens.

[11:10] How are these members successful without being career politicians?

Robert: What I mean when I say they succeed is that they are able to make what they believe to be the best decision for the community moving forward. To be successful in this type of setting is to have a sense of what is it that they want to achieve. In this case, they succeed because they’re in communication with education professions and are able to reach their collective goals.

[12:30] Surely there is a good amount of compromise being reached in order to get things done. Can you speak to this in your research?

Robert: There was one example in particular that comes to mind here. One district was considering a proposal from a student group to create a gay student alliance. One board member spoke about his personal experience with this group given that his own son was friends with one of the students trying to create the group. He described him as just your average kid. He described them as normal good kids rather than some political revolutionaries looking to upend the community. He also talked about his own teenage years and how he and his friends might have acted inappropriately around this subject. He spoke about how times are changing and the fact that these kids just wanted a way to meet and be recognized in a group. Here, it was more about practicality winning in the end.

[14:50] What about school boards enables them to tackle difficult issues that other institutions can’t?

Robert: School boards certainly do struggle with deliberation and decision making. However, there are different approaches taken here to solve difficult problems than say within state and federal institutions. The way that polarization manifests at the local level is much different than at the state or national level. We know that communities can sort of segregate themselves naturally along racial and economic lines. This leads to small or medium school districts that may be completely contained within these homogenous areas along what can be rather divisive lines. There is also a unique sense of community. These members feel as though they are a part of the communities that they are impacting with their decisions. This goes a long way towards these bodies reaching important decisions for their institutions.

[19:20] How do school boards work with district administration?

Robert: That is usually the most important and difficult relationship for a school board. When these two work together, a lot can be accomplished. However, when they’re at odds, that can undermine all of the decisions within a district. Everyone has to negotiate their roles. When these relationships begin to break down it is because of a collapse or misunderstanding of each others roles.

May 11, 2018
It’s good to be counted
00:31:47

Jennifer Van HookJennifer Van Hook

The next census is just around the corner 2020, and 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.

The normally routine process has been disrupted this year by Trump administration, which is pushing for the reintroduction of a question about citizenship. As you may have heard, there’s a debate going on about whether this question is appropriate, and whether the resource-strapped Census Bureau will have time to implement it before next year.

Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography at Penn State, served on the Census Advisory Board from 2007 to 2011 and is an expert on how census data is collected, how it’s evaluated, and how it’s used. She talks about the process for creating and testing new questions, the implications of asking about citizenship, and some of the ways you might not realize census data is used.

Additional Information

Jenny’s piece about the Census in The Conversation

2020 Census website

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  • Do you think it is necessary for a democracy to have this sort of information that the census gathers?
  • How often do you think the census should be performed?
  • Do you think the citizenship question should be added to the census? Why or why not?
  • If you could add a question to the census, what would it be?
  • Do you plan on participating in the 2020 census? Why or why not?

Interview Highlights

[6:06] What do you see as the role the census plays in a democracy?

Jennifer: It is fundamental for a representative democracy. The United States was actually the first nation in the world to require that a census be conducted. This was done because they wanted to distribute power according to population within the states. The number of representatives each state gets in the House is proportionate to the population. Therefore, the census is very important.

[7:28] In addition to determining representation in Washington, what are some of the other purposes of the census? 

Jennifer: One of the other uses is the civil rights legislation that has been passed since the 60’s. This helps tell us if certain groups are under represented. This information can show us if certain groups are being discrimintated against within society. The people conducting the census are expected to be non-partisan. Therefore, they collect the information while not saying anything about the data. They simply give it to the public because they want to stay out of the politics of this information.

[9:20] In the era of “fake news” and people being able to cherry pick their facts, how will the census be viewed and used going forward? 

Jennifer: The staff that conducts the census takes considerable measures to strip the data of any political leanings. One way this is done is by having multiple authors for all reports to prevent any one bias from impacting how data is reported. They also work in large teams with multiples checks for each bit of data collected.

[10:40] There are reports that the there is underfunding for the census. How will the organization continue to meet its standards with this funding issue? 

Jennifer: There is no set director of the census bureau. This lack of direction could cause a problem. One of the thing people have been worried about is the ability of the bureau to conduct out reach and inform people about the census. For example, many people don’t realize that the bureau can’t share its information with Ice. This is significant to share with immigrants who might fear participation in the census out of immigration police fears. This goes to the importance of building trust amongst the public to get them to participate.

[12:35] How does the bureau actually go about counting everyone in the country?

Jennifer: Everyone gets a postcard in the main informing them they have to participate. If you don’t respond to that, you might get follow up contact. This is the most expensive part of the process. If people don’t respond to the first contact, and they have to be contacted again, this is where the cost can really increase for the census process.

[13:25] How does the bureau use past experiences to improve the process? 

Jennnifer: They do but it takes a lot of time. They try to improve their operation. However, this is difficult given the size of the debarment. It is difficult to turn on a time and change the way they conduct their business. Any small change takes a lot of time.

[14:30] What goes into deciding on the wording of a question for the census? 

Jennifer: Every part of the question is tested. The introduction of a new question typically takes several years because of all the test to make sure people interpret the question correctly as intended. We also consider a question from the standpoint of its impact on people’s willingness to participate in the census in light of it. In terms of the citizenship question, this has become more of a hot button topic especially given the anti-immigrant rhetoric in society today. This means that the field test questions done in the past for this topic might have to be changed because we just don’t know how people will respond to it this time.

[16:37] Wilbur Ross has said that he thinks the benefit of the citizenship question will outweigh the potential risks of lower response rates. Do you agree with that? 

Jennifer: No, I don’t. I don’t think the bureau has shown that this question is really necessary. Typically, questions that make the census form have to be dictated by law as being necessary. So you can’t just add questions because you think they wont’ harm the utility of the census. Every question has to be there because it is required. There is another survey called the American Community Survey. They have been collecting citizenship information for years. This data has been used to enforce the voting rights act. I’m not aware of any problems with this survey being used to gather citizenship information.

[17:50] Can you talk about how this survey differs from the census survey? 

Jennifer: It is a much longer survey. The questions change from year to year. It is administered to roughly 3.5 million people every year. It provides more detailed information on an annual basis for the population. It provides us with more specific information even down to the county level.

[19:37] How is census information used to impact federal policy?

Jennifer: It is particularly useful when we need to know something about the populations health. One example would be looking at the changing life expectancy. This information wouldn’t be known without procedures like the census. It is the backbone of our federal statistical system.

[21:20] What would you say to someone about why they should participate in the census? 

Jennifer: It is good to be counted because we don’t know about our population unless we measure it.

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May 08, 2018
Satire is good for more than just a few laughs
00:33:45

Political satire has been around nearly as long as politics itself and can provide a much needed laugh in times of crisis.

Sophia McClennen

But, as you’ll hear from our guests this week, it’s much more than that. Satire is a check on people in power and helps to engage the public around issues that might otherwise go unnoticed — both of which are essential for a healthy democracy.

But, are we reaching a place where the comedy has become the news? The success of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and most recently John Oliver suggest that we might be heading in that direction. What about fake news? It’s all fun and games until you can’t tell the real news from the satire, and that’s concerning.

On the bright side, people who consume satire tend to be more well-informed about politics than those who do not, suggesting that one needs a solid foundation of what the news actually is in order to get the jokes that are being made about it.

Steve Brodner

We discuss the current state of political satire and where it might be heading with Sophia McClennen and Steve Brodner.

Sophia, a Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State, writes regularly for Salon and recently appeared on StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Steve is a cartoonist at caricaturist who has drawn every president since Ronald Regan. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Washington Post just to name a few.

Interview Highlights

[7:02] What is the role of satire in a democracy?

Sophia: It doesn’t have that big of a role because it usually comes into the picture when things aren’t going that well. Satire emerges in moments of crisis. Today it is playing an extremely big role. Largely because the news media has shifted in how it informs the public.

[8:01] What about the nature of a crisis makes satire more popular and come out more in political conversations?

Sophia: Satire tends to come about when people are faulty or are doing stupid things. Satire is typically a contrarian position.

[8:42] What are creators of satire trying to accomplish?

Sophia: Satire is typically used to get the audience to think critically. The idea is to get people out of the binary option mindset. Many see the satirist as someone trying to tell them what to think. However, what they’re actually doing is trying to call out the way in which a conversation it being framed and recommend a change to that.

[10:05] What do we know about the types of people who consume satire?

Sophia: People who consume satire tend to be smarter. They also seem to be more creative on average. Part of the reason for this is the fact that satire depends on irony, which is art of playing with language. In terms of irony, the ability to hear a word and be able to comprehend that it has multiple meanings is a sign of an ability to be brighter and more creative.

[12:07] Is there a “my team, your team” dynamic in the application of satire to politics?

Sophia: It is suggested that we have a better ability to detect irony if it confirms our political positions.

[12:38] Where does the First Amendment fit into the creation and use of satire in politics? 

Sophia: Following the ruling in the Falwell v. Hustler case, satirists were found to be protected under the First Amendment under a particular clause of creativity. This differs from what a newspaper might be able to get away with. A key component is how the creators frame their comment. A key in Huslter was the fact that the intent of the offensive comment was to make fun of the individual rather than attempt to make a factual claim regarding their actions.

[15:38] What other effects have you seen satire bring about?

Sophia: Satire does have “boundary heightening effects”. This is the idea that it is ok to make fun of certain groups depending on ones particular membership in that group. When you cross into different groups, this can anger members of that group, or supporters of a particular individual that those members support. Therefore, one downside to satire is that it can deepen certain political gaps.

17:20 Would one then be accurate in saying that satire increases political polerization?

Sophia: Yes, this will absolutely happen. Satire does have a blowback effect on those who think the system is working. This is because the purpose of satire is often to attack the current system and the norms in which a particular issue is addressed in. However, there is research that suggests that the use of satire can create political energy and momentum and a shared narrative.

[19:40] Have you done any research looking at how satire has evolved? 

Sophia: While it has changed, I’m not sure I would use the word evolved because that suggests that it is getting better. In light of the changes we’ve seen, it might be nice if there was still a difference between the news and satire. One measurable change is how news gathering and satire have merged. Today, many people use satirical displays and shows as their first source of news. Memes are also shaping public narratives. This mergering of news and satire is one that isn’t going away. In fact, it is increasing.

[21:00] Do you have any thought on where political satire might go from here? 

Sophia: One problem going forward will be the relationship between satire and “fake news” because satirical headlines, if not understood as satire, can become taken as hard reporting and as factual. For example, the top shared “fake news” of last year was a headline that read “Pope Francis Endorses Trump.” We’re in a situation now that things are  being shared around for the reason of tricking the audience come dangerously close to looking like satire news headlines. Years ago John Stewart on the Daily Show was referred to as creating “fake news”, and that wasn’t an insult at the time.

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May 01, 2018
Tommie Smith: From sharecropper to Olympic protester
00:36:11

Tommie Smith is a true living legend. He won a gold medal in the men’s 200 meter event at the 1968 Olympics, setting a world record in the process. When he took the medal stand in Mexico City that day, he made history again by raising a black-gloved fist during the National Anthem.

As you’ll hear, Tommie didn’t grow up in a political family and didn’t see himself as an activist when he enrolled at San Jose State University. That changed when he met Dr. Harry Edwards and became involved with Olympic Project for Human Rights, where he found his voice and used it to speak out against racial segregation in sports and elsewhere.

When Tommie and teammate John Carlos raised their fists on the podium in Mexico City, many interpreted the gesture as a symbol of the Black Power movement. However, as Tommie says, the action was not necessarily about one cause or movement. Rather, it was a symbol of a broader struggle for power and equality.

Tommie visited Penn State as part of a yearlong look at the events of 1968 organized by the College of the Liberal Arts.

For more on the relationship between athletes and protests, check out our episode with Abe Khan, who has studied this topic extensively and draws comparisons between Smith and modern-day athletes like Colin Kaepernick.

Interview Highlights

[5:10] What was your family like? Did you come form a political family? Did you talk politics at dinner or