The Strathmore Speaker Series and Onondaga Free Library February 2021 event featured political scientist and Cornell University professor Suzanne Mettler who discussed her latest book Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, which seeks to understand the tempest currently embroiling the nation’s institutions by placing it within a broader historical context. Many Americans subscribe to the belief that American democracy is eternal—an impervious object that no ideology, social, cultural, or political movement, and certainly no individual could ever tear asunder. Yet as Professor Mettler observes in Four Threats, America’s democratic experiment is anything but imperturbable. Four distinct pressures—political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power—menaced the republic in 1790, during the Civil War, in the Gilded Age and Great Depression, and most recently during the Watergate scandal. While American democracy resisted these threats in the past, there is no guarantee it will weather the current storm. What makes the here and now unique and alarming, Professor Mettler argues, is that all four of these threats are active at once. A brief Q&A followed Professor Mettler’s talk.
This event was on Thursday, February 11th on Zoom. Missed it? Watch the full video below.
About Suzanne Mettler
Suzanne Mettler is the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University. Her research and teaching interests include American political development, inequality, public policy, political behavior, and democracy.
She is the author of six books, including, most recently, Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, co-authored with Robert C. Lieberman. Her short essays and op-eds have been featured in popular outlets including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Washington Monthly. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships, and serves on the boards of the Scholars Strategy Network and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
About her latest book
Information about purchasing a copy of this book can be found here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250244420
An urgent, historically-grounded take on the four major factors that undermine American democracy, and what we can do to address them.
While many Americans despair of the current state of U.S. politics, most assume that our system of government and democracy itself are invulnerable to decay. Yet when we examine the past, we find that the United States has undergone repeated crises of democracy, from the earliest days of the republic to the present.
In Four Threats, Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman explore five moments in history when democracy in the U.S. was under siege: the 1790s, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Depression, and Watergate. These episodes risked profound―even fatal―damage to the American democratic experiment. From this history, four distinct characteristics of disruption emerge. 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.
This convergence marks the contemporary era as a grave moment for democracy. But history provides a valuable repository from which we can draw lessons about how democracy was eventually strengthened―or weakened―in the past. By revisiting how earlier generations of Americans faced threats to the principles enshrined in the Constitution, we can see the promise and the peril that have led us to today and chart a path toward repairing our civic fabric and renewing democracy.