How Did Our Democracy Get so Fragile?
We’re in the midst of another election season, and yet again American democracy hangs in the balance, with a leading Presidential candidate who has threatened to suspend parts of the Constitution. How did the foundations of our political system become so shaky? Jelani Cobb, the dean of the journalism school at Columbia University; Evan Osnos, a Washington correspondent for The New Yorker; and the best-selling author and historian Jill Lepore joined The New Yorker’s Michael Luo for a discussion of that very existential question during the most recent New Yorker Festival. From Cobb’s perspective, “it’s not that complicated,” he notes, “If we went all the way back to the fundamental dichotomy of the people who founded this country and the way they subsidized their mission of liberty with the lives of slaves. So we’ve always been engaged in that dialectic.” Lepore argues that people on both sides of the political divide choose to embrace an account of the past that accords with their politics, something she considers “incredibly dangerous.” Osnos, who witnessed the upheaval of January 6th firsthand, thinks the deeper problem is disengagement from the country and the political system. “I was struck by how many of [the rioters] told me it was their first trip to Washington,” Osnos says. “They came to Washington to sack the Capitol.”
CORRECTION: Jelani Cobb notes that Queens was at one time the second-whitest borough of New York City, and is the most diverse county in the United States. Measures of diversity vary; in some recent data, Queens ranks third among counties