June 05, 2020

Credit: Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal," but for much of U.S history that has been an aspirational ideal, according to Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell University. Now the pillars of American democracy, including the rule of law, the legitimacy of opposition and free and fair elections, are under attack like never before, she explains. 

Mettler, the co-author of Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, says that while the challenges aren’t new, their confluence under President Donald Trump has led to the weakening of the very necessary checks and balances built into our political system.

Three Takeaways:

  • Mettler and her co-author, Robert Lieberman, have identified four issues that have historically undermined American democracy. For the first time, all four factors: expansive presidential power, political polarization, rising economic inequality and racism or nativism, are ascendent at the same time, they say.
  • One of the threats to democracy, racism, has “been like this underground stream through all of American history. It’s always there kind of waiting to be tapped and sometimes it comes to the surface more than others,” according to Mettler.
  • Mettler is concerned about the forthcoming presidential election. She fears there could be violence and hotly-contested results. If President Trump is re-elected, she foresees damage to the integrity of civil rights and liberties and potentially the emergence of a “competitive authoritarian regime,” which only bears the “outer look of democracy.”

More Reading:

suzanne mettler, government, Culture, democracy

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