Democracy in Danger


Democracy is facing its greatest test since World War II. Although the United States has a robust democratic tradition, it is buckling under the weight of disinformation, nativist ideology, voter suppression and other efforts to weaken participatory government. Indeed, many analysts are alarmed by the growing parallels between the behavior of U.S. political leaders and that of autocratic rulers elsewhere — Erdogan in Turkey, Orban in Hungary, Putin in Russia, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Modi in India, to name a few. America’s problems fit into a global pattern.

On Democracy in Danger, hosts Will Hitchcock, a professor of history, and media studies scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan explore that pattern and its implications here and abroad. Taking a view that’s both historical and contemporary Will and Siva talk to experts and writers about the resurgence of authoritarianism, what it all means, and what might be done about it — not only to save democracy for posterity but to make it work better.

This podcast is produced by the Deliberative Media Lab with support from the UVA Democracy Initiative and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Episode 10. Voting Blocked

The core safeguards of the Voting Rights Act are unraveling. We’ve been here before, historian Carol Anderson tells Will and Siva. But Americans won’t sit by as their ballots are shredded. Read more >

Episode 9. No Lone Wolves

Charleston. Tree of Life. Christchurch. All these deadly attacks have some grim details in common — their death tolls were massive... white-power ideology fueled their architects... and they only seemed like the work of loners, according to historian Kathleen Belew. Read more >

Episode 8. Tempting Hate

The attraction to violent far-right extremism often begins with innocent online chatter before it’s fed by degrees — and algorithms, says Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociologist and education expert who tracks such groups. Read more >

Episode 7. Disinformation Wars

Internet giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter aren’t just part of the disinformation problem — they are the problem, according to author Nina Jankowicz. She says they’ve abdicated their role to protect the public from trolls, bots and outright lies. Read more >

Episode 6. The Prison Pipeline

America incarcerates more people than any country: nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population. And U.S. inmates are disproportionately Black and Latino. Elizabeth Hinton explains how we got here, while Siva and Will consider what hope there is for truth and reconciliation. Read more >

Episode 5. Broken Promises

Leah Wright Rigueur calls America a failed state. As a polity, she says, the United States has failed Black people, falling short of its promises of equality and justice. This summer’s protests are a dramatic diagnostic of that failure — the latest in a long history of wake-up calls. Read more >

Episode 4. Xenophobia

Nativist ideology in U.S. politics — and policy — is no Trump-era invention; it dates back to the country’s founding. Immigration scholar Erika Lee walks Will and Siva through America’s spotty record as a nation of immigrants, from the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred nonwhite people from becoming citizens, to the Trump administration’s Muslim ban in 2017. Read more >

Episode 3. God’s Country

The U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but also freedom from religion — an idea that rankles many white Evangelicals who would like to see America remade in their own image of Christianity. Religion scholar Matt Hedstrom speaks with Siva and Will about the ideology of Christian nationalism and its harder-core variety, dominionism. Arguably, Hedstrom says, it’s not traditional religious piety but a muscular resistance to pluralism that lies at the core of this belief system. Read more >

Episode 2. Populismo

Populist regimes are gaining ground across the world, and perhaps nowhere have the consequences been more dramatic than in Brazil. Under the chaotic leadership of president Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has become a major hot spot in the coronavirus pandemic. In this episode, Will and Siva talk to historian Federico Finchelstein about the rise of populism in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. For someone who grew up during Argentina’s Dirty War, these current populists trends echo fascist regimes of the past. Read more >

Episode 1. Illiberal Media

Government by the people can’t work without getting reliable information in the hands of the people. So when disinformation artists hijack the media, democracy itself is put at risk. On this debut episode of Democracy in Danger, political historian Nicole Hemmer joins hosts Will Hitchcock and Siva Vaidhyanathan to explore the roots of the powerful right-wing media in America, and their influence on Republican politics. How did the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt become the house of Trump and Breitbart? Read more >

In the works

Be on the lookout for our next few episodes. We have interviews coming up with Carol Anderson on voter suppression; Philip Howard on the role of social media algorithms in spreading propaganda; and Jennifer Mercieca on authoritarian rhetoric — namely, President Trump’s.

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