Wendy Willis, Executive Director, DDC Welcome to all of you. We have been talking about this for so many months. And it’s a huge pleasure to see you all here....
DEAR FRIENDS OF DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY —
Well don’t I owe you all an apology for staying away so long? But I’m glad to be back with lots of interesting fall reading to tide you over until next time.
But then, as this email sat in my outbox, we in the United States suffered a week of horrifying political violence. For me, it made our work seem smaller, but also bigger. While we grieve those we have lost, I am grateful to know that you are all out there doing what you do.
So, here are some things to consider . . .
The Whole World
For the second year in a row, the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has issued its annual democracy report. It is worth reading the whole report. But here are some highlights: “Democracy is still in good standing across the world. Global levels of democracy remain close to their all-time high.” And yet: “For the first time since 1979, the number of countries backsliding (24) on democracy is again the same as the number of countries advancing.” Read it. It’s interesting.
Here’s an uplifting story about a Youth Assembly in Canberra, Australia, where 120 young people took over the ACT Parliament to deliberate over proposals in four policy areas: civic participation, youth mental health, youth homelessness and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. And here is the announcement about the first Citizen Assembly scheduled in Northern Ireland.
And be sure not to miss the October issue of The Atlantic, which asks—in several different ways—“Is Democracy Dying?”
There has been a big and boisterous debate all summer and fall about civility. Here’s a smattering of what’s going on.
The seriously smart and formidable Dahlia Lithwick wrote an essay in Slate called “The Grotesque Decency of Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearings.” Here is the money paragraph:
“If the McCain funeral proved anything, it’s that we take so much visceral succor in public performances of bipartisanship and decency that we can blinker ourselves to genuine injustice, injustice we don’t see because it happens outside our scope of vision. We need balanced, functioning institutions so desperately that we gorge ourselves on performances of friendship and family and civility.”
In the Pew study cited above, which is full of useful information, just 27% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats agree that the “tone of political debate is respectful.” And 55% of Americans say that “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while 45% say that “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”
Our very own Carolyn Lukensmeyer appeared on a panel hosted by the American Psychological Association and the National Institute for Civil Discourse at George Washington University entitled “A National Conversation on Civility,” which featured psychologists and members of the media alongside Carolyn.
And in next week’s Time magazine, novelist Tayari Jones argues that there is no virtue in finding common ground when there are such stark moral choices. Consider this:
“The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Certainly, they reason, this current moment is somehow a complicated misunderstanding. Perhaps there is some way to look at this–a view from the middle–that would allow us to communicate and realize that our national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably, and with a bow. The headlines that lament a ‘divided’ America suggest that the fact that we can’t all get along is more significant than the issues over which we are sparring.”
Division & Tribalism
There are several interesting new studies out there, including “The Hidden Tribes of America,” which seeks to “better understand the forces that drive political polarization and tribalism in the United States today, and to galvanize efforts to address them.” It’s a project to watch for sure.
In addition, two of the key findings of the 2018 Baker Center “2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll” are that both satisfaction with democracy and confidence in institutions falls along party lines.
Jeffrey Rosen argues in The Atlantic that we have become the nation of crazed factions that James Madison most feared. Rosen’s proposed remedies aren’t all that innovative, but he does argue in favor of a more reasoned, deliberative public life. And he contends that civic education is central:
“The best way of promoting a return to Madisonian principles, however, may be one Madison himself identified: constitutional education. In recent years, calls for more civic education have become something of a national refrain. But the Framers themselves believed that the fate of the republic depended on an educated citizenry. Drawing again on his studies of ancient republics, which taught that broad education of citizens was the best security against ‘crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty,’ Madison insisted that the rich should subsidize the education of the poor.”
And Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment is in my bag for my next trip across country.
Some Big News
After five phenomenal years of leadership and editorship by Laura Black, Timothy Shaffer and Nancy Thomas, the Journal of Public Deliberation is seeking a new editor or editorial team. The announcement and application instructions are here.
See you soon–
Of course these are crazy times, so there is much more to say. But I’ll end it here. I hope I will see many of you at NCDD in Denver later this week. Make sure to say hello.
For those of you in the United State, vote. It’s not everything, but it’s a lot.
Stay in touch. Send notes and tidbits. Remember, if you are interested in becoming a member of DDC, contact me at email@example.com.
See you soon,