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Rebuilding U.S. Democracy Together

October 26, 2020


Hahrie Han, Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute; SNF Professor of Political Science; Faculty Director of the P3 Research Lab, Johns Hopkins University

Eliot A. Cohen, Dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS

The event was moderated by Henry Farrell, SNF Agora Institute Professor of International Affairs, Johns Hopkins SAIS

In opening, Farrell posed the initial question of “why illiberalism seems to be growing within the U.S. populace?” In response, Cohen put forth the idea that liberal democracies rest upon the “pillars of civic discourse and truth.” The fact that “so many Americans no longer buy into this,” demonstrates a “deficit of educated citizenship,” without whom, no democracy can function. Han echoed these thoughts and expanded the discourse stating that to rebuild this democratic foundation, individuals will have to look towards greater grassroots mobilization, and increase their interest and participation in local politics, “where almost all everyday interactions take place.” Cohen, on the contrary took a more institutionalist approach, calling for the reform of the Electoral College, the protection of free discourse, “which is threatened often more by the left than the right,” and encouraged truth and reason to become the guiders of University education.

Furthermore, both speakers were in agreement to the feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement within minority and blue-collar white workers. As a solution, Han encouraged a new generation of “contestation-ship and struggle,” the establishment of a “political landscape matching America’s demographic realities,” as well as the rebuilding of racial solidarity. Cohen meanwhile stressed the values of MLK Jr., platform politics, and acceptance that the U.S. system was designed for a degree of grid-lock. In closing, Farrell asked the audience if the “enduring problem of disenfranchising blacks” and the “over-reverence to the founders” could be solved, as it was upon this that the nation has been sustained.