On April 12-13, 2018, in Washington, D.C., the Center for the Study of Inequality and New America hosted a conference on the state of democracy in the United States.

In the face of rising economic inequality, political polarization, the expansion of presidential powers over those of Congress, and the resurgence of white supremacy and white nationalism, many commentators have claimed that American democracy is under threat. While many of these trends have been developing for years in American politics, the election of President Donald Trump has brought them to the fore, and political developments since he took office have heightened concerns about the nation’s future.

Researchers, scholars, journalists, and policymakers came together to address questions about the health and resiliency of American democracy. This conference considered questions such as: Can a liberal democracy and representative government persist in the United States? Are we experiencing a breakdown of democracy? Are checks and balances that are built into the political system and the mediating institutions that link citizens and government strong enough to sustain liberal democracy?

Our conference grew out of a collaborative research venture among scholars of American political development and comparativists who examine how democracies have deteriorated in other parts of the world. The conference title comes from a story about Benjamin Franklin: upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, he was asked by someone in the crowd what kind of government the delegates had created. His answer, according to the legend, was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

This conference included two keynote speeches by reporters at the Washington Post: E.J. Dionne and Jennifer Rubin. The speeches were recorded (click here to watch) and the other seven panels of scholars and journalists were recorded and will become available for viewing, here, by June 2018. Additionally, No Jargon, a weekly podcast from the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), recorded interviews with conference participants (click here to listen).

The lead organizers are Suzanne Mettler (Cornell), Rick Valelly (Swarthmore), Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins), Tom Pepinsky (Cornell), Kenneth Roberts (Cornell), and Lee Drutman (New America).

The staff organizers are Clara Elpi (Cornell), Dave Nelson (Cornell), Elena Souris (New America), and Catherine Wilson (New America).

This conference was made possible with generous funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies.