Democracy 20/20 Webinar Series

Sponsored by the American Democracy Collaborative, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs.

Recent global and national events—including the Covid-19 pandemic and mass antiracist protests in the wake of the highly publicized police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—have deepened what was already a looming crisis for American democracy. The American Democracy Collaborative is a group of scholars of American political development and comparative politics who have come together to examine the state of democracy in the United States today. We aim to integrate insights from previous crises in American political history with understanding of the conditions that have threatened democracies around the world, and to foster discussion and writing around these topics and to provide analysis and commentary that is useful for fellow scholars, teachers, journalists, and citizens.

The Democracy 20/20 Webinar series will bring together colleagues who can put contemporary events in historical and comparative perspective in order to promote deeper understanding of the challenges that these unsettling times pose for American democracy. The series will go beyond the day-to-day rush of events and convene conversations that will help us understand the broader context of our times and help advance the search for constructive answers to our society’s most urgent questions.

Beginning in June 2020 with a webinar on Protest and Democracy, the series will continue regularly through the 2020 election and will consider topics such as:

  • Can the United States Have Free and Fair Elections This Fall?
  • Already Authoritarian? Policing and the Use of Force
  • Evaluating the Health of Checks and Balances
  • Polarization, Political Parties, and the Health of Democracy
  • Whither the “Deep State”? Administration, Expertise, and Democracy

 The stakes for American democracy have never been higher, so please join us for these critical conversations.



Polarized:  Partisanship, Social Movements, and the Transformation of American Democracy
Friday, October 30, 2 p.m. (EST)

This panel will explore how social movements and changes in the two major political parties are affecting American democracy.  Major changes have occurred in terms of who the parties represent and which social groups they mobilize, and important questions surround the impact of the Black Lives Matter protests on the 2020 elections.  Other organizations, ranging from the Koch network to organized labor, evangelical churches, and gun groups, have also influenced the parties and played a role in reshaping party politics. Parties and movements have long provided voice to citizens and connected them to the government, but these mediating roles are in flux, and their transformation has important implications for American democracy. Participants include Julia Azari, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, and Leah Wright Rigueur, with moderator, Tom Pepinsky.

Post-Election Assessment: The Future of American Democracy
Friday, December 4, 2 p.m. (EST)

Participants: Frances Lee, Christopher Parker, Paul Pierson; Moderator: Robert Lieberman


Destroying or Deploying the ‘Deep State’: Challenges to Federal Agencies
Friday, September 18

President Donald Trump came into office vowing to disrupt the “deep state” and to “drain the swamp” of the federal bureaucracy. This panel will discuss how the capacity and professionalism of the federal government has fared over the past four years, assessing the extent to which it has been weakened or deployed for political purposes. Specific agencies will be discussed, such as the Post Office, the Food and Drug Administration, and Health and Human Services. Panelists will discuss developments in historical perspective, comparing them to what ensued under previous presidential administrations, and to the extent damage has occurred, consider what it will take to repair it.



Daniel Carpenter is Allie S. Freed Professor of Government at Harvard University. He is the author of award-winning books, including Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA (Princeton, 2010), and The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 (Princeton, 2001).

Jamila Michener is Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University. She studies the politics of poverty, race and public policy in the United States. She is the author of Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and numerous scholarly articles. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other popular outlets.

Donald Moynihan is the inaugural McCourt Chair at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University and Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford and Aarhus University. His research examines how to improve how government works. He is the author of Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means andBehavioral Public Performance: How People Make Sense of Government Metrics.


Suzanne Mettler is John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University. Her most recent book is Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, with Robert C. Lieberman. She is a founding member of the American Democracy Collaborative.

Already Authoritarian? Violence, Policing, and Democracy

 Federal authorities have responded to this summer’s protests with force, using tear gas on crowds and empowering unidentified law enforcement personnel, some of whom have used  unmarked vans to pick up protesters at random. The protests, while spurred by recent killings of African Americans by police, have highlighted long-established patterns of intensive and often violent policing of communities of color.  This webinar will examine these developments in the context of American history, asking the extent to which they deviate from or continue established patterns, and analyze them relative to the experience of policing in other countries around the world, in order to reveal the implications for US democracy.


Can the United States hold free and fair elections this fall?

Free and fair elections constitute an essential element of representative democracy, enabling societies to resolve conflict peacefully and permitting the people to select their public officials and hold them accountable. But Americans’ confidence in the legitimacy of elections has declined in recent years, battered by partisan voter suppression efforts and the erosion of the Voting Rights Act, Russia’s persistent attempts to disrupt American elections, and President Donald Trump’s unfounded charges of electoral fraud. Now the coronavirus pandemic presents additional obstacles. This panel will assess the challenges to running a free and fair election this year, and how they can be overcome. #democracy2020


The Protests and U.S. Democracy

Social protests against police violence quickly proliferated across the United States in recent weeks, attracting large crowds not only in major cities but in smaller cities and towns as well, and placing racial inequality and civil rights at the center of political debate heading into the November 2020 elections.  In this session of our webinar series, three experts on U.S. politics will analyze these protests  and their implications for U.S. democracy.