Who We Are

We are 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. Political scientists have been concerned for some time about trends that weaken American democracy, including rising economic inequality, growing polarization, resurgent racism or nativism, and escalating executive power. Few worried seriously, however, about the prospect of severe deterioration of democracy, never mind regime change, until the historic 2016 election, and the ascendance of a candidate –and now president—who openly violates democratic norms. More disturbing, these developments have brought into bold relief a confluence of threats to American democracy that will likely persist well beyond the current presidency. We convened our group early in 2017, aiming to integrate insights from previous crises in American political history with understanding of the conditions that have threatened democracies around the world. We aim to foster discussion and writing around these topics and to provide materials that are useful for teachers, journalists, and citizens. No other up-and-running working group on the present crisis of American politics combines these disciplinary perspectives–as focused equally on historical experience at home and the comparative experience from abroad.

Robert C. Lieberman is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State and Shaping Race Policy: The United States in Comparative Perspective, and the co-editor (with Suzanne Mettler and Richard Valelly) of the Oxford Handbook of American Political Development.

Suzanne Mettler is John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University. Her most recent book, The Government-Citizen Disconnect (Russell Sage 2018), won the 2019 Alexander George Book Award of the International Society of Political Psychology. She was awarded Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships in 2019.

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.

Tom Pepinsky is Professor of Government at Cornell and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books and essays on comparative politics, political economy, and identity in Southeast Asia, including most recently Piety and Public Opinion: Understanding Indonesian Islam (Oxford) and “Elections as Causes of Democratization?” (Comparative Political Studies).

Ken Roberts is the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell University, and a specialist in Latin American and comparative politics. His research explores the intersection of parties, populism, and social movements. His most recent book is Changing Course in Latin America: Party Systems in the Neoliberal Era (Cambridge University Press, 2014.)

Rick Valelly is Claude C. Smith ’14 Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College and a specialist in American political parties, national institutions, and public policy. His scholarship focuses on democratic development and enfranchisement in the U.S. His best known work is The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (Chicago, 2004.)