(Our first post from Dr. Daniel Brumberg can be found below this welcome.)
Welcome to Democracy & Society Online, the blog counterpart to the annual academic publication run through Georgetown’s Democracy and Governance program. The print publication of Democracy & Society was founded in 2004 as a student-led journal that covers world affairs and concepts in the field of democracy and governance. This blog is designed to publish contributions from a variety of sources, bridging the gap between academia and practice by presenting concepts in a more forthright manner.
The current democratic crisis is one that affects us all. Global democratic backsliding and normative changes have questioned the role of democracy as a system of governance. The democratic recession has influenced both established liberal democracies in the West and emerging regimes that have slipped into autocracy. Democracy & Society showcases our commitment to democracy in the current domestic and international political climate.
The blog aims to be more expedient regarding current events and less thematically oriented than the print publication. We will accept submissions from those outside of the sub-field of democracy and governance, but articles should be related to political science. We are interested in generating discussion and representing meaningful issues in political science not always covered in traditional media by reaching a wider audience. We wish to enhance our growing academic and practitioner community both in Washington, D.C. and abroad.
We invite the Democracy and Governance community to participate in the blog. If you are interested in contributing to Democracy & Society Online, please email the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should generally range between 800-1200 words and contain citations when needed. Please include a biography with all prospective contributions.
Let us start the blog by introducing the first part of the letter written by Dr. Daniel Brumberg, Program Director in Democracy and Governance at Georgetown University, on democracy and governance studies in an era of democratic crisis.
The Democracy & Society Team
Tom Williams, Editor
Manuel J. Ayulo, Associate Editor
Laura Sinclair, Webmaster
On Democracy and Governance studies in an era of democratic crisis – part. 1
By Dr. Daniel Brumberg, Director of the Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown University
I am writing to offer my thoughts on the current state of politics in the United States and how we might respond in our own Masters program. I am particularly worried, as I am sure many of you are, about the genesis, nature, and direction of the Trump Presidency. I should say at the outset that I have pondered for many days whether or not I should write this letter. As Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University, I have worked to foster rigorous academic standards, objective inquiry and fact-based analysis. My job, along with that of our Associate Director Jennifer Dresden–and all of our talented faculty– is not to promote a political agenda or ideology, but to impart the analytical tools necessary for you to make your difference in a vast range of fields and endeavors. Your capacity to make your mark depends in part on having professors who do not preach but rather teach. I have tried to remain loyal to that proposition, and it is precisely for this reason that I hesitated to write this note.
But in recent weeks I have come to realize that I cannot avoid addressing the Trump issue. Indeed, I have to rethink my approach not only to teaching and my role in our program, but to the entire mission of Democracy and Governance Studies. We are not living in ordinary times; the challenges are different and so must be our strategies. As Trump himself stated in his inaugural address, we are in a moment of profound change. We are at a rare turning point in the evolution of a political system. How each of us proceeds will, in small but not unimportant ways, help determine the direction of the US (and in many ways the world) for decades to come. Under such potentially revolutionary circumstances, we must look beyond the everyday roles that we play in our universities, professions, and society and envision new approaches to our endeavors in the classroom and beyond. We must take a stand and imagine how to adapt our professions—and in this case our MA program—to a new and perilous challenge.
I must emphasize that this challenge and how we meet it is not a matter of party politics. I do not care a fig whether those who answer my invitation to rethink and re-imagine our MA program are Democrats, Republicans or Independents. This is not a partisan agenda. Nor is it a political effort simply to discredit Trump or the diverse groups who have embraced his agenda. Indeed we need to understand the roots of the movement for which he claims to speak. But understanding must also be a part of a larger project of insuring that the solutions proposed by our new President strengthen rather than undermine – or even destroy – our political system. A utopian campaign to reject or eliminate the “establishment” used to be part of the New Left. It is now part of the new or “alt-right,” a movement whose most vocal advocate now sits very close to the Oval Office. While this ideology is clear in what it seeks to destroy, it offers little coherent vision of what it will build. And it is an ideology carried into the White House on a torrent of organized and well directed resentment and hate—even as it claims to speak in the name of national “unity.” We can’t sit by and pretend that this is just another chapter in US political history. In his zeal to “Make America Great Again,” Trump would burn to a crisp every law, norm and precept; he would impose his grand mission on our parties and institutions, transforming or even obliterating anything that stood in his way. We can and will continue to debate a thousand policies, but the real threat is to the institutions of democracy. This is an unrivaled domestic challenge that must be addressed in ways that transcend partisan politics or narrow political agendas.
Before turning to what I think are some of the key elements – and dangers—of Trump’s project, and suggesting how we at Democracy and Governance Studies might respond, I want to offer a few personal words as to why I find Trump’s vision so dangerous. As some of you who have taken my courses know, I am the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant who, on September 1, 1939 – the day the Nazis invaded Poland – fled with his parents from Warsaw. On their perilous journey they came within feet of Nazi planes whose bullets struck some unfortunate souls just across the road. After living and hiding in Lithuania, their escape took them through Russia, on to Japan, and finally to the US. In his adopted country, my father – Abraham Brumberg–attended high school, mastered English, served in the army (albeit as a corporal behind a typewriter), and then attended Yale on the GI Bill. In the ensuing decades he again served his adopted country as chief editor of a major US Government journal on Soviet affairs. But more than this, he became a chronicler of the ravages of totalitarian movements, ideologies and leaders. And, in his own very pragmatic but thoughtful manner, he was an advocate of the imperfect liberal democratic order and the country that had given him and his parents refuge—thus making it possible for his own two children to grow up and prosper as American citizens.
In light of this saga – which is a typical American story in so many ways – I have wondered how my father might respond had he lived to watch the sudden and relentless growth over the last few months of a movement that would seem to him so deeply and sadly familiar. Did he and my grandparents come all this way to live through the rise of yet another politician promising to save those who felt cheated and scorned by the system and its “elite?” Did they come all this way to see the scapegoating of minorities –and to see, among other things, the Jewish community suddenly feeling like this is not home? Perhaps he would simply despair in the face of all this. Or perhaps he would struggle to put his fears and memories aside and focus on the task ahead. Pointing to the spate of hate crimes directed over the last six months at mosques, synagogues and Hispanic churches he would surely get angry, but he would also insist that the time had come to take a stand and forge a strategy. Indeed, those who took the streets in the millions on January 21, in dozens of US cities and around the world, would encourage him in the thought than rather than giving in to anguish we should focus on saving (and perhaps rebuilding) a political system that is in crisis and under dire threat.
And so I’d like to imagine my father giving me a pat on the back and even some fatherly (if critical) advise about an old question: “what is to be done?” And, as I try to think about the most effective response, my thoughts pivot around these two axes: First, we must understand the new political challenge we are facing, where it comes from, what its key components are. Second, we must collectively discuss and imagine how an MA program like ours—to my knowledge the only Democracy and Governance Program in the entire US—should evolve and adapt—and in ways that allow our students to sustain their diverse interests and goals while grasping and responding to the unprecedented challenges facing our country.