You don’t have to look very hard to find evidence that our country is hurting. Anger, division, and suspicion are pervasive in America today. And it isn’t just our politics — our communities and social networks are reflecting this bitterness and sectarianism as well. It’s enough to shake our collective faith in democracy.
The trouble is, our democracy is not the root of our national malaise. On the contrary, it is the only viable cure.
That our nation is growing apart at the same time that our fundamental democratic principles are under assault is not a coincidence. Nor is it brand new. Last month, our organizations, Stand Up Ideas and Protect Democracy, came together to issue a report — “The Republic at Risk” — on the health of our democratic ideals and institutions. We found evidence of several long running trends which are weakening our democracy, trends which have accelerated in recent years.
What we found was that the varying assaults on our democracy are directly related to many of the wider social ills we see today. That’s because our democratic institutions are designed to channel our natural political disagreements in productive ways, to maintain unity even when we differ. Civil discourse and civic action are insulators against despotism and strife. So when those very principles are attacked, they degrade our ability to remain unified and weaken the country as a whole. The past few years have sadly seen more Americans fighting each other than working together to protect our democracy.
Not any more. We decided to combine our efforts again, this time to bring together leaders from across the ideological spectrum last week, at a National Summit for Democracy.
There are already a lot of Americans working tirelessly to defend our democracy in their own fields, through their own talents, and in conjunction with a number of organizations. The National Summit for Democracy was not the beginning of this important work, but it was the next logical step. Working together and finding common ground is essential if we are to reinvigorate our democratic norms, ideals and institutions.
We were excited to host more than 75 leading advocates and thinkers to participate in this forum. To tackle some of the most pressing concerns our country is facing, participants were organized into groups to work on different subjects: Mitigating Foreign Interference in Our Democratic Process, Strengthening Media’s Future Role in Our Democracy, Protecting the Independence of Federal Law Enforcement, Preventing the Politicization of Government Institutions, Guaranteeing a More Inclusive America, Restoring Congress’s Constitutional Role, and Fostering Representation and Competition in Our Political System.
There are no easy solutions for any of these goals. But this is a crucial moment in American history. Will the history books identify this moment as a democratic inflection point, when American decline accelerated beyond our control? Or, will it note our time as another moment of strife through which we were delivered by our characteristic American resilience and devotion to liberty?
If we, as a country, stand up and demand better from our politics and from ourselves we can reverse the damage that’s already been inflicted. And if we begin to repair our institutions and restore faith in our foundational principles, we can begin to heal the divisions that are tearing at the seams of our country.
Protecting our democracy will require more than identifying these threats, however. It will require hard work by people of all disciplines and political ideologies. It will require a concerted effort by all Americans to put our democracy above short term political gains.
Our National Summit for Democracy aims to contribute to that.The risks to our country are obvious, as are the forces working to undermine the institutions and ideals on which we were founded. It is up to us to counter those forces, to lay out a clear plan of action and build broad coalitions of support for the essential components of our democracy. We hope that people will come together in pursuit of liberty, equality, and truth. It is the only way to ensure that our great experiment in democracy endures.