cover image Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy

Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy

Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-24442-0

In this solemn and scholarly survey, political scientists Mettler (The Government-Citizen Disconnect) and Lieberman (Shaping Race Policy) examine five periods of “democratic fragility” in American history in order to better understand the current political moment. The periods they spotlight are the 1790s, with discord over the Alien and Sedition Acts, the “Bleeding Kansas” era of the 1850s, black disenfranchisement during the 1890s, the enhancement of executive powers to combat the Great Depression, and the partisan warfare of the Watergate era. The authors then examine how the same four threats—“political polarization, conflict over who belongs in the political community, high and growing economic inequality, and excessive executive power”—in different combinations and to varying degrees, imperiled American democracy during each moment of crisis. With the election of Donald Trump, Mettler and Lieberman contend, those dangers have “converged at high levels” for the first time in U.S. history. To preserve American democracy, they call on the Democratic Party to stand firm on voting rights, civil rights, fair competition, and the rule of law in the face of Republican opposition. Mettler and Lieberman marshal a wealth of evidence to make their case, and incisively sketch the factors at play in each historical period. This bracing, well-informed history will galvanize liberals ahead of the 2020 election. (Aug.)