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Democracy Now & Next


Units: 3


Meeting days/times:

  • Tuesdays, 12-1:  February 2, 9, 16, March 2, 9, 2021
  • Thursdays, 12-1:  February 4, 18, 25, March 4, 11, 2021

Today, perhaps the most critical threat to the advancement of democracy worldwide are homegrown ones, which are easily exploited and amplified by adversaries.  Democracies everywhere have been struggling to deliver to their populations, especially since the financial crisis of 2008, enabling the rise of populists.  Economic and social ills have become entirely entwined with political outcomes.  The scale of the 2020 crises—health, economic, racial, environmental, and political—have now decisively affected the US ability to promote democracy and counter the rising tide of authoritarianism.  The information ecosystem, driven by technology, has contributed enormously to disinformation and polarization.  The Trump Administration’s delayed acceptance of the outcome of the 2020 US election along with active attempts to overturn the results including through mob violence and bureaucratic maneuvers—plays straight out of a dictator’s handbook that the US government routinely calls as serious fouls—are symptoms of democracy in deep distress.  

This moment, though, can enable once in a generation reform of how the US engages with democracy at home and around the world.  New approaches, themes, and methods—paradigm shifts—can help revitalize US strategy and policy.  President-elect Biden has already made the argument about how the health of democracy at home affects our ability to work overseas. This class will include a series of conversations with experts enmeshed in thinking through these issues to provide the Carnegie Mellon community with a front seat to these time sensitive policy conversations occurring with the incoming Administration and with members of Congress.  Specifically, we will engage members of the nonpartisan Task Force on US Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarian, organized by three leading Washington, DC-based organizations -- Freedom House, Center for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS), and the McCain Institute -- on what issues to keep an eye out for democracy in 2021.

Students will attend six sessions with experts, in addition to four additional one hour small group discussions to go deeper into the ideas covered in the public sessions.  Students will be required to write a five page paper in the form of a memo to the incoming Administration with ideas about how to refresh and reframe US approaches to advancing democracy at home and around the world and will present briefly these ideas to the group.