Democracy, an essential part of America since its founding, is weakening as the days go by. Problems like toxic polarization, misinformation, voter suppression, and money and corruption in elections all contribute to the acceleration of democracy’s decline. Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that researches democracy, has found that United States democracy has suffered a serious erosion, falling 11 points in democracy in just one decade. This decline in democracy is significant. The featured podcast episodes from across our network explore how these dangers threaten our democracy and how we can go about fixing them.
Listen from minute 3:15-8:23
Within these few minutes of How Do We Fix It, learn about the difference between toxic polarization and polarization. Peter Coleman, a professor of psychology and education at Colombia University and a leading expert on intractable conflict and sustainable peace spills the tea on everything polarization. He argues that polarization is a healthy thing to have in America, especially with our two-party system. On the other hand, he says toxic polarization is not healthy.
In our current situation, we are in a midst of an increase in toxic polarization. Coleman compares toxic polarization to an addiction, meaning, it is a structural social problem with the potential to impact everyone. Toxic polarization has been a pattern for 60 years. Outrage and retaliation are some of the symptoms that come from toxic polarization. These symptoms are a hit of adrenaline, which makes them toxic. Coleman argues that social media and news outlets have encouraged us to be polarized. Political leaders have also conducted toxic polarization when participating in negative campaigning and attacks on opponents.
Hear the full episode from How Do We Fix It?
Listen from minute 0:00-6:10
Whitney Phillips, a media scholar from The University of Oregon joins Democracy in Danger to access the overall health of democracy in the United States. In these first few minutes of the episode, hosts Will Hitchock and Siva Vaidhyanathan, and guest Whitney Phillips discuss how we, as citizens, can be informed, engaged and responsible.
How polluted is our media system? How do ordinary people believe nonsense and conspiracy theories that rapidly spread across media? Will and Siva argue that these lies spread through media can be dangerous and determinantal to our democracy. Phillips argues that we can’t tackle our information failures unless we think of them in the same way we think about climate change as an ecological problem. Phillips wants people to consider how they as an individual influence the world, and how other things influence themselves. Phillip has found that one of the most prominent sources of pollution is the conspiracy of the election results, and the belief that the election was stolen. This pollution of misinformation that we are dealing with travels fast, pulling many people into believing the false information.
Hear the full episode from Democracy in Danger
Listen from minute 8:41-12:45
Within these minutes of Democracy Works, Carol Anderson, a voting rights scholar discusses voter suppression. Anderson describes how the rise of Jim Crow lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act had a pre-clearance provision, which meant that before a state or jurisdiction that has a history of discrimination changes their voting laws, they needed to get it approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or by the Federal Courts in Washington D.C. This act was a huge step in fighting voter suppression. Current issues such as the voter ID debate that was ruled a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court are some of the issues Anderson blames that has caused an increase in voter suppression. Anderson claims that the new voter ID law is based on the past and not dealing with the current realities of the American election system.
Hear the full episode from Democracy Works
Listen from minute 3:00-6:50
In 2010, the Citizen United Supreme Court case changed everything we know about money in elections. Swamp Stories talks money in elections and the takeaway from the case, which was that corporations can spend as much as they want in elections, as long as the money doesn’t go directly to candidates. The court saw corporations as people. Not a lot of corporations have put their funds towards campaigns. Instead, billionaires, trade associations, and unions who have been the big spenders of the super PAC era. The Citizen’s United ruling opened the door to a second ruling, the Speech Now v. FEC. This case created a goldrush of political entrepreneurs could raise a lot more money, meaning a Super PAC. The more money in the PAC, the more power the political operative running it has.
Mark McKinnon, former political advisor to both George W. Bush and John McCain, talks with host Weston Wamp about these money making machines and the billionaires who created their own Super PACs. Super PACs are screwing up our elections today because political players are breaking the rules. These large sums of money are going straight to our candidates running for office, causing problems in both political parties.
Hear the full episode from Swamp Stories