Thursday, November 3, 2016

From U.S. cities, some lessons in protecting liberal democracy

This year's presidential election has exposed a long festering crisis: that tens of millions of Americans are ready to endorse a candidate who has pledged to use extra-constitutional means to solve the country’s problems, including the jailing of his opponent, an erosion of first amendment protections for the press, and ethnographic tests for federal judges.

Authoritarianism now has a sizable constituency in American politics, one that won’t be going away on Nov. 9, regardless of who is president-elect. The next president and congressional leaders will still preside over a country that is politically polarized, with differences that are geographic even as they are ideological, but the risks of inaction have grown.

In the new weekly print edition of my old journalistic home, The Christian Science Monitor, I have
the cover story on how we move forward and shore up our liberal democracy. This is the topic of my most recent book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, but it's been reinforced by what I've seen on the ground as I've travelled the country this year for POLITICO, observing successful innovations of various sorts in cities from Utah to New Hampshire.

The story -- which appears in the print edition dated Nov. 7, but went up online yesterday -- explores how people can balance the individual freedom and the need to build and maintain the social and physical infrastructure that allows it to exist.

It's been a few years since I last wrote for the Monitor, but I'm a past Eastern Europe, Balkan, and Global Affairs correspondent for that paper, having written hundreds of stories from dozens of countries between the early 1990s and 2010 from bases in Budapest, Zagreb, Washington, South Texas and Maine. It's nice to be back in its pages again after a long hiatus.

[Update, 12/31/16: This story prompted editorials in both the Des Moines Register and the Roanoke Times.]


  1. How are you feeling though, about Trump being elected? Does it surprise you given the regional issues? or...?

    1. I'll post some proper analysis soon, when the data is all in. The election follows the usual fissures, but Midlands went from "swing" to Trump -- which does surprise me I suppose -- and Trump won a lot of rural Yankee counties that went for Obama in the last two elections.