Transcript: Democracy: Nobody Said It's Going To be Easy | Feb 18, 2021

An animated pale blue slate reads "The Democracy Agenda. A TVO and Toronto Star partnership."

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and striped blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "Democracy: Nobody said it's going to be easy. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says EUROPE HAS A LONG AND COMPLICATED HISTORY WITH DEMOCRACY. IF THERE IS REASON TO WORRY ABOUT BLACK SIDING SIDING IN SOE DEMOCRATIC NATIONS ON THE CONTINENT TODAY IT IS NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THAT? SHERLOCK SHERI BERMAN'S LATEST S "DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP IN EUROPE: FROM THE ANCIENT REGIME TO THE PRESENT DAY." SHE IS A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S BARNARD COLLEGE AND JOINS US FROM NEW YORK AS PART OF THE TVO/"TORONTO STAR" INITIATIVE THE DEMOCRACY AGENDA.

Sheri is in her forties, with long curly chestnut hair. She's wearing glasses and a black shirt.
A picture of her book appears briefly on screen. The cover features two pictures, one is a painting of a revolutionary scene and the other is a photograph of a modern-day protest.

Steve continues GOOD TO MEET YOU Dr. BERMAN HOW ARE YOU MANAGING THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC?

Sheri says I'M GETTING THROUGH.

Steve says THAT'S THE RIGHT ANSWER, YES, INDEED. LET'S JUST SET THIS UP THIS WAY. I GUESS FOR THE LAST 25 YEARS OR SO OF THE 20th CENTURY DEMOCRACY WAS REALLY IN ASCENSION. IT HAD WON THE COLD WAR. IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS THE GO TO. BUT THE FIRST COUPLE OF DECADES OF THE 21st CENTURY HAVE NOT BEEN AS KIND, ERDOGAN, DUTERTE, AND IN YOUR COUNTRY, TRUMP. WHAT HAS IN YOUR VIEW THE THREAD THAT CONNECTS ALL OF THESE CHALLENGERS TO THE IDEA OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY?

The caption changes to "Sheri Berman. Barnard College."

Sheri says WELL, DISSATISFACTION WITH DEMOCRACY IS THE GREATEST SPUR FOR THE RISE OF OUGHT... AUTOCRACY. IF YOU LOOK AT DEMOCRACY IN PLACES YOU MENTIONED, TURKEY, HUNGARY, THE PHILIPPINES AND BRAZIL. THERE WAS A LOT OF DISSATISFACTION WITH THE POLITICIANS THAT EXISTED BEFORE THE RISE OF THESE AUTO CRATS AND WITH THE FUNCTIONING OF THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM MORE GENERALLY. ONE WAY TO THINK ABOUT THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF AUTHORITARIANS IS BY LOOKING AT THE CONTEXT IN WHICH THEY ARISE WHICH IS RISING DISSATISFACTION WITH DEMOCRACY. SO WHEN DEMOCRACIES DON'T DO WELL, PEOPLE ARE OPEN TO ALTERNATIVES. AND I THINK THAT'S THE PLACE TO START AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE RISE OF THESE POPULIST, THESE AUTHORITARIANS IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD TODAY.

Steve says LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH THIS. YOU'VE WRITTEN THAT LIBERAL DEMOCRACY IS A RARE AND RECENT PHENOMENON. WHAT MAKES THE INGREDIENTS IN IT SO RARE?

The caption changes to "Sheri Berman. Author, 'Democracy and dictatorship in Europe.'"

Sheri says WELL, IT TAKES AN AWFUL LOT TO MAKE DEMOCRACY WORK. IT TAKES AN AWFUL LOT INSTITUTIONALLY. IT TAKES A LOT NORMATIVELY. DEMOCRACY WORKS WHERE WE HAVE AN ACTIVE CIVIL SOCIETY, WHERE WE HAVE A FREE PRESS. WAR WE HAVE A BUSINESS COMMUNITY THAT IS NOT DEPENDED ON THE STATE TO PROSPER. WHERE WE HAVE CITIZENS WHO ACCEPT THE POLITICAL EQUALITY OF ALL CITIZENS, WHERE WE HAVE CITIZENS WHO ACCEPT THE LEGITIMACY OF OPPOSITION. THESE ARE NOT EASY THINGS TO BUILD. AND IF WE LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF THE WEST, THAT IS TO SAY THE HISTORY OF COUNTRIES WHERE DEMOCRACY HAS ITS LONGEST HISTORY, WE SEE VERY CLEARLY THAT THESE TAKE A VERY, VERY LONG TIME TO CONSTRUCT, TO EMBED DEEPLY IN SOCIETIES. AND SO THAT MANY COUNTRIES THAT ONLY RECENTLY MADE TRANSITIONS TO DEMOCRACY IN PLACES LIKE, AGAIN, THE PHILIPPINES, BRAZIL, PARTS OF EASTERN EUROPE. WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED THAT THEY'RE STRUGGLING SIMPLY BECAUSE, AGAIN, THE INSTITUTIONAL AND NORMATIVE INSTRUCT FOR DEMOCRACY IS VAST AND DIFFICULT TO BUILD.

Steve says ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS ABOUT DEMOCRACY IS NOT NON-FICTION, IT'S A NOVEL "ADVISE AND CONCEPT" BY ALLAN DRURY. ONE OF THE LINES IN THE BOOK... ACTUALLY DAVID FRUM TWEETED THIS THE OTHER DAY WHICH REMINDED ME OF IT AS WELL. LET'S BRING THIS THIS UP:

A quote pops up and Steve reads DEMOCRACY IS THE MOST FRAGILE THING ON EARTH FOR WHAT DOES IT REST ON... YOU AND ME AND THE FACT THAT WE AGREE TO MAINTAIN IT. THE MOMENT EITHER OF US SAYS WE WILL NOT THAT'S THE END OF IT. THAT'S FROM "ADVISE AND CONSENT." WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?

Sheri says I THINK THAT'S A VERY APT QUOTE AND I THINK IT'S 100 percent CORRECT, RIGHT? BECAUSE DEMOCRACY IS A SYSTEM THAT DEPENDS ON THE BEHAVIOUR OF CITIZENS AND THE BEHAVIOUR OF ELITES AND SORT OF GOING BACK TO SOMETHING WE JUST DISCUSSED, RIGHT? IT DEPENDS ON CITIZENS ACCEPTING THE RULES OF THE GAME, ACCEPTING THE EQUALITY, THE POLITICAL EQUALITY OF THEIR FELLOW CITIZENS, THE LEGITIMACY OF OPPOSITION. AT LEAST PLAYING BY THE RESUMES OF THE GAME. AND THESE ARE NOT THINGS THAT COME NATURALLY OR EASILY AND CAN BE VERY EASILY THROWN OFF BALANCE. I THINK MY OWN COUNTRY IS AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF THAT. AND RECOGNIZING HOW FRAGILE THESE THINGS ARE, I THINK, SHOULD GIVE US A GREATER APPRECIATION OF, AGAIN, AS THAT QUOTE INDICATES, HOW MUCH IT TAKES FROM AVERAGE CITIZENS AND THE ELITES WHO RUN THIS SYSTEM, THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM FOR IT TO KEEP WORKING WELL.

Steve says I WONDER IF, THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH, YOU'VE DISCOVERED WHAT THE TIPPING POINT IS. IN OTHER WORDS, THIS PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION HAS TO BE THIS TICKED OFF IN THIS STRONG A FASHION FOR THEM FINALLY TO BASICALLY GIVE UP ON THE NOTIONS OF DEMOCRACY YOU'VE JUST BEEN REFERRING TO.

Sheri says I DON'T THINK, UP, ALTHOUGH IT WOULD BE VERY NICE THAT THERE IS A PARTICULAR PERCENTAGE OR ONE PARTICULAR MEASURE WE CAN USE AND HAVE THAT ALWAYS INDICATE, OKAY, LOOK, WE'RE AT A TIPPING POINT NOW, DEMOCRACY IS IN REAL DANGER. BUT THERE ARE OBVIOUSLY A LOT OF THINGS WE CAN LOOK AT THAT ARE WARNING SIGNS, RIGHT? WHEN PEOPLE AS WE'VE ALREADY DISCUSSED, WHEN PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO SUPPORT POLITICIANS AND PARTIES WHO ARE CLEARLY NOT COMMITTED TO PLAYING BY THE RULES OF THE GAME, WHEN ANGER AND RESENTMENT BECOME THE DOMINANT FEATURES OF POLITICAL DISCOURSE AND POLITICAL INTERACTION, THESE ARE THE KINDS OF WARNING SIGNS THAT WE NEED TO REALLY PAY ATTENTION TO, RIGHT? SO WHEN YOU HAVE 40 percent OF A POPULATION WILLING TO VOTE FOR A PERSON LIKE, IN MY OWN COUNTRY, WHO'S NOT COMMITTED TO PLAYING BY THE RULES OF THE GAME, THAT DOES NOT MEAN ALL THOSE PEOPLE ARE ANTI DEMOCRATS. BUT IT DOES MEAN THEY'RE FED UP ENOUGH TO BE WILLING TO ACCEPT SOME VERY DANGEROUS MOVES ON THE PART OF THE PERSON THEY DO VOTE FOR.

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Steve says IT'S ALWAYS DANGEROUS TO ASK QUESTIONS WITH ABOUT PARTICULAR CULTURES. BUT WE'RE GOING TO TREAD CAREFULLY HERE BY ASKING YOU WHETHER YOU THINK THERE ARE SOME CULTURES IN THIS WORLD THAT COME BETTER PREDISPOSED TO APPRECIATING LIBERAL DEMOCRACY AND DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE AS OPPOSED TO OTHER CULTURES WHICH MAY BE MORE INCLINED TO ACCEPT ILL LIBERAL DEMOCRACY?

Sheri says I DON'T THINK THAT IS TRUE AT ALL AND I DON'T BELIEVE THERE IS ACTUALLY MUCH GOOD... HISTORIC OR COMPARATIVE ON THAT. I TEACH COURSES ON COMPARATIVE DEMOCRACY AND I ALWAYS ASK MY STUDENTS WHEN WE GET TO THE SECOND WORLD WAR, GIVEN WHAT THEY KNOW ABOUT GERMAN HISTORY AT THAT POINT IF THEY HAD TO BET THEIR RETIREMENT FUNDS ON GERMANY BECOMING A STABLE LIBERAL DEMOCRACY IN 1945 WOULD THEY HAVE DONE SO? I THINK THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A VERY BAD BET TO TAKE. I'VE ALWAYS... I'M ALSO OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE TAUGHT CLASSES ON DEMOCRACY DURING A PERIOD WHEN DISCUSSION OF ASIAN VALUES, QUOTE-UNQUOTE... WAS REALLY QUITE PROMINENT. THE IDEA THAT ASIAN COUNTRIES COULD NEVER BE FULLY DEMOCRATIC AND THEN WE HAD REMARKABLE TRANSITIONS IN PLACES LIKE TAIWAN AND SOUTH KOREA. SO NO, I DON'T THINK CULTURES ARE MORE OR LESS DEMOCRATIC. I THINK PEOPLE NEED TO LEARN AS I MENTIONED BEFORE, THE DEMOCRATIC RULES OF THE GAME. AND I THINK IS TAKES A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME AND SIGNIFICANCE WITH THE DICTATORIAL ALTERNATIVES TO DO SO.

Steve says THOSE ARE GREAT EXAMPLES WHAT YOU GAVE. THEN OTHERS MIGHT POINT TO THE MIDDLE EAST AND SAY HERE WE ARE AFTER A DECADE OF THE ARAB SPRING WHICH SPRUNG AND NOTHING HAPPENED. AND THE DREAMS ARE JUST AS DASHED TODAY AS THEY WERE TEN YEARS AGO. IS THAT A PART OF THE WORLD WHERE CULTURALLY IT'S JUST NOT AS ON AS IN THE OTHER EXAMPLES YOU GAVE?

Sheri says I THINK THERE ARE TWO GREAT WAYS TO LOOK AT THAT. ONE IS TO START WITH SOME BASIC SURVEY DATA. AND IF YOU LOOK AT SURVEY DATA FOR THE ARAB WORLD YOU CAN SEE THAT PEOPLE THERE JUST AS MUCH AS PEOPLE IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD EMBRACE SOME BASIC GOALS, RIGHT? THE DESIRE FOR SELF-RULE. THE DESIRE TO BE ABLE TO, AGAIN, CHOOSE THEIR LEADERS IN GOVERNMENT. THE OTHER THING I THINK WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE IS THAT THE ARAB SPRING WAS REALLY THE FIRST TRY AT DEMOCRACY FOR MANY OF THESE COUNTRIES WHICH ARE, THEMSELVES, YOUNG COUNTRIES. THEY'RE THE PRODUCT OF DECOLONIZATION. NOT THAT LONG AGO IN THE PAST. AND THAT THEY FAILED THEIR FIRST TRY AT DEMOCRACY SHOULD SADDEN BUT NOT SURPRISE US. IF WE LOOK BACK AT EUROPEAN HISTORY WHICH, OF COURSE, IS WHAT MY BOOK IS ABOUT, YOU CAN SEE THAT MOST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES FAILED IN THEIR FIRST TRY AT DEMOCRACY, EVEN THEIR SECOND AND SOMETIMES EVEN THIRD TRIES BECAUSE TO GET BACK TO THE THEME THAT WE HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING, IT TAKES A LOT... A LOT TO BUILD UP THE CONSTITUTIONAL AND NORMATIVE INFRASTRUCTURE OF DEMOCRACY. SO THAT THE ARAB SPRING FAILED JUST LIKE THE EVENT IN EUROPEAN HISTORY IT IS ECHOING, RIGHT, THE 1848, THE SPRINGTIME OF THE PEOPLE SHOULD NOT, AGAIN, SURPRISE, ALTHOUGH IT SHOULD SADDEN THEM.

Steve says ALL RIGHT. YOU SUGGEST THAT THE HISTORY SUGGESTS THAT WE DON'T KNOW OF GRADUAL LIBERAL NON-VIOLENT PATHS TO DEMOCRACY. AND YET HMM, CAN I GENTLY PUSH BACK ON THAT A LITTLE BIT AND SAY I THINK I'M SITTING IN A COUNTRY RIGHT NOW THAT HAS ACTUALLY DONE JUST ATLANTA?

Sheri says SO I WOULD SAY THAT THERE ARE SOME CASES THAT DO APPROXIMATE THAT MODEL AND CANADA MIGHT BE A GOOD ONE. BUT IF WE LOOK AT THE CLASSIC CASES THAT PEOPLE POINT TO IN THIS REGARD WHICH ARE BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES, I DON'T THINK THOSE HOLD UP VERY WELL TO HISTORICAL SCRUTINY. THE BRITISH CASE IS AN INTERESTING ONE. MANY PEOPLE WOULD DATE THE BEGINNING OF ITS MODERN POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT TO THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION IN 1688 AND YET WE DID NOT GET UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE IN THAT COUNTRY UNTIL THE EARLY 20th CENTURY. MY OWN COUNTRY MEN AND WOMEN LIKE TO THINK OF THIS COUNTRY AS ALWAYS BEING DEMOCRATIC. THAT IS, OF COURSE, NOT TRUE. BY ANY STANDARD. IT TOOK THE BLOODIEST WAR IN OUR HISTORY, THE CIVIL WAR TO EXTEND AT LEAST IN THEORY DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS TO ALL CITIZENS. AND THEN IT TOOK ANOTHER 100 YEARS UNTIL THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN THE 1960s TO ACTUALLY BRING AT LEAST THE LEGAL REALITY OF EQUAL POLITICAL RIGHTS TO OUR CITIZENS. SO I THINK IT'S VERY HARD TO FIND THOSE CASES OF GRADUAL, PEACEFUL, POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT. BUT I WILL HAVE TO CONCEDE PERHAPS THE CANADIAN CASE. BUT I DON'T THINK THERE ARE MORE THAN A HANDFUL OF THEM.

Steve says THAT'S A GREAT POINT THAT YOU JUST MADE. BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC, WE OFTEN THINK IN TERMS OF A PLACE THAT'S MORE THAN 200 YEARS OLD. AND THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS AS YOU'VE JUST POINTED OUT, YOU KNOW, GENUINE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, WHERE IT WAS IN LAW IS A FIVE AND A HALF DECADE OLD PHENOMENON. AND I WONDER WHETHER YOU THINK TRUMP'S ELECTION SIGNALS THE KIND OF BIRTHING PAINS OF A MULTIRACIAL DEMOCRACY THAT RE-DON'T NECESSARILY THINK OF AS BEING THAT NEW A THING IN THE UNITED STATES. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Sheri says I THINK THAT'S AN EXCELLENT WAY, IN FACT, TO THINK ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE UNITED STATES TODAY. IT IS REALLY ONLY SINCE THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT THAT WE HAVE BEEN A FULL LIBERAL DEMOCRACY ACCORDING TO ANY DEPOSITION THAT WOULD BE USED BY SOCIAL SCIENTISTS. BECAUSE UP UNTIL THEN, AGAIN, A PART OF THE COUNTRY MADE ESSENTIALLY AN OLIGARCHY. THAT IS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE DENIED THEIR POLITICAL SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC PRIVILEGES THAT WOULD GO ALONG WITH THEM. SO IF WE THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT IT'S ONLY BEEN SINCE THEN THAT WE HAVE REALLY TRIED TO TURN OUR DEMOCRACY INTO A DEMOCRACY FOR ALL CITIZENS, REGARDLESS OF THEIR BACKGROUND, REGARDLESS OF THEIR SKIN COLOUR, THEN MANY OF THE DIFFICULTIES TODAY BEGIN TO MAKE MORE SENSE, RIGHT? TURNING US INTO A DIVERSE LIBERAL DEMOCRACY. THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT THING. AND WE HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING WITH IT INDEED AS YOU SAY ONLY FOR A NUMBER NUMBER OF DECADES RATHER THAN THE CENTURIES THAT AMERICANS LIKE TO THINK OF THEMSELVES AS LIVING IN A FULL DEMOCRACY.

Steve says WE LOOK NORTH OF THE BORDER AT UTTER FASCINATION OF HOW YOU ARE FACING THESE CHALLENGES. I DO WONDER HOW YOUR LIBERAL DEMOCRACY HOW IT INTENDS TO DEAL WITH THE REACTIONARIES IN IT WHO PREFER THE PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE AND FEAR THAT THEY WILL HAVE NO HAND IN SHAPING THAT FUTURE.

Sheri says THIS IS ANOTHER REALLY GREAT QUESTION. HISTORICALLY GROUP THAT IS ARE LOSING STATUS AND POLITICAL POWER, THEY'RE RESISTANT. THAT IS SIMPLY NORMAL. AND EXPECTED. AGAIN, NOT NORMATIVELY GOOD. WHAT'S CRUCIAL IS TO CREATE POSITIVE RATHER THAN ZERO SUM GAMES. OUR POLITICIANS NEED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT INCORPORATING NEW PEOPLE AND NEW GROUPS INTO OUR DEMOCRACY DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY WILL SUFFER POLITICALLY, SOCIALLY OR ECONOMICALLY. BUT THAT WE CAN BUILD A BETTER DEMOCRACY, A BETTER ECONOMY AND A BETTER SOCIETY WHERE EVERYONE CAN PROSPER. IF WE LET PEOPLE THINK THAT DEMOCRACY OR THE ECONOMY ARE ZERO SUM GAMES THEY WILL REACT ACCORDINGLY BY RECENTING AND GETTING ANGRY AT THE GAINS OF OTHER GROUPS. AND SO IT IS INCUMBENT UPON DEMOCRATIC POLITICIANS TO CREATE POLICIES AND SITUATIONS THAT ENABLE US TO SEE THAT WE HAVE SOMETHING TO GAIN FROM INCLUDING FELLOW CITIZENS IN THE AMERICAN DREAM RATHER THAN WE CAN ONLY WIN BY EXCLUDING OTHERS.

Steve says AS YOU SEE IT, THOUGH, EVEN IF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY DID THAT WOULD THE 74 MILLION PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP OPEN TO IT?

Sheri says I DO NOT THINK YOU HAVE TO CONVINCE EVERYBODY THAT YOU ARE RIGHT. BUT WHAT YOU DO HAVE TO CONVINCE PEOPLE OF IS THAT YOU ARE NOT DANGEROUS. THAT IS TO SAY DEMOCRACY DOES NOT REQUIRE ALL CITIZENS TO AGREE. IF ALL CITIZENS AGREED, IN FACT, DEMOCRACY WOULD BE SUPERFLUOUS. WHAT DEMOCRACY CANNOT TAKE IS ZERO SUM GAMES. WHAT DEMOCRACY CANNOT TAKE IS THE SENSE THAT IF THE OPPOSITION COMES TO POWER IT IS THREATENING OR DANGEROUS. ALL THE DEMOCRATS NEED TO DO AND I MEAN ALL THAT MEANING IT IS EASY IS NOT... THEY DON'T HAVE TO CONVINCE EVERYONE. BUT THEY DO HAVE TO TAMP DOWN THE TEMPERATURE. THEY DO NEED TO TAMP DOWN THE LEVEL OF FEAR AND RESENTMENT. THAT'S REALLY WHAT WE HAVE TO LOOK FOR OVER THE NEXT YEARS IN SOCIETY.

Steve says I THINK, PROFESSOR BERMAN IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MAKES THAT SO DIFFICULT AND HAVE I ONLY HEARD THAT RARE TIMES OVER THE LAST NUMBER OF YEARS FROM PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS. HOW CAN THESE LOWER MIDDLE CLASS AND LOWER CAST PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH, FOR EXAMPLE, HOW CAN THEY VOTE REPUBLICAN? THEY'RE CLEARLY VOTING AGAINST THEIR OWN ECONOMIC INTERESTS WHICH, OF COURSE, DOESN'T APPRECIATE THE FACT THAT CULTURE, NOT JUST ECONOMY IS A HUGE PART OF THIS DEBATE. HOW DO WE GET FROM "A" TO "B" ON THAT?

Sheri says WELL, I THINK THAT'S ALSO A GREAT QUESTION WHICH IS BECAUSE PEOPLE WHETHER THEY'RE LOWER CLASS, MIDDLE CLASS OR UPPER CLASS HAVE A VARIETY OF INTEREST IN GOALS THEY BRING TO THE POLITICAL ARENA, RIGHT? ECONOMIC, BUT ALSO CULTURAL OR MORAL. AND SO WE NEED TO FIGURE OUT WAYS AGAIN TO TAMP DOWN THE TEMPERATURE. PERSONALLY I THINK THAT DEBATING CERTAIN KINDS OF CULTURAL ISSUES IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR DEMOCRACY. AND SO YOU DON'T WANT THEM TO DOMINATE POLITICAL DISCUSSION BECAUSE IF PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEIR VALUES ARE BEING THREATENED, IT BECOMES VERY DIFFICULT FOR THEM TO FOCUS ON ANYTHING ELSE. SO IF WE WANT PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH, LET'S SAY AS YOU MENTIONED TO FOCUS ON WHAT PARTIES AND POLITICIANS ARE GOING TO BEST SERVE THEIR ECONOMIC INTERESTS, WE NEED TO HAVE THEM NOT FOCUS ON WHAT THEY SEE AS THREATS TO THEIR CULTURAL OR SOCIAL INTERESTS. AND I THINK THAT CAN BE DONE. I MEAN IF YOU LOOK AT SURVEY DATA ON AMERICAN POLITICS, FOR EXAMPLE, SURVEY ISSUES HAVE JUMPED OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS THEY HAVE DOMINATED POLITICAL DISCUSSION. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY THE TIME WHEN WE'VE MADE THE MOST PROGRESS ON THOSE THINGS BUT WE'RE FOCUSING ON THE "MORE." I THINK THAT WE PERHAPS WANT TO FLIP THE SWITCH A LITTLE BIT AND FOCUS ON SOME OTHER ISSUES AS WELL WHICH DOES NOT PRECLUDE MAKING PROGRESS ON SOME OF THESE UNDERLYING SOCIAL AND CULTURAL PROBLEMS. BUT IT DOES MEAN FOCUSING NOT EXCLUSIVELY ON THEM.

Steve says LET'S PLAY A CLIP HERE. IS CORNEL WEST WHOM YOU KNOW, OF COURSE, FILL PHILOSOPHER, POLITICAL ACTIVIST UPONTERING WHAT PLATO SAID ABOUT DEMOCRACY 2500 YEARS AGO. SHELDON, THE CLIP IN YOU COULD.

A clip plays on screen with the caption "What is democracy? Cornel West."
In the clip, Cornel speaks. He's in his fifties, with big, graying curly black hair and a prominent goatee. He's wearing glasses.

He says THE FOUNDING TEXT OF THE WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL TRADITION, PLATO'S "REPUBLIC" PROVIDES THE MOST POWERFUL INDICTMENT OF NOT JUST DEMOCRATIC PRACTICES BUT THE POSSIBILITY OF DEMOCRACY. AND HE ARGUES THAT EVERY DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT, EVERY EXPERIMENT IN WHICH KNOWS EVERY DAY PEOPLE ATTEMPT TO GOVERN THEMSELVES WILL RESULT IN TYRANNY BECAUSE THERE'S TOO MUCH UNRULY PASSION AND PERVASIVE IGNORANCE AMONG THE EVERY DAY PEOPLE. SO WE'RE STILL WRESTLING WITH PLATO'S CHALLENGE. PLATO'S CHALLENGE WILL NEVER GO AWAY. WILL NEVER GO AWAY. BECAUSE THE FASCIST POSSIBILITIES OF ANY DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT ARE ALWAYS THERE. I DON'T CARE WHICH PART OF THE WORLD YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.

The clip ends.

Steve says I MEAN HE'S PRESAGING JANUARY 6th THERE AND THE INSURRECTION ON CAPITOL HILL AND WHETHER OR NOT DEMOCRACY IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE IN DANGER OF BEING VULNERABLE TO THAT. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Sheri says WELL, I THINK, AS WE DISCUSSED, DEMOCRACY IS ALWAYS IN DANGER. IT IS QUITE FRAGILE. HOWEVER, I HAVE TO PUSH BACK AGAINST THIS SORT OF IDEA. IF ONLY BECAUSE WE REALLY DON'T HAVE A LOT OF GOOD EXAMPLES OF DICTATORSHIPS OR OLIGARCHIES THAT RULE IN A MUCH BETTER FASHION. THAT IS TO SAY, A DICTATORSHIP OR OLIGARCHIES THAT DO A BETTER JOB OF PROTECTING THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE RATHER THAN THE INTERESTS OF THE RULERS. TO QUOTE WINSTON CHURCHILL, PERHAPS AGAINST PLATO, YOU KNOW, TWO CHEERS FOR DEMOCRACY. IT'S NOT PERFECT BUT IT'S BETTER THAN THE ALTERNATIVES. SURE, PEOPLE JUST LIKE ELITES HAVE A TENDENCY TOWARDS IGNORANCE AND PASSION. WHAT'S CRUCIAL IS TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR POLITICS DOES NOT PREY ON THOSE THINGS, DOES NOT AGGRAVATE THOSE THINGS. BUT TRIES TO APPEAL TO PEOPLE, AGAIN. YOU KNOW, MORE RATIONAL AND LOGICAL SELFS. BUT IT'S EASY TO PISS ON DEMOCRACY AND, AGAIN, GIVEN THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN MY OWN COUNTRY TODAY, I'M VERY PRONE TO THAT PARTICULAR... THAT PARTICULAR TENDENCY. BUT LET'S REMEMBER WHAT THE ALTERNATIVES ARE. AND HOW MUCH WORSE THEY ACTUALLY ARE.

Steve says WELL, ONE OF THE WORST CHARACTERISTICS THAT TOO MANY CANADIANS HAVE IS THAT WE'RE INCREDIBLY SANCTIMONIOUS AND SMUG AS IT RELATES TO OUR MORAL AUTHORITY IN THIS WORLD. AND I MIGHT JUST POINT YOUR ATTENTION TO THE ECONOMISTS' DEMOCRACY INDEX THAT CAME OUT NOT THAT LONG A GO IN WHICH CANADA MOVED UP A COUPLE OF SPOTS. WE'RE NOW FIFTH AND IN WHICH AMERICA WAS 25th. AND FOR A PLACE THAT MANY OF US GREW UP THINKING OF AS SUPPOSEDLY THE SHINING CITY ON A HILL, WELL, I'M CURIOUS. WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU SAW THAT YOU ARE THE 25th BEST DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD?

Sheri says WELL, I STUDY DEMOCRACY SO THIS DOESN'T SURPRISE ME. THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN ON A DECLINE AND THAT DECLINE ACCELERATED GREATLY DURING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. SO THE ACTUAL RANKING DOESN'T SURPRISE ME. IN FACT, IT COINCIDES WITH THE ASSESSMENT OF EXPERTS IN OTHER ORGANIZATIONS THAT LOOK AT THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY. WHAT THIS SAYS, THOUGH, EXACTLY AS YOU INDICATE IS THAT WE'RE VERY FAR FROM THE SELF-IMAGE OF THE CITY ON THE HILL THAT A LOT OF AMERICANS WOULD LIKE TO HOLD. WE HAVE A LOT TO DO TO CORRECT THE PROBLEMS IN OUR SOCIETY. TO CORRECT THE PROBLEMS IN OUR ECONOMY. AND TO CORRECT THE PROBLEMS IN OUR DEMOCRACY. AND I THINK WE CAN. AND I WISH... I HOPE THAT THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS ABLE TO DO SO. BECAUSE WHAT HAPPENS IN THE UNITED STATES FOR BETTER OR WORSE HAS A LOT OF IMPLICATIONS OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES FOR, AGAIN, THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD MORE GENERALLY AND PEACE AND PROSPERITY ACROSS THE GLOBE.

Steve says WELL, YOU HAVE LED ME VERY NICELY TO WHERE I WANT TO END UP OUR CONVERSATION BECAUSE I WANT TO READ AN EXCERPT FROM SOMETHING YOU WROTE. THIS IS YOU IN DISSENT MAGAZINE IN THE WINTER OF 2018. AND HERE WE GO...

A quote pops up and Steve reads AS RECENT ELECTIONS IN THE UNITED STATES AND EUROPE HAVE MADE CLEAR, THE MORE PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT POLICE CAL ELITES AND INSTITUTIONS ARE UNRESPONSIVE TO THEM, THE MORE LIKELY THEY ARE TO WANT TO SIDELINE OR EVEN ELIMINATE THEM. CONTINUING TO ALLOW WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AND SPECIAL INTERESTS OUT SIZED INFLUENCE ON POLITICS OR INSULATING POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS AND POLICY MAKING FURTHER FROM THE PEOPLE IS, THEREFORE, LIKELY TO INCREASE SUPPORT FOR POPULISM RATHER THAN DIMINISH IT. OLIGARCHY, TECHNOCRACY ARE NOT OPPOSITES BUT EVIL, POLITICAL TWINS OF THE FORMER SEEKS TO LIMIT DEMOCRACY, TO SAVE LIBERALISM, THE LATTER SEEKS TO SAVE LIBERALISM TO SAVE DEMOCRACY. NEITHER IT WISE AND THEY FEED OFF AN INTENSIFY THE OTHER.

Steve says WELL, I WANT YOU TO... THAT'S VERY WELL WRITTEN, I HAVE TO SAY, WELL DONE. AND I GUESS I NEED YOU TO FOLLOW UP ON THE LAST ANSWER YOU GAVE WHICH IS HOW MUCH HOPE YOU DO HOLD OUT THAT THINGS ARE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT UNDER JOE BIDEN AND THAT HIS ADMINISTRATION GETS ALL THIS.

Sheri says WELL, THIS VERY NICELY BRINGS US FULL CIRCLE. BECAUSE WE ONLY UNDERLINE DEMOCRACY AS THE IDEA THAT IT IS A POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT SERVES OR IS RESPONSIVE TO THE PEOPLE. AND WHEN PEOPLE FEEL LIKE POLITICIANS AND PARTIES ARE NOT RESPONDING TO THEIR DEMANDS, ARE NOT SOLVING THE CHALLENGES THEIR SOCIETIES FACE, THEY BECOME DISSATISFIED AND AS WE DISCUSSED RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING, THEREFORE, WILLING TO POTENTIALLY EMBRACE EVEN RADICAL OR EXTREME ALTERNATIVES. IF WE WANT DEMOCRACY TO FLOURISH IN THE UNITED STATES OR AROUND THE GLOBE, WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE OUR POLITICIANS, OUR PARTIES, OUR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS MORE RESPONSIVE TO THE PROBLEMS THAT PEOPLE FACE. TO THE CHALLENGES THAT SOCIETIES FACE. THAT IS THE KEY TO DEMOCRATIC SUCCESS. IT'S THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF ANY SOCIETY. AND OUR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS CERTAINLY IN THE UNITED STATES BY MANY, MANY MEASURES HAVE BECOME LESS RESPONSIVE OVER THE PAST DECADES. AND I THINK DONALD TRUMP IS ONE INDICATION OF THAT. AND SO FIGURING OUT HOW TO MAKE DEMOCRACY SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE, RESPOND TO THE PEOPLE'S NEEDS, THAT IS ANOTHER WAY OF THINKING ABOUT WHAT JOE BIDEN'S ADMINISTRATION AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY HAS TO DO IN THE NEXT... IN THOSE YEARS GOING FORWARD.

The caption changes to "Producer: Wodek Szemberg, @wodekszemberg."

Steve says HEAR, HEAR. SHERI BERMAN, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE BARNARD COLLEGE.NEW YORK CITY. AWFULLY GOOD OF YOU TO JOIN US ON TVO TONIGHT. THERE IS YOUR BOOK ON THE SCREEN, "DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP IN EUROPE. WE'RE SO GRATEFUL FOR YOUR TIME. STAY SAFE OUT THERE OK.

Sheri says MY PLEASURE, YOU, TOO.

Watch: Democracy: Nobody Said It's Going To be Easy