Programs The Democracy Test

“The Democracy Test” from Truth, Politics and Power

The Democracy Test

The fabric of America’s democracy is being challenged on multiple fronts: bitter partisan disputes, economic inequality, divisions between different parts of the country, gerrymandering and voter suppression, the dysfunction of Congress ceding powers to the President, and a collapse of trust in many institutions, especially government. Is our democracy at risk?

Longtime Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan and political historian Heather Cox Richardson explore the state of our democracy this election season with a new, six-part series, available for broadcast beginning September 21. “The Democracy Testfrom Truth, Politics and Power traces examples of similar, and often more dangerous challenges in American history, how our democracy survived them, and what we might do to solve our current difficulties.

These hour-long programs are available at no additional charge.

About the Series

Truth, Politics and Power is a public radio broadcast and podcast with NPR veteran Neal Conan that brings the kind of thinking and conversation we need to understand the changing landscape of American politics and its implications.


Neal Conan
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Heather Cox Richardson
Heather Cox Richardson is a political historian who uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics. She is a professor of history at Boston College and the author, most recently, of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.


One hour each.

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“The Democracy Test” programs are available to APM stations on ContentDepot.

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Affiliate stations may carry this program multiple times before January 8, 2019. The program (episode) must be carried in its entirety. No excerpting is permitted. Simulcast streaming rights are available for this program. Prior to carrying this program, stations must contact their American Public Media Station Relations Representative.

Episode One: “Why Democracy”

Broadcast window: September 21, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: September 17, 2018

In 1789, the Constitutional Convention decided to revive a form of government untried since the collapse of the Athenian democracy and the Roman republic in ancient times. Why? What problems does democracy solve, and what problems does it create? These days, when even autocrats stage elections to bolster their legitimacy, is democracy the natural form of government? How did the founding fathers account for the inherent contradiction of slavery within its democratic ideals? How did America’s young democracy manage the peaceful transfer of power between bitterly opposed political factions, when so many modern democracies fail that test?

Guests: Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.

Episode Two: “A House Divided”

Broadcast window: September 28, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: September 24<, 2018

A healthy democracy thrives on ideological struggle, robust debate, dissent and compromise. But, in the 1850s and 60s, deep splits drove the country to civil war. Has the divide really healed? The same fault lines exist today, on race, geography, ideology, culture and class, and some argue that divisions are becoming more and more extreme. When the “other side” becomes illegitimate, the room for democracy shrinks. When politics is the problem, can it also provide the solution?

Guests: Joanne Freeman,author The Field of Blood: Congressional Violence in Antebellum America; Jennifer McCoy, distinguished university professor at Georgia State University, who leads an international research group on polarized democracies; Kwame Anthony Appiah, author, Cosmopolitan: Ethics in a World of Strangers.

Episode Three: “Created Equal”

Broadcast window: October 5, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: October 1, 2018

Accepting the nomination for president in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged a fundamental challenge of American democracy: “For too many of us, the political equality we once had won, was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.” In the depths of the Great Depression, how did America’s democracy survive that crisis? How did the US resist the appeal of communism and fascism, which seemed like more vibrant systems. And, with inequality now at the highest rate since the depression, is our democracy ready to answer the challenge again?

Guests: Robert Dallek,author of Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life; Lawrence Jacobs,editor of Inequality and American Democracy. Additional guest TBA.

Episode Four: “Consent of the Governed”

Broadcast window: October 12, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: October 8, 2018

In 2016, the political party than received fewer votes for President and Congress won the White House, the Senate and the House. The persistence of such gaps has eroded faith in modern American democracy and lead to dwindling voter participation. How did an electorate limited at first to only white landowners expand to include freed slaves and women. How do gerrymandering, “packing” and voter suppression change the electoral map? Can belief in democracy survive the loss of trust in its most fundamental tool?

Guests:Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.Pippa Norris (invited), Director, The Electoral Integrity Project.

Episode Five: “Checks and Balances”

Broadcast window: October 19, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: October 15, 2018

Many cite Watergate as an example of a properly functioning government, where Congress and the Press held a president accountable for his crimes. Others believe it illustrates a fundamental failure, where American institutions allowed a dangerously imperial president to steamroll the constitution. How has the system of checks and balances established by the Framers evolved in an age of nuclear weapons, terrorism, social media and the 24-hour news cycle? Where’s the pivot point between democratic resilience and decay? When government is broken, how can we fix it?

Guests: Julia Azari, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University; E. J. Dionne, author, Why Americans Hate Politics; David Frum, author, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic; Beverly Gage (invited) Professor of American Studies at Yale.

Episode Six: “Truth, Politics and Power”

Broadcast window: October 26, 2018-January 7, 2019
Rundown and promos available: October 22, 2018

Trust in American government has steadily declined since the 1960 and 70s, when Americans learned that the war in Vietnam was based on lies. Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment, and the run up to the invasion of Iraq contributed to the collapse in faith in the government. Now, the president cites “alternative facts,” distortions, untruths and outright lies every day of the week. Fact checks are “fake news.” How can a government and a society function without a shared sense of reality and truth? And, as each side retreats to their respective media echo chambers, how can we work to restore faith in the purpose and practice of government?

Guests: TBA

Neil Conan, Host

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation, where he also played a key role as an anchor of NPR’s live coverage of 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Previously, he served as Bureau Chief in New York and London and covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland. Conan’s work has been honored with, among others, DuPont-Columbia, Major Armstrong and Peabody awards.

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