When the Soviet Union dissolved, the triumph of liberal democracy seemed so complete that some historians declared the moment “the end of history.” Three decades later, history is continuing apace, the liberal world order is on life support and many historians consider the fight to sustain democracy this century’s preeminent political challenge.
In the fourth program of the season, Common Ground will discuss the life and death battle between autocracy and democracy and the future of constitutional government both in America and around the world.
If the movement to end the fringe-pandering polarization of today’s politics had a face, it would be that of stalwart moderate Will Hurd, the former South Texas congressman. A three-term representative from the only swing district in Texas, Hurd forged his bipartisan brand through both political necessity and genuine rancor for politicians who stoked party extremes to stay in power.
Since his surprise 2014 victory as the first Black Republican in history to represent Texas in Congress, Hurd has taken the bipartisan road less traveled. Unable to cater to his party’s hard right, like many candidates from safe districts, he campaigned and governed by appealing to the middle. And once in Washington, he broke convention by hiring numerous Democratic staffers, which made him the most productive freshman.
His bipartisanship, however, ultimately ostracized him from potential allies: his expertise on national security, cultivated through nine years as a CIA agent, and immigration, earned by representing a district that includes a third of the US-Mexico border, were cast aside. As he saw it, Republicans preferred legislators who parroted party dogma, and Democrats refused to reach across the aisle; the dysfunction prompted him to stand down in 2020.
While reputed to be considering a 2024 presidential bid, Hurd’s foremost political mission now is to lay a road map for what he calls a “post-partisan” system. His 2022 book, American Reboot: An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Things Done, weaves together his experiences in Congress, the CIA, and as the child of an interracial Southern couple to implore Americans to face tough issues with nuance, anticipate the cybersecurity threats on the horizon, and embrace a complete renovation of our political system.
George Packer is an award-winning journalist, novelist and playwright who for over a decade has been sounding the alarm in books and magazine pieces about the growing threats to our democracy.
Beginning almost 15 years ago in articles for The New Yorker, where he worked as a staff writer until 2018, Packer warned that inequality was eroding the country’s social fabric and democratic guardrails. He explored the theme in depth in The Unwinding, a biting National Book Award winner published a decade ago that uses biographies to trace the major forces shaping American history.
His follow up book, Last Best Hope: America In Crisis and Renewal, was published last year and argues that inequality has created four warring Americas by weakening the shared identity that once united the disparate factions. He posits the solution is not erasing these divisions but acknowledging they must coexist through shared public service and by turning off social media.
Packer’s critiques of American democracy are honed by years of covering countries ravaged by war. He reported on the Iraq War while on the ground in Baghdad, describing scenes of friendship, sacrifice, bureaucratic dysfunction and American hubris. His coverage of the occupation, as well as his recounting of the horrors of civil war in Sierra Leone, won him two Overseas Press Club Awards.
As a political writer for The Atlantic, where he has worked since 2018, he continues to report on major conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine and the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. In addition to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, Packer’s work has appeared in major publications such as Mother Jones, The New York Times, the New Yorker, the Boston Review, The Nation, World Affairs, and Harper’s among others.
Anne Applebaum is an award-winning historian and journalist. Among the first to trumpet the perils of Putinism, she has been one of most outspoken voices in marshaling a response to Russian expansionism and what she sees as its mortal threat to the Western alliance and the liberal democratic world order.
A staff writer for The Atlantic and prolific author, she won the 2004 non-fiction Pulitzer Prize for “Gulag: A History,” an account of the Soviet concentration camp system that focused on daily life in the prison camps. A leading challenger of the effort to accommodate Russia and President Vladimir Putin, she was a vocal and irrepressible critic of the Western response to the 2014 Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine and argued that the US and its allies had enabled "the existence of a corrupt Russian regime that is destabilizing Europe.”
An expert in the history of communist and post-communist Europe, Applebaum in 2014 challenged prevailing foreign policy orthodoxy in a piece in The New York Review of Books asking whether "the most important story of the past twenty years might not, in fact, have been the failure of democracy, but the rise of a new form of Russian authoritarianism.” A frequent contrarian, she has described the "myth of Russian humiliation,” contended that NATO and EU expansion have been a "phenomenal success,” and was one of the first American journalists to write about the significance of Russia's ties to Donald Trump, arguing that Putin's support for Trump was part of a wider Russian political campaign to destabilize the West.
Her name became synonymous with foreign affairs as she chronicled the collapse of communism, an association that solidified over the 17 years she wrote her internationally syndicated column in The Washington Post, where she served as a member of its editorial board. She also served as the Foreign and Deputy editor of the Spectator magazine, and as the Warsaw correspondent for The Economist.
Michelle Goldberg is an author, journalist, and New York Times Op-Ed columnist who explores the intersections of gender, religion, and democracy in domestic and international politics.
Through two decades of international reporting on the social repercussions of public policy, Goldberg has focused on women’s rights and has often argued they are a cornerstone in building democracy and should be a central tenet of global development efforts.
Her 2009 award-winning book, “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World,” the story of women’s liberation movements around the world, was so unabashedly feminist that The American Prospect magazine dubbed her “the Al Gore of a sexual equality crisis.”
Goldberg’s feminist activism has always powered her journalism. She started campaigning for abortion rights as a 13-year-old and, in college, began writing scathing op-eds attacking anti-abortion protests. The author of three books, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Guardian, among other publications and she was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for its reporting on workplace sexual harassment.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY
Senator Chris Murphy, is a torchbearer of a new progressive foreign policy for the country.
The junior senator from Connecticut, he gained national fame for his passionate response to the 2012 slaughter of 26 people, including 20 children, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now a heralded spokesperson for efforts to reorient American policy by empowering democracy at home and abroad, Senator Murphy places a strong emphasis on both global perspectives and international cooperation.
Murphy’s proposed redirection — his gospel, as Vox put it two years ago in a profile touting his potential presidential candidacy — is what he and others call a “progressive foreign policy” that he has promoted since entering Congress shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks. Its pillars are that the country must avoid extended wars, elevate diplomacy over military intervention, invest in anti-corruption programs to weaken autocracies, and focus on climate change and pandemics as ongoing global threats.
But underlying all his policies is one basic tenet: that fixing and sustaining America’s malfunctioning democracy is vital to promoting it elsewhere.
In what has been heralded as a paradigm of bipartisan leadership, he overcame the bitter dysfunction that increasingly deadlocks American politics by bringing together lawmakers from across the aisle to pass the most important federal gun safety legislation since 1994. “This has a chance to prove to a weary American public, that democracy is not so broken that it is unable to rise to the moment,” he said in celebration the law’s passage.