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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 and the fight to sustain democracy is this century’s preeminent political challenge, dominating headlines at home and abroad, once again raising the specter of nuclear armageddon.


In this episode of Common Ground with Jane Whitney, a panel of A-listers discusses the life and death battle between autocracy and democracy and the future of constitutional government both in America and around the world.


Chris Matthews

Mandana Dayani


If you’re aware of T-shirts, facemasks, stickers, and jewelry emblazoned with the word “Vote,” you’re part – whether you know it or not – of a campaign to save democracy by reframing voting as trendy rather than a nerdy thing to do once every four years. 

The national effort – empowered by celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Halle Berry and Dwayne Wade – is the work of Mandana Dayani, a marketing expert working to give voting and civic engagement narrative makeovers.

Jason Stanley


In the sandstorm of misinformation and animus eroding the political landscape, the philosopher Jason Stanley offers himself as an outstretched hand guiding Americans through the chaos and rancor. 

A leading scholar on democracy and a Yale professor of philosophy, Stanley’s insightful monographs serve as wailing sirens of the growing danger to American democracy from fascism, which, he argued in his 2018 book,

Miles Taylor


Before you ever heard of Miles Taylor, you probably knew him as “Anonymous,” the author of the bombshell New York Times op-ed about officials inside Donald Trump’s administration working to thwart the president’s most dangerous impulses.


The 2018 piece became a national political Rorschach test for left and right - some praised the masked writer for exposing the peril and forgoing credit while others called him a coward and questioned his truthfulness. 


Dayani is the creator & co-founder of “I am a Voter,” a nonpartisan campaign that created the human voting billboards and uses brands and celebrities as part of its effort to get people excited about the electoral system. An attorney who pivoted to marketing, she became involved in politics after seeing families separated at the border in the Trump administration’s effort to crack down on illegal immigration. Horrified, she recruited marketing colleagues to change the system that allowed such policies to  help reach  the 100 million voters who sat out of the 2016 election.


A religious refugee from Iran, Dayani’s efforts to boost citizen engagement and rebuild our democracy are fueled by her personal experiences as a child growing up in a theocracy and her memories of disenfranchisement. “Voting was probably the most exciting thing I ever got to do once I turned 18,” she told Good Morning America in 2020.

At one point the network’s top rated program, Hardball entranced audiences with its spitfire pacing and Matthews’ child-like love for the ‘rough- and-tumble’ political game, which disarmed his guests into spilling their secrets.


A command performance for newsmakers, the show was so influential that it “helped define American politics for a decade,” the Washington Post noted. A former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and senior aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill Jr., Matthews interviewed six presidents, took a star turn as himself on Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and was a repeating character on Saturday Night Live.

The author of eight political books, Matthews’s journalism career came to a halt after a 2020 GQ article recounted his harassing and sexualizing of women on and off the air. Matthews retired and apologized and only recently has begun appearing on air again as a commentator.

What do the Watergate scandal, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and South Africa’s first post-apartheid election have in common? They were brought to the world by Chris Matthews, our lead panelist who once personified political reporting and is best known for hosting Hardball, a nightly MSNBC talk show that encapsulated politics for much of its 21 year run.

How Fascism Works, is not a belief system but a set of techniques deployed to gain power.


The book, Peabody Award-Winner Jelani Cobb said, is “an essential guide to our current national dilemma of democracy vs. authoritarianism.”


In the wake of unprecedented attacks on rights long considered sacrosanct, Stanley’s warnings in recent years have grown more dire. In op-eds and TV appearances, he said the January 6th riot and subsequent voter suppression laws are evidence that fascism is in “its legal phase,” and, in a February 2023 Guardian op-ed, called the media’s downplaying of culture war features, such book bans and intimidation of educators, “unconscionable.”  


The son of two Holocaust survivors, Stanley has said that his upbringing in the shadow of genocide instilled in him a duty to care about the fights for equality and against fascism. 


He is the author of six books, including the 2015 How Propaganda Works and the forthcoming The Politics of Language. A vocal critic of America’s incarceration system who warns it foments racial divisions, Stanley sits on the Board of Directors for the Prison Policy Initiative. Before coming to Yale in 2013, he was a professor at the University of Michigan and at Cornell.

When Taylor, who served as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Department of Homeland Security, came forward in 2020, Donald Trump called him a traitor and his new colleagues at Google petitioned to have him fired for his involvement in family separation and the Muslim travel ban while part of the Trump administration. 


Despite the criticism and threats to his personal safety, Taylor’s post-administration career has been defined by a single mission: Keeping Donald Trump from a second term in The White House. After anonymously publishing the best selling 2019 tell-all, A Warning, Taylor endorsed Joe Biden and formed RePair, the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform. He left Google to fight Trump’s campaign, and after the election ended, defected from the Republican Party to co-found the anti-partisan Forward Party. 


A frequent contributor to a variety of cable news networks, he is the author of the upcoming book, Blowback, which argues Donald Trump will be re-elected if the country does not reckon with its dangerous polarization. 

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