Democracy Works

Democracy Works

www.democracyworkspodcast.com/episodes
Examining what it means to live in a democracy


Your guide to ranked-choice voting
Nov 18 • 38 min
Ranked-choice voting has been in the news a lot lately. It was adopted in New York City’s November 2019 election, used for the first time in U.S. Congressional elections last year, and will be the method by which at least a few states choose a Democratic…
Latino immigrants and the changing makeup of American democracy
Nov 11 • 41 min
We’ve talked about immigration several times on this show with good reason. The role that people coming to the United States play in our democracy is an important question and something states, cities, and towns across the country will continue to grapple…
Inside the world’s largest democracy
Nov 4 • 38 min
More than 600 million people voted in India’s most recent election, but that does not mean all is well with democracy there. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP recently won re-election on a platform based on Hindu nationalism. As we’ve seen with…
Changing the climate conversation
Oct 28 • 39 min
Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, but it’s so big that it can be difficult to imagine how you as an individual can make an impact — or even know how to talk about it with other people in a meaningful way. This episode offers a…
From political crisis to profound change
Oct 21 • 37 min
October 21, 2019 Last week, we heard from Andrew Sullivan about the challenges facing the future of democracy in the United States and around the world. This week’s episode offers a glimpse into what can happen when a country emerges from a political…
Andrew Sullivan on democracy’s double-edged sword
Oct 14 • 40 min
This is one of the most pessimistic episodes we’ve done, but it’s worth hearing. Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine contributing editor, Daily Dish founder, and former editor of The New Republic, is a longtime observer of American politics who does not…
The case for open primaries
Oct 7 • 34 min
In about a dozen U.S. states, the only people who can vote in primary elections are those who are registered with a party. Republicans vote in the Republican primary and Democrats vote in the Democratic primary. This leaves out independents, who make up a…
Understanding impeachment — from the Federalist Papers to the whistleblower
Sep 30 • 31 min
We bring you special episode of Democracy Works this week that’s all about impeachment. Michael Berkman takes the lead on this episode and talks with Michael Nelson, the Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early…
Street-level bureaucrats at the border
Sep 23 • 39 min
Immigration is one of the most complex issues of our time in the United States and around the world. Enforcing immigration law in the U.S. involves a mix of courts and executive agencies with lots of opportunities for confusion, miscommunication, and…
Out of Order: A conversation with Mitch Landrieu and Margaret Carlson
Sep 20 • 37 min
Today we’re bringing you a bonus episode from Out of Order, a podcast produced by the German Marshal Fund of the United States. Out of Order is a podcast about how our world was, is, and will be ordered. How do we save democracy, rule of law and global…
China’s threat to democracies around the world
Sep 16 • 39 min
Larry Diamond joins us this week to talk about the threat China’s model of authoritarian capitalism poses to liberal democracy in the United States and around the world. Economics drives politics, and it’s easy to admire China’s growth while looking past…
One state’s fight for fair maps
Sep 9 • 35 min
Pennsylvania is one of several states trying to ensure fair congressional maps are drawn after the 2020 Census. As we say in the episode, redistricting is one of democracy’s thorniest problems. It’s easy to say you want a map that’s fair, but far more…
How music transcends political polarization
Sep 2 • 30 min
Last week, we heard from Aaron Maybin about the ways visual art relates to his conception and practice of democracy. This week, we are going to look at the relationship between art and democracy through the lens of music. Music has always been political,…
Doing the hard work of democracy in Baltimore
Sep 1 • 43 min
You might remember Aaron Maybin from his time on the football field at Penn State or in the NFL. These days, he’s doing something much different. He’s an artist, activist, and educator in his hometown of Baltimore and talked with us about the way that…
How conspiracies are damaging democracy
Sep 1 • 36 min
From Pizzagate to Jeffrey Epstein, conspiracies seem to be more prominent than ever in American political discourse. What was once confined to the pages of supermarket tabloids is now all over our media landscape. Unlike the 9/11 truthers or those who…
Defending the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate
Aug 12 • 32 min
We are back with new episodes this week, and we’re starting with an interview that we recorded in New York City earlier this summer. David McCraw is the Deputy General Counsel of the New York Times and author of Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for…
Standing up for science and fighting the climate wars [rebroadcast]
Aug 5 • 37 min
For the last of our summer rebroadcasts, we are revisiting the conversation with Penn State’s Michael Mann, a world-renowned climate scientist. We’ve just finished the warmest month in global recorded history, so it felt like a good time to share this…
Tracing the past, present, and future of protests
Jul 29
Since we started this show, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with several organizers, from Joyce Ladner in the Civil Rights movement to Srdja Popovic in Serbia to the students involved with the March for Our Lives. Today, we think of protests as a…
A conversation about conversation [rebroadcast]
Jul 22
This week, we are revisiting another episode from the Democracy Works back catalog. This discussion is a nice companion to our episode with Timothy Shaffer on civility. This episode seeks to answer one simple, but very important, question: Why is it so…
Politics and Polls: Blue state federalism
Jul 15
Democracy Works summer break 2019 continues with an episode from Politics and Polls, a podcast produced by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. The show’s hosts are Sam Wang and Julian Zelizer. If you enjoyed our…
The Pledge: Are you scared of the cafeteria lady?
Jul 15
Our summer break continues this week with an episode of The Pledge, a podcast about people who are taking an active role in improving democracy in the U.S. The show’s first season features a group of women working in grassroots political organizing in…
How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the “grinding work” of democracy [rebroadcast]
Jul 8
Our summer break continues this week with a rebroadcast of one of our very first episodes, a conversation with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt. He spoke at Penn State in March 2018. Both the book and the conversation are worth revisiting, or…
A democracy summer reading list [rebroadcast]
Jul 1
Democracy Works is taking a few weeks off for the summer. While we do, we are going to share some older episodes you might have missed, along with a few from other podcasts we think you’ll enjoy. First up is our democracy summer reading list, which we…
Answering your questions about democracy
Jun 24
Is the United States really a democracy? What will the EU look like in 50 years? What should 2020 candidates be doing to demonstrate civility? Those are just a few of the questions we received from Democracy Works listeners around the country and around…
Congressional oversight and making America pragmatic again
Jun 17
We tend to think about congressional oversight in very academic terms — checks and balances, the Framers, etc. But what does it actually look like on the ground in Congress? To find out, we’re talking this week with Charlie Dent, who served Congress for…
Will AI destroy democracy?
Jun 10
Some political scientists and democracy scholars think that it might. The thinking goes something like this: inequality will rise as jobs continue to be automated, which will cause distrust in the government and create fertile ground for authoritarianism.…
The 2019 version of Democracy in America
Jun 3
If Alexis de Tocqueville visited America today, what would he have to say about the condition of our democracy? We hear a lot in the news and on Twitter about how support for democracy is waning. We’re perhaps even a little guilty of it on this show. But,…
What neoliberalism left behind
May 27
Much like our conversation with Patricia Roberts-Miller on demagoguery last week, neoliberalism is one of those fuzzy words that can mean something different to everyone. Wendy Brown is one of the world’s leading scholars on neoliberalism and argue that a…
Demagogues are more common than you think
May 20
When you think of the word “demagogue,” what comes to mind? Probably someone like Hitler or another bombastic leader, right? Patricia Roberts-Miller is a rhetoric scholar and has spent years tracing the term and its uses. She joins us this week to explain…
What does the Mueller report mean for democracy?
May 13
By now, you’ve no doubt head all about the report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the drama in Washington that’s ensued in the time since its release. But, if you only focus on the information about collusion and obstruction in the Trump…
School segregation then and now
May 6
It’s been 65 years since the Brown v. Board of Education changed public schooling throughout a large portion of the United States. In his opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that public education was important to democratic society and…
What Serial taught Sarah Koenig about criminal justice — recorded live at Penn State
Apr 29
Sarah Koenig spent a year inside Cleveland’s criminal justice system for season three of the Serial podcast. Along the way, she met some interesting people and had a birds-eye view of what justice (and injustice) look like for lawyers, judges, defendants,…
Is it time to revive civility?
Apr 22
There are a lot of calls these days to “revive civility” in politics. While there are plenty of examples of uncivil behavior, there’s far less agreement about what civility should look like in 2019. Timothy Shaffer joins us this week to talk about work…
E.J. Dionne on empathy and democracy
Apr 15
E.J. Dionne has the unique perspective of studying the horse race and the big picture of American politics. He writes a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post and appears regularly on NPR, but he’s also a senior fellow at Brookings and professor in…
No Jargon: Who controls the states?
Apr 8
We are excited to bring you an episode from No Jargon, a podcast from the Scholars Strategy Network. Much like Democracy Works, No Jargon aims to break down some of the biggest issues in politics and society in a way that’s not partisan and not punditry.…
The ongoing struggle for civil rights
Apr 8
Joyce Ladner was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was mentored by Medgar Evers, expelled from Jackson State University for…
Immigration, refugees, and the politics of displacement
Apr 1
From Brexit to Hungary to the U.S. border wall, many of today’s political conflicts center around immigration. Moving people from one place to another is easier said than done, and as we’ve seen around world, there are inherent tensions between people who…
A playbook for organizing in turbulent times
Mar 25
20 years ago, Srdja Popovic was part of a revolution — literally. He was a founding member of the Otpor! movement that ousted Serbia Slobodan Milsovic from power in 1999. It’s easy to characterize social movements as a bunch of people rallying in the…
Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of democracy
Mar 18
We say on this show all the time that democracy is hard work. But what does that really mean? What it is about our dispositions that makes it so hard to see eye to eye and come together for the greater good? And why, despite all that, do we feel compelled…
Future Hindsight: Ian Bremmer on the failure of globalism
Mar 14
We are closing out our series on democracy around the world with a bonus episode from Future Hindsight, a show that features deep conversations with guests who are engaged in strengthening our society. This episode is a discussion with Ian Bremmer, author…
Brexit and the UK’s identity crisis
Mar 11
We’re just a few weeks away from the deadline for the UK to reach an agreement on its plan to leave the European Union. Nearly three years after the infamous Brexit vote, things appear to be as murky as ever. Rather than trying to predict the future, we…
Brazil’s tenuous relationship with democracy
Mar 4
To say Brazil has had a complicated history with democracy is a understatement. The country has bounced in and out authoritarian regimes for hundreds of years, with democracy never having quite enough time to really take hold. Following the election of…
Yellow vests and the “grand debate” in France
Feb 25
This episode is the second in our series looking at democracy around the world. France is the focus this week. Our guest is Cole Stangler, an independent journalist based in Paris who covers French politics. The yellow vest movement, named for the safety…
Viktor Orbán’s “velvet repression” in Hungary
Feb 18
This episode begins a four-part series examining the state of democracy around the world. First up is Hungary, a country that’s often referred to in a group of countries in central and Eastern Europe that are seeing authoritarian leaders rise to power.…
A brief history of “people power”
Feb 11
In his book Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World, James Miller encapsulates 2500 years of democracy history into about 250 pages — making the case that “people power” will always need to be at the heart of…
The power of local government
Feb 4
No matter where you live, chances are that your local government is filled with things like feasibility studies, property tax assessments, and endless meetings governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s difficult to keep track of, but yet could…
Using the tools of democracy to address economic inequality
Jan 28
Democracy and inequality have been at odds for as long as democracy as has existed. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too does trust in political institutions and faith in democracy itself. Chris Witko, associate director of Penn State’s School…
What is democracy? A conversation with Astra Taylor
Jan 21
We begin our third season with a fundamental question: What is democracy? Astra Taylor grapples with this question in a documentary of the same name and a forthcoming book. We talk with her this week about what she learned from traveling the world and…
Trump on Earth: The Red State Paradox
Jan 14
We’ll be back with new episodes starting next week. This week’s episode comes to you from our friends at Trump on Earth, a podcast that’s taking a closer look at all the changes coming out of Washington on the environment — from what’s happening at the…
It’s good to be counted [rebroadcast]
Jan 7
For this week’s rebroadcast, we revisit an episode on the U.S. Census that originally aired in May 2018. New episodes return January 21 when we talk with “What is Democracy?” director Astra Taylor. The next census won’t start until 2020, but the U.S.…
When states sue the federal government [rebroadcast]
Dec 31, 2018
Our holiday break continues this week as we bring you an episode with with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that originally aired in October. Happy New Year! It seems like every few weeks, we see headlines about states banding together to block…
Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom [rebroadcast]
Dec 24, 2018
While we take a holiday break, we are going back into the archives to rebroadcast a few of our favorite episodes from earlier this year. This one originally aired in September. As a piece in The Atlantic recently noted, democracy is not natural. Becoming…
2018: The year in democracy
Dec 17, 2018
From gerrymandering to record voter turnout, it’s been a busy year for democracy. This doesn’t mean that everything has been positive, but there’s certainly plenty to reflect on. This week, Michael Berkman and Chris Beem take a look a look back at some of…
The complicated relationship between campaign finance and democracy
Dec 10, 2018
In the United States, voting is a very private act. You step into the booth alone and, for a lot of people, it’s considered taboo to tell someone who you voted for. Campaign donations, however, are a different story. The Federal Election Commission, an…
Bonus: Capturing the nation’s mood
Dec 6, 2018
We end almost every episode of the show with four questions that come from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll. Rather than simply addressing people agree agree or disagree with a particular point of view, the poll uses…
Are land-grant universities still “democracy’s colleges?”
Dec 3, 2018
Land-grant universities were once known as “democracy’s colleges,” places where people who were not wealthy elites could earn the education necessary to make better lives for themselves and contribute to the greater social good in the process. The The…
Norman Eisen’s love letter to democracy
Nov 26, 2018
As we’ve previously discussed, there are a lot of books about democracy filling book store and library shelves right now. Norman Eisen could have written a book in the vein of Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky’s How Democracies Die or David Frum’s…
Winning the “democracy lottery”
Nov 19, 2018
It’s not the Powerball or the Mega Millions, but this democracy lottery does give people the chance to directly impact information that appears on the ballot in their state. Like a lot of things we talk about on this show, the Citizens Initiative Review…
From soldier-statesman to the warrior ethos: Gen. Wesley Clark on the military and democracy
Nov 12, 2018
We observe Veterans Day this week, a time when people across the United States remember and thank those who have served in the military. While the military remains one of the most respected institutions in the U.S., it’s also one of the most…
Protecting democracy from foreign interference — recorded live at the National Press Club
Nov 5, 2018
With the midterms this week, all eyes are on the threat of election hacking and interference. Electoral integrity is important, but as you’ll hear in this week’s episode, the threats to American democracy go much deeper than that to the very basis of…
Will Millennials disrupt democracy?
Oct 29, 2018
From cooking to shopping to getting around town, disruption is the name of the game for Millennials. Will they do the same thing to democracy? Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1996, are now largest generational group in the United States.…
David Frum on developing the habits of democracy
Oct 22, 2018
Around the McCourtney Institute, we like to say that we’re “partisans for democracy.” We can think of few people who better embody that notion today than David Frum. He was among the first people to talk about the Trump administration’s impact on…
When states sue the federal government
Oct 15, 2018
It seems like every few weeks, we see headlines about states banding together to block actions taken by the federal government. You might even remember former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quipping that he goes to the office, sues the federal…
How “if it bleeds, it leads” impacts democracy
Oct 8, 2018
The problems with the prison system in the U.S. have been well documented, but what’s not talked about nearly as often is how things got this way. Why does there seem to be such enthusiasm for putting people in jail? One answer might be the shift toward…
A story about democracy, told through 20 million traffic stops
Oct 1, 2018
The lights flash in your rearview mirror as the police car comes up behind you. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach as the officer approaches. Sound familiar? However, this is where the story can differ greatly depending on who you are and…
Breaking the silence in Syria
Sep 24, 2018
We’ve talked before on this show about the importance of a free press, but this week’s episode brings a whole new meaning to the term. In 2014, Abdalaziz Alhamza and his friends started social media accounts to document the atrocities being committed by…
Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom
Sep 17, 2018
As a piece in The Atlantic recently noted, democracy is not natural. Becoming a democratic citizen involves a set of behaviors that need to be learned and practiced over time. One of the first places for that conditioning to happen is in the classroom.…
Behind the scenes of the “Year of the Woman”
Sep 10, 2018
One of the biggest headlines to emerge heading into the 2018 midterms is the record number of female candidates in local, state, and national races. While it’s easy to point to this a post-Trump reaction, there’s much more that goes into persuading women…
The democrats in public sector unions [Labor Day rebroadcast]
Sep 3, 2018
This week, we are rebraodcasting our conversation about public sector unions from earlier this year with Paul Clark, director of the School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State. Paul talks about how these unions exist at at all levels of…
Middle America, Part 2: Grassroots organizing and rebooting democracy
Aug 27, 2018
Last week, we heard from Salena Zito about the segments of middle America who supported Donald Trump after voting for Barack Obama. This week, we talk with another Pittsburgh resident, Lara Putnam, about a different version of Middle America — the…
Middle America, Part 1: Populism and the Trump Voter
Aug 20, 2018
In the effort to understand the people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, a style of reporting has emerged that Chris Hayes recently described as “Trump pastoral.” You might not know the phrase, but, but you’ve probably read a piece or two like this in…
Facebook is not a democracy
Aug 13, 2018
We have access to more information now than at any other time in history, but we trust that information less than ever before. A Gallup survey recently found that 58 percent of respondents felt less informed because of today’s information abundance. As…
How will we remember Charlottesville?
Aug 6, 2018
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Unite The Right rally and counter protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that claimed the life of Heather Heyer and set off a firestorm around President Trump’s remarks about who was to blame for the…
A democracy reading list
Jul 9, 2018
If you’ve been to a book store or the library lately, then you’ve probably seen at least a few books on democracy on the shelves. The 2016 presidential election spurred a lot of conversation about the current state of our democracy and where things go…
Bonus: A dose of optimism about the future of democracy
Jul 5, 2018
If you need a sense of hope about the future of democracy, you’ve come to the right place. Stephanie Keyaka, editor-in-chief of The Underground and one of the McCourtney Institute’s Nevins Fellows, is spending the summer interning for Zeke Cohen on the…
The constitutional crisis episode
Jul 2, 2018
This is one we’ve been wanting to do since we started the podcast. The term constitutional crisis is frequently used but often misunderstood. Like democracy, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it. If anyone can provide a definition, it’s Jud…
Unpacking political polarization
Jun 25, 2018
Polarization is a term that’s thrown around among political pundits as one reason for the decline of American democracy — often without an explanation of what it really means. We’re even guilty of it on this show. To set the record straight, we talk with…
What should voting look like in the 21st century?
Jun 18, 2018
Across the U.S., the process to register to vote and cast a ballot is different in every state. And we’re not just talking about minor details. The entire registration process and timeline can vary widely from one state, as do the regulations surrounding…
When the “business of business” bleeds into politics
Jun 11, 2018
What is the role of a corporation in a democracy? If you asked Milton Friedman, the answer would be none at all. He famously said in the 1970s that the only corporate social responsibility a company has is to turn a profit for its shareholders. Some 40…
Michael Mann’s journey through the climate wars
Jun 4, 2018
This episode is not about climate change. Well, not directly, anyway. Instead, we talk with Nobel Prize winner and Penn State Distinguished Professor of Meteorology Michael E. Mann about his journey through the climate wars over the past two decades and…
Can young people revive civic engagement?
May 29, 2018
Peter Levine is one of the country’s leading scholars in the area of civic engagement. He is the Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life and author…
Bonus: Democracy In Action #1
May 24, 2018
We love talking with scholars and thought leaders on Democracy Works, but we’d also like to bring you the everyday stories of democracy in action. This the first installment in that series. We visited the central Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action…
A conversation about conversation
May 21, 2018
This week’s episode seeks to answer one simple, but very important, question: Why is it so hard for people to talk to each other? There are a lot of easy answers we can point to, like social media and political polarization, but there’s another…
Ten thousand democracies
May 11, 2018
One of the things we talked about in our episode with How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt is the “grinding work” that it takes to make a democracy function. School board meeting rooms around the country are some of the places where that happens at…
It’s good to be counted
May 8, 2018
The next census is just around the corner 2020, and the U.S. Census Bureau is already hard at work on preparing to count the more than 325 million people in the United States. The census is one of the few democratic norms that’s required by the…
Satire is good for more than just a few laughs
May 1, 2018
Political satire has been around nearly as long as politics itself and can provide a much needed laugh in times of crisis. But, as you’ll hear from our guests this week, it’s much more than that. Satire is a check on people in power and helps to engage…
Tommie Smith: From sharecropper to Olympic protester
Apr 24, 2018
Tommie Smith is a true living legend. He won a gold medal in the men’s 200 meter event at the 1968 Olympics, setting a world record in the process. When he took the medal stand in Mexico City that day, he made history again by raising a black-gloved fist…
Generation Z and the future of democracy
Apr 17, 2018
Over the past few months, the members of Generation Z have combined the tenets of traditional social movements with the power of social media to reimagine what it means to protest in a democracy. That energy was on display during the March for Our Lives…
How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the ‘grinding work’ of democracy
Apr 10, 2018
Daniel Ziblatt has done a lot of interviews since the release of How Democracies Die, the bestselling book he co-wrote with Steven Levitsky. But we asked him a question he’d never gotten before — about a line toward the end of the book when he refers to…
What can Pennsylvania voters do about gerrymandering?
Apr 3, 2018
Pennsylvania received a new congressional map earlier this year, closing the books on what was widely considered one of the most egregious examples of partisan gerrymandering after 2010 census. Chris Satullo sees that decision as winning the battle…
Fake news, clickbait, and the future of local journalism
Mar 27, 2018
Can philanthropy save local journalism? Are the calls of “fake news” from Washington impacting the work of journalists in other parts of the country? We discuss those questions and the role of the free press in a democracy with Halle Stockton, managing…
Checking the President’s power
Mar 20, 2018
From Watergate to Benghazi to Robert Mueller, U.S. history is full of congressional hearings. You’ve no doubt heard about them in the news, but do you know what those House and Senate committees actually do and what their role is in a democracy? We…
Is Colin Kaepernick a good democrat?
Mar 14, 2018
No matter how much of a sports fan you are, you probably remember seeing Colin Kaepernick kneeling during National Anthem. President Trump took the debate to a whole new level when he said that anyone who does not respect the National Anthem and the flag…
What is Democracy Works?
Mar 12, 2018
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State, this is Democracy Works. In this episode, hosts Michael Berkman and Chris Beem take a few minutes to explain why we wanted to start this podcast and what we hope to achieve through our interviews…