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Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of the award-winning book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black[…]

“On the question of stability, democracy is in really good shape.”

Question: What is the state of democracy in the United States

Harris-Lacewell: The thing is we have multiple goals, right?  So on the question of stability, democracy is in really good shape.  In fact I would say that in the 2000 election cycle, one of the things that really got celebrated when George Bush and Al Gore were running for president, they get this quirky result; everyone is fighting it out over the hanging chads in Florida; there was all this anxiety about who had won the election for a couple of months; and that we came out of that process and we ended up with a president.  There was no military coup.  There was no huge set of demonstrations.  And for many people this constituted a success – a win for democracy; that we are a country that is so stable, so rule of law, so willing to wait for the process to work that in fact we can have stable transitions of leadership even when it . . . things are looking kind of rough.  So on the one hand one might say, “Well democracy’s great.  We’re quite stable.”  But I think that story of the 2000 elections could be told another way as well.  There was no military coup.  There was no outrising . . . uprising in the streets, right?  In other words all the things that one might have celebrated as being about stability, one might also suggest it reflects a lack of robustness; a lack of engagement; a willingness to defer to authority and to rule of law even if, in fact, it gives us outcomes that have terrible consequences for decades to come.  So I think . . . I think it does depend on sort of how one might measure or judge the value or quality of democracy.  On the one hand a great deal of stability; on the other hand a great deal of silence on the part of ordinary people; sort of an inability to really penetrate the elites, and to really demonstrate and discuss what the issues facing sort of ordinary Americans are.