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Biden Met With Historians Last Week to Discuss Anti-Democracy Trends

The two-hour meeting included a number of academics who focus on the topics of democracy and autocracy.

Last week, President Joe Biden met privately with a number of historians to discuss the ongoing erosion of democratic norms and values in the U.S.

The Washington Post characterized the August 4 meeting between Biden and the historians as a “Socratic dialogue.” The historians included journalist Anne Applebaum, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, among others.

“A lot of the conversation was about the larger context of the contest between democratic values and institutions and the trends toward autocracy globally,” one person familiar with the discussion said.

Because Biden had COVID-19 at the time, the two-hour meeting took place virtually, with Biden appearing on a television screen to speak with the academics.

The historians warned Biden that events over the past few years were demonstrative of a greater trend of anti-democratic values and aspirations among right-wing groups in the U.S. and elsewhere. Similar sentiments were evident in the run-up to the U.S. Civil War as well in as the years preceding World War II, when autocratic and fascist leaders rose to power in countries throughout the world, they noted.

Most of the historians who participated have also publicly warned about the threat to democracy in the U.S., paying particular attention to the rise of far right movements and the attack on the U.S. Capitol building by a mob of Trump loyalists on January 6, 2021.

Some Republicans derided the meeting — including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who described the historians that met with Biden as “snobs” and “elitists” whose interests are against those of “everyday people.”

But the threat to democracy is very real, Henry A. Giroux, the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department, noted in an op-ed for Truthout last month.

The GOP’s “attack on electoral integrity, judicial independence, critical education and voter rights, coupled with its unabashed defense of corruption, white nationalism and support for oligarchs” is causing the U.S. to become “more closely aligned with the nightmare of fascism,” Giroux said.

“As language is stripped of any substantive meaning, and reason is undermined by conspiracy theories, falsehoods and misinformation produced by the right’s disimagination machine, the ideological and institutional guardrails designed to protect democracy begin to collapse,” Giroux added.

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