An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy


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October 27, 2021

An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy

The future of democracy in the United States is in danger.

  • Democracy
  • Liberal Democracy

[This open letter was originally published simultaneously by The Bulwark and the New Republic.]

Image from Shutterstock

We are writers, academics, and political activists who have long disagreed about many things.

Some of us are Democrats and others Republicans. Some identify with the left, some with the right, and some with neither. We have disagreed in the past, and we hope to be able to disagree, productively, for years to come. Because we believe in the pluralism that is at the heart of democracy.

But right now we agree on a fundamental point: We need to join together to defend liberal democracy.

Because liberal democracy itself is in serious danger. Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger.

The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism. Unimpeded by Trump’s defeat in 2020 and unfazed by the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his supporters actively work to exploit anxieties and prejudices, to promote reckless hostility to the truth and to Americans who disagree with them, and to discredit the very practice of free and fair elections in which winners and losers respect the peaceful transfer of power.

So we, who have differed on so much in the past—and who continue to differ on much today—have come together to say:

We vigorously oppose ongoing Republican efforts to change state election laws to limit voter participation.

We vigorously oppose ongoing Republican efforts to empower state legislatures to override duly appointed election officials and interfere with the proper certification of election results, thereby substituting their own political preferences for those expressed by citizens at the polls.

We vigorously oppose the relentless and unending promotion of unprofessional and phony “election audits” that waste public money, jeopardize public electoral data and voting machines, and generate paranoia about the legitimacy of elections.

We urge the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass effective, national legislation to protect the vote and our elections, and if necessary to override the Senate filibuster rule.

And we urge all responsible citizens who care about democracy—public officials, journalists, educators, activists, ordinary citizens—to make the defense of democracy an urgent priority now.

Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the Republic.

Todd Gitlin
Professor of Journalism, Sociology and Communications
Columbia University

Jeffrey C. Isaac
James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science
Indiana University, Bloomington

William Kristol
Editor at Large, The Bulwark
Director, Defending Democracy Together


Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

Sheri Berman
Professor of Political Science
Barnard College

Max Boot
Senior Fellow
Council on Foreign Relations

James Carroll

Leo Casey
Assistant to the President
American Federation of Teachers

Mona Charen
Policy Editor
The Bulwark

Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics Emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jelani Cobb
Professor of Journalism
Columbia University

Eliot A. Cohen
Robert E. Osgood Professor
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

David Cole
National Legal Director
American Civil Liberties Union

Laura K. Field
Senior Fellow
Niskanen Center

Carolyn Forché
University Professor
Georgetown University

Francis Fukuyama
Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow
Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Stanford University

William A. Galston
Senior Fellow
Brookings Institution

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb
Michael E. Gellert Professor Emeritus
New School for Social Research

Hahrie Hahn
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science
Director, SNF Agora Institute
Johns Hopkins University

Roya Hakakian

John Judis

Ira Katznelson
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
Columbia University

Michael Kazin
Professor of History
Georgetown University

Randall Kennedy
Michael R. Klein Professor of Law
Harvard University

Steven R. Levitsky
Professor of Government
Harvard University

Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.
Psychiatrist and author

Susie Linfield
Professor of Journalism
New York University

Damon Linker
Senior Correspondent
The Week

Dahlia Lithwick
Senior Editor

Jane Mansbridge
Charles F. Adams Professor, Emerita
Harvard Kennedy School

Win McCormack
Editor in Chief
The New Republic

John McWhorter
Professor of Linguistics
Columbia University

Deborah Meier

James Miller
Professor of Politics and Liberal Studies
New School for Social Research

Susan Neiman
Einstein Forum, Berlin

Nell Irvin Painter
Edwards Professor of American History Emerita
Princeton University

Rick Perlstein

Katha Pollitt

Claire Potter
Professor of History
New School for Social Research

Jedediah Purdy
William S. Beinecke Professor of Law
Columbia University

Jonathan Rauch
Senior Fellow
Brookings Institution

Adolph Reed
Emeritus Professor of Political Science
University of Pennsylvania

Kim Lane Scheppele
Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs
Princeton University

Charles Sykes
Founder and Editor at Large
The Bulwark

George Thomas
Burnet C. Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions
Claremont McKenna College

Michael Tomasky
Editor, The New Republic
Editor, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Jeffrey K. Tulis
Professor of Government and Law
University of Texas

Joan Walsh
The Nation

Michael Walzer
Professor Emeritus of Social Science
Institute for Advanced Study

Dorian T. Warren
Community Change

Sean Wilentz
George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History
Princeton University

Benjamin Wittes
Senior Fellow
Brookings Institution

Todd Gitlin, Jeffrey C. Isaac, and William Kristol

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism, sociology and communications at Columbia University. Jeffrey C. Isaac is the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. William Kristol is the editor at large of The Bulwark and the director of Defending Democracy Together.


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