A healthy democracy thrives on ideological struggle, robust debate, dissent and compromise. If you think partisan politics are bad now, consider the 1850s, when members of Congress pulled knives and pistols on the floor of the House of Representatives and political arguments turned into brawls. Those dispute lead to the bloodiest war in our history? The same fault lines exist today, on race, geography, ideology, culture and class, and some argue that divisions are becoming more and more extreme. Hosts Neal Conan and Heather Cox Richardson talk with historian Joanne Freeman about the road to the Civil War, scholar Jennifer McCoy discusses the patterns of political polarization and philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah suggests ways to overcome our dangerous tribal divisions.
Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History, specializes in the politics and political culture of the revolutionary and early national periods of American History. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Her most recent book is The Field of Blood: Congressional Violence in Antebellum America, explores physical violence in the U.S. Congress between 1830 and the Civil War, and what it suggests about the institution of Congress, the nature of American sectionalism, the challenges of a young nation’s developing democracy, and the longstanding roots of the Civil War. Her book Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic , won the Best Book award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, and her edited volume, Alexander Hamilton: Writings was one of the Atlantic Monthly’s “best books” of 2001.
Jennifer McCoy, PhD, is Distinguished University Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University. She served as Inaugural Director of the Global Studies Institute at GSU (2015-16), and Director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program (1998-2015), leading projects on democratic strengthening, mediation and dialogue, and hemispheric cooperation. A specialist on democratization and polarization, mediation and conflict prevention, election processes and election observation, and Latin American politics, Dr. McCoy has authored or edited six books and dozens of articles. Her latest book isInternational Mediation in Venezuela (with Francisco Diez, 2011). She teaches courses on comparative democratization, international norms, and Latin American politics.
Dr. McCoy’s newest research project on Polarized Polities seeks to determine the causes, consequences and solutions to polarized societies around the world, including Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, Egypt, Thailand, Hungary, Greece, Bangladesh, and the United States.