Our democracy is vulnerable. On January 6th, 2021, rioters occupied the U.S. capitol building in a bid to overturn President Biden’s victory. The insurrection was an acute symptom of a systemic crisis of mistrust and misinformation: months after the election, one-third of Americans, and two-thirds of Republicans, said they believed the vote was illegitimate. From climate change to racial inequality to a continuing pandemic, urgent problems demand public action, yet the country’s politics threatens to leave us unable to govern ourselves. American pessimism about democracy predates the 2020 insurrection. Half of Americans say they are dissatisfied with democracy as they know it, up from a quarter in 1995. Shortly before the 2020 presidential election, nearly 80 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 told pollsters that “things in my country are out of control right now.”
The Constitutional Democracy Initiative mobilizes Columbia’s resources to address these challenges. From research to teaching, institutional design to public conversations across political and other boundaries, we investigate democracy’s crises and what democracy demands of us. What should a democratic constitution look like, or a democratic economy, or a democratic culture? Where ours meet these standards, how can we support them? Where they fall short, how can we improve them? Our participants—faculty, students, and members of the broader community—combine scholarly commitment to facts and reasoning with the civic duty to help preserve, and build, American democracy.