Editor's Note

by William McKenzie, Editor of The Catalyst

Is democracy in decline?  Is democracy in danger?

Leaders from the worlds of politics, policymaking, and academia are engaged in a sharp debate over the health of democracy in the United States and abroad. Powerful currents of populism, isolationism, and nationalism are fueling the discussion over whether democracy is in danger or even decline. Some wonder amidst their economic struggles whether democracy still works for them.

Of course, the United States and other democracies have experienced periods of turmoil before, often far more stressful. World wars. The Great Depression. The turbulent 1960s. They are among the challenges the U.S. survived and even emerged from a stronger nation.

The Catalyst takes on the contours of this debate in this edition, which is being released in conjunction with The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In the World conference the George W. Bush Institute is hosting in New York City on October 19.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, author of the new book Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, headlines this issue as she discusses the state of democracy in the U.S. as well as in such nations as Russia, China, and the Mideast. She draws from her expertise as both a policymaker and scholar, offering insights that go back to being a graduate student specializing in Russia in the late 1970s.

Political scientists Yascha Mounk of New America and William Galston of the Brookings Institution provide contrasting analyses of the health of democracy here and abroad, playing off an earlier debate the pair had in the pages of the Journal of Democracy. And Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration official who worked on counter-terrorism, explains how the U.S. can deal with the cyber-threat to democracy.

Lindsay Lloyd, deputy director of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, recalls his experiences working to grow democracy in Eastern Europe and observes why the U.S. benefits from efforts to grow stable democracies. As part of the discussion on America’s role in supporting democracy around the world, we are particularly pleased to feature several young Burmese leaders. The participants in the Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leadership program discuss the challenges to democracy and religious freedom in their country. They also explain why America should continue to support democratic institutions there.

We asked several contributors to address how to make democracy work better. Bush Institute fellows Thomas Melia and Peter Wehner present specific ways to strengthen both our democracy and democracies around the world. Their essay is excerpted from a larger paper that the Bush Institute will release at the Spirit of Liberty conference.

Carlos Gutierrez, former Commerce Secretary and now a member of the Human Freedom Initiative Advisory Council, reminds us why being a welcoming society has always made America a stronger nation. Ken Hersh, president and CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, addresses trust deficits in business, while Keven Willey of the Dallas Morning News and Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News participate in an electronic roundtable examining trust in the media in an age of fake news.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, leader of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, the oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S., presents the case for building up our democracy through mediating institutions in communities across America. And we conclude with a range of young Americans, including three SMU students, commenting on the health of our democratic institutions. They see threats, to be sure. But they also offer reasons for hope in the rule of law, a system of checks and balances, and representative government.

The opinions of the authors in this issue do not necessarily represent the views of the Bush Institute, but they do provide a framework for understanding the debate over democracy’s future. More importantly, they offer actions for leaders, policymakers, and citizens to take to keep democracy vibrant here and around the word. 

Letters to the Editor

Re: Summer 2017 Africa Catalyst

Clearly this is the age of change. Future African leaders have emerged and are taking ownership of the continent. Let’s reinforce the change and build the mosaic of ability, capability, and empowerment.

Nsuka Bula

Re: Spring 2016 North America Catalyst

I found Pia Orrenius’ article “Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs” to be remarkably clear and understandable. She could explain this issue to the average voter better than anyone else I have read. It would be good to get her article and more like it more exposure.

Scot Stetler

Leave your feedback with The Catalyst editors