Biden Quietly Met With a Group of Historians Who Compared the Current Moment to the Pre-Civil War Era

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The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that President Joe Biden met in private at the White House with a group of historians last week who alerted him to ongoing dangers to democracy.

The August 4 meeting lasted nearly two hours, according to sources familiar with it, and the experts reportedly described the current situation as one of the most dangerous for democracy in modern history.

Professor of history at Princeton University Sean Wilentz, historian at University of Virginia Allida Black, journalist Anne Applebaum, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss were present at the meeting. White House senior adviser Anita Dunn and Biden’s speechwriters Vinay Reddy and Jon Meacham were also present.

According to The Post, the small group’s conversation was almost entirely about totalitarianism around the world and threats to American democracy.

According to the outlet, the scholars made comparisons between the present situation and both the period before the American Civil War and the rise of fascist movements prior to World War II. They specifically mentioned the elections of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

Some of the experts said to have attended the meeting have publicly spoken out about threats to democracy. For example, The Atlantic staff writer Applebaum wrote a book titled “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” in 2020 about the rise of right-wing populism and the decline of democracy.

The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Insider.

The meeting was in line with Biden’s practice of consulting outside experts for advice on matters of domestic and international policy. In May, he spoke with former President Bill Clinton about inflation and the midterm elections. In January, he had a meeting with a group of foreign policy experts in advance of what was expected to be a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings also carry on a tradition that US presidents began with President Ronald Reagan but stalled under former President Donald Trump of seeking broad historical context from historians.

In recent years, especially following the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, historians have publicly raised concerns about the threat to democracy.

The Capitol attack, which historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat described as an attempted coup, still poses a threat to US democracy, she told Insider’s Charles R. Davis in June. The systems that typically guard against a presidential abuse of power are no longer in place, according to Ken Hughes, a historian and expert on Watergate, who stated to Insider’s Erin Snodgrass in July that democracy is in a “dangerous” position.

 

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