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A Message from Christopher Beem about the upcoming October 13th program:

Americans are frustrated and deeply concerned about the condition of our democracy. Our divisions are so deep and complete that we don’t see how they can be overcome; we are not sure how our democracy can survive.  A poll released in June by Yahoo News/YouGov finds that a majority of Americans–55% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans –believe it is “likely” that the United States will “cease to be a democracy in the future.” A survey conducted just last month by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found that half (50.1%) of all Americans agreed that “in the next few years, there will be civil war in the United States.”

So what do we do about this? Most of us are limited in our political power. We are not rich, we don’t have a high-profile media platform, and nobody cares what we think. But that does not mean we have no role to play in this perilous time. We can recommit to the virtues that make democracy work and commend others when they do the same.

In the book, The Seven Democratic Virtues, I lay out the seven virtues we need right now, which can help combat polarization and improve our democratic culture.

This idea ought to be empowering. At least, I mean it that way. At the least, committing to democratic virtue is a meaningful alternative to despair. And, if enough of us undertake that effort, it is still possible that we can step back from the brink and thereby improve the prospects for democratic reform.


Christopher Beem is Managing Director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. He is also an Associate Research Professor of Political Science and Affiliate Faculty in the Rock Ethics Institute. He came to Penn State in 2015 after holding positions in philanthropy and non-profit social services. He is the author or co-editor of six books, including The Necessity of Politics, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience and America’s Political Crisis, and The Seven Democratic Virtues: What You Can Do to Overcome Tribalism and Save Our Democracy. Beem is a cohost of the Democracy Works podcast and a frequent contributor to The Conversation. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.


Pam Fessler, the moderator, was an editor and correspondent at NPR News for more than 28 years. As a correspondent on the National Desk, she covered voting issues, poverty, and philanthropy. For much of her time at NPR, Fessler reported on elections and voting, including efforts to make voting more accessible, accurate, and secure. She did countless stories on everything from the debate over state voter laws to Russian hacking attempts and the impact of misinformation. Fessler also covered homelessness, hunger, affordable housing, and income inequality. She reported on efforts by non-profit groups, the government, and others to reduce poverty and how those programs worked. Her poverty reporting was recognized with a 2011 First Place National Headliner Award.