This site uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn more

Sign up or log in to follow your favorite podcasts and listen to episodes!

Democracy in Danger

UVA Media Lab
38 episodes
All over the world, liberal democracy is getting turned upside-down. Autocratic leaders are using populist appeals, the partisan media and the power of their offices to short-circuit deliberation and consensus. They flout the rule of law, unleash the police on their own people, suppress dissent and attack voting rights. So what can you do about it? Join hosts Will Hitchcock and Siva Vaidhyanathan on Democracy in Danger — a show that puts the illiberal turn in context. Each week Will and Siva, both University of Virginia professors, are joined by leading thinkers to discuss serious threats to government by the people: from the dark web and media disinformation, to climate change, economic inequality and violent extremism. Help them save democracy, and make it work better. New episodes post on Tuesdays. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts and tweet us your thoughts @DinDpodcast.

Disclaimer: the content and artwork of this podcast are the property of its owner and are not affiliated with nor endorsed by Audiotrails.

S2 E13 – Bittersweet Dreams

Citizenship determines who is in and who is out, who has a voice in a democracy and who doesn’t. But for the one million young people who have grown up in the United States undocumented, feeling like they really belong here remains a dream deferred. This time, we hear from two of them living in lim…
49min

The Prison Pipeline [Rebroadcast]

As states prepare to redraw their congressional districts, some will benefit from the prison-industrial complex: There are more people behind bars in America than in any country, and inmates are disproportionately Black and Latino. This week we’re replaying an interview about mass incarceration wit…
28min

S2 E12 – Nuestra América

Mexico’s murder rate has almost tripled in 15 years, even as the country has enjoyed a robust multiparty electoral system, a growing economy and a vibrant civil society. This mixed fate is common across Latin American democracies, as they struggle to overcome a past marred by U.S. imperialism, and …
34min

S2 E11 – Climate Shame

Most top carbon-emitting nations, like the United States, are wealthy democracies. Yet climate change is hurting poor countries first and destabilizing their societies — with rising seas, more frequent hurricanes and harsh droughts, leading to mass migration. Science journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis …
33min

S2 E10 – Tangled-Up Trash

The toxic waste that seeps into rivers taints everything downstream, spoiling lakes and oceans, killing flora and fauna, altering the air we breathe and raining back down. Information works the same way, media scholar Whitney Phillips says. Fueled by human passions, falsehoods permeate the mainstre…

S2 E9 – The Wild Web

When law professor Danielle Citron began exploring the scourge of online harassment, especially of women, what she found was disturbing. Virtually undeterred, stalkers would share intimate details about their targets, post nude photos without consent and threaten rape. This kind of behavior is enab…

S2 E8 – People Power

Srdja Popovic was 16 and playing guitar in a goth-rock band when Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic came to power. A decade later — after a series of brutal civil wars — Popovic and a few friends launched a resistance movement that grew to tens of thousands and helped topple Milosevic’s reign of …
38min

Xenophobia [Rebroadcast]

Like many of you, we were shocked and horrified by the killings at Atlanta-area spas last week — reminding us once again that nativist ideology in America is nothing new. Historian Erika Lee, who testified on hate crimes again Asian Americans before Congress in the wake of the massacre, walked Will…
37min

S2 E7 – Growing Pains

Given a real choice, people around the world would take a shorter work week over bigger salaries, consume less to live more and seek mutual flourishing rather than plunder their natural resources. The problem is, says anthropologist Jason Hickel, the idea of a “degrowth” economy has never been on t…
36min

S2 E6 – Census Division

The U.S. Constitution is clear: every person counts. But in a country with a sordid history of voter suppression, tinkering with the decennial census has become the latest trick for undermining majority rule. And the usually mundane rite of enumeration was politicized like never before when Preside…
32min

S2 E5 – Hard Lessons

Over the last 25 years, college tuition has almost doubled. Meanwhile, America’s K-through-12 education system has only become more fractured — with acute disparities in standards and resources at different schools sometimes just miles away from each other. But UVA president Jim Ryan has hope that …
37min

S2 E4 – Threadbare Country

American democracy is supposed to come with a warranty: equal opportunity, social mobility, the promise of success with hard work. But the fabled Dream is fraying. In fact, NYT journalist Eduardo Porter says, it was never sold as advertised. From the beginning, the myth cheated people of color and …
32min

S2 E3 – The Bane of Brazil

Brazil is cursed. Or so it would seem, says media studies scholar David Nemer. Every three decades over the last 100 years, an authoritarian government rises to power. And the results are disastrous. Under Jair Bolsonaro, the “curse of the thirty years” continues, with covid deaths mounting and Bra…
31min

S2 E2 – Down the Rabbit Hole

In a largely unregulated social media ecosystem, a curious mom looking for info about vaccine mandates in public schools can end up feasting on the internet’s most insidious — and outlandish — conspiracy theories. Stanford researcher Renée DiResta joins Will and Siva to grapple with the tangled web…
28min

S2 E1 – Cults of Personality

Remember Silvio Berlusconi? Sex scandals, shady deals and a cult-like following marked the former Italian prime minister’s lasting grip on power. It’s a playbook with a long history and a troubling appeal nowadays, says NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat. On our first episode back from the winter break, …
26min

Preview: Season Two

After such a wacky month in America, is there any question democracy is still in danger? Yeah, we didn’t think so either. Will and Siva are back with Season Two and a whole new lineup of guests. Listen to our trailer for a taste of what’s in store. We’ll bring you stories from the trenches of democ…
5min

Broken Promises [Rebroadcast]

President Biden has said he wants to move quickly to address racial injustice in America. But as historian Leah Wright Rigueur told us last summer, that remains a tall mountain to climb. She calls the U.S. a “failed state” that has always fallen short of its promise of equality. But she also saw ho…
30min

No Lone Wolves [Rebroadcast]

Among the more troubling kinds of iconography embraced by the mob that swarmed the U.S. Capitol earlier this month were symbols of the White Power movement. Historian Kathleen Belew traces an unbroken line from far-right militias operating largely under the radar since the 1980s to this very moment…
31min

Tempting Hate [Rebroadcast]

Still reeling from last week’s turmoil in Washington? Yeah, same here. We thought it would be a good time to bring you a rebroadcast of last September’s show on violent extremist groups and their recruitment strategies. What draws young people into the toxic universe of far-right groups that pine f…
32min

Insurrection [Special Episode]

The Confederate flag flew inside the U.S. Capitol this week, a feat not even Robert E. Lee achieved. Egged on by President Trump, a violent mob laid siege to the building, bringing death and mayhem, and temporarily halting the work of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory. Siva and Will — togethe…

S1 E18 – Aftermath 2020

It’s been a long year: A tiny virus laid us low, protests over racial injustice erupted across the country, climate change loosed record-setting wildfires and hurricanes, and citizens voted in one of the most fraught national elections ever. So what did 2020 reveal about the state of democracy in A…
51min

S1 E17 – So Long, Mr. Trump

President Trump is calling for recounts and crying voter fraud while the Biden transition team roars to life, laying the groundwork for action on key issues like climate change, the pandemic and economic reignition. But our guests this week say America’s democratic institutions will continue to buc…
49min

S1 E16 – Border of Cruelty

Last month we learned that 545 immigrant children remained stranded in the United States, separated from their families: casualties of the president’s hard-nosed stance on immigration. And yet, despite all the tough talk and draconian policies, Trump’s administration hasn’t deported people as aggre…
30min

S1 E15 – Judicial Review

Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court on the eve of a presidential election has raised questions about Congress’s duty to check the power of the judiciary. Risa Goluboff, dean of the UVA Law School, offers Will and Siva some judicial — and judicious — history, and weighs the future. …
31min

S1 E14 – Culture of Himpathy

Kate Manne argues that contempt for women is not a bug but a feature of Donald Trump’s politics. She says this helps explain why “masculine” issues — like the military, gun rights, law enforcement and border security — have drowned out health care, education, climate change and food protection. Man…
35min

S1 E13 – The ‘F’ Word

Fascism. We know what that looked like in 20th-century Germany and Italy: dictatorship, genocide, war. But can a creeping enthusiasm for authoritarianism in the 21st century — in democracies like India, Hungary and even the United States — be called “fascist”? Yale philosopher Jason Stanley thinks …
32min

S1 E12 – Trump Speak

In less than a week, Donald Trump told Americans not to let coronavirus “dominate” them, spread falsehoods about the flu, and told a violent hate group to “stand back and stand by.” These are just the sort of statements that make him a demagogue, says Texas A&M rhetorician Jennifer Mercieca. This t…
37min

S1 E11 – Big Bad Data

When Phil Howard lived in Budapest, he watched as Hungary’s fledgling democracy was polluted with polarizing stories spread online. It’s a phenomenon now threatening political discourse everywhere, and recent tweaks meant to improve social media policies and algorithms, he says, amount to “a drop i…
31min

S1 E10 – Voting Blocked

In 1890, Mississippi adopted a new constitution that offered a blueprint for Jim Crow. It all but banned African Americans from voting, erecting a charade of roadblocks: poll taxes, literacy tests and other targeted assaults on the franchise. As historian Carol Anderson explains, such laws blocked …
30min

S1 E9 – No Lone Wolves

Charleston. Tree of Life. Christchurch. All these deadly attacks have some grim details in common — their death tolls were massive... white-power ideology fueled their architects... and they only seemed to be the work of loners, according to historian Kathleen Belew. Join Will and Siva as Belew t…
31min