Could authoritarianism take hold in America? Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor and former Obama administration official, said he thinks it’s “highly improbable” our democracy would reach that point, but that our country remains vulnerable.
The question is the centerpiece of a new book edited by Sunstein titled, “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” featuring a collection of essays by some of the nation’s leading theorists, historians, and thinkers. Among them is Martha Minow, former dean of Harvard Law School, who joined Sunstein on Tuesday for an interview on Greater Boston.
“When Cass asked me to participate, I jumped at the chance because of the issues that have arisen since the election and during the campaign,” Minow said.
Sunstein, a former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the book is not explicitly about President Donald Trump, but instead highlights what he called the “occasional vulnerability” that some of our institutions face.
Much of the conversation focused on the erosion of trust in the free press and the state of the judiciary — both of which have been criticized by Trump.
Asked about a past tweet by the president in which he referred to the press as “enemy of the people,” Sunstein said the statement was “alarming.” Minow echoed Sunstein, calling the attacks on the free press “terrifying.”
Both shared similar concerns about Trump’s past criticism of judges, as well as his appointments of judges to the lower courts — candidates who critics argue are unqualified or partisan.
Despite these concerns, Sunstein says he remains confident that democracy and its systems are robust enough to avoid falling prey to authoritarian ideals.
“I think its highly improbable,” he said.
To see the full interview with Martha Minow and Cass Sunstein, click on the video link above.