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Thomas Zimmer

Thomas Zimmer

Nov 23
18 tweets

How much democracy, and for whom?   That’s the focus of my new newsletter: A reflection on democracy and its discontents, past and present – on the ongoing conflict over how much democracy, and for whom, there should be in America

The conflict between those who wanted to restrict democracy, make sure it would never undermine the “natural” white Christian patriarchal order, and those who envisioned a truly egalitarian multiracial pluralistic democracy has always defined the American experiment.
This conflict over democracy has always been a struggle over national identity – over what defines America, over who gets to set the boundaries of who/what qualifies as American. For some, the nation was supposed to be defined by an idea: “all men are created equal.”
And as “men” became “people,” America would become a place where the individual’s status would not be determined by race, religion, gender, gender orientation, or sexual orientation – a truly egalitarian multiracial, pluralistic democracy.
But there has never been a consensus around such egalitarian ideas. At its heart, the country has always been divided between those who envision America as a beacon of democratic equality and those who see it as a land where white Christian men get to rule and dominate.
Democracy has always been contested. But it became a partisan issue only recently, in the sense that the fault lines in the struggle over democracy, over whether or not the democratic experiment should continue, now map onto the conflict between the two major parties.
That’s the fundamental reality of U.S. politics: There is currently only one major party that qualifies as a (small-d) democratic party, and that is, for all its faults, the Democratic Party. The struggle over democracy defines the political confrontation in basically all areas.
We often pretend to be having policy discussions over taxes or regulations. But as they are almost always infused with this overriding democracy question, we are really having a discussion over who gets to participate as equals in the political process, who belongs as “American.”
In this newsletter I would like to approach and interpret the political, social, and cultural conflicts of our era through the lens of this ongoing struggle over how much democracy, and for whom, there should be in America.
As a historian, I will also try to situate them in the longer-term context of U.S. history and reflect on what, if anything, can be learned from the past (and what that even means, “learning” from history.)
And I will reflect on the transnational dimension of the reactionary counter-mobilization across the “West.” This is a conflict of world-historic significance: Is it possible to establish a stable egalitarian democracy under conditions of multiracial pluralism?
Such a democracy has basically never existed anywhere. It would be a world-historic first. And as of right now, it is, at best, an open question whether or not this vision of true democracy can overcome the radicalizing forces of reaction.
It’s a vision that reactionaries abhor – to them, it would be the end of “real America” or “Western civilization.” And they are determined to prevent it by whatever means necessary. Can the remaining (small-d) democratic forces muster the same determination to fight back?
Democracy won’t prevail because of a newsletter or tweet thread. But at least I can try to assess, interpret, and reflect on the conflict that is shaping the world around us as honestly and accurately as possible. That’s the mission for Democracy Americana.
To be honest, I do not yet know how often I will send out a newsletter, or what form, exactly, they will take. Expect regular posts, certainly. But this is all new. Over the past few years, Twitter has been my favorite place to reflect on democracy and its discontents.
I am eternally grateful to have been able to share and discuss these reflections with so many people on there. But the end may be near for Twitter – at least for a Twitter that can function as a type of democratizing virtual public square.
It felt empowering to be able to speak directly to prominent people, enlightening to learn from so many scholars and activists, and inspiring to be in conversation with those who wish to see democracy prevail and finally realize the promise of egalitarian multiracial pluralism.
I am hoping to continue - and continue to contribute to - that conversation. I am not leaving Twitter. Yet. But maybe you are. In any case, it is time to explore additional avenues. So, regardless of what happens to Twitter, Democracy Americana is where you can read me.
Thomas Zimmer

Thomas Zimmer

Some personal news: I am starting a newsletter. If you are interested in my reflections on American democracy and its discontents, past and present, please consider subscribing to Democracy Americana
Thomas Zimmer

Thomas Zimmer

Historian @Georgetown - Democracy and Its Discontents - Contributing Opinion Writer @GuardianUS - Co-Host @USDemocracyPod and @KreuzundFlagge Podcasts
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