How We Got Here: Straight Talk on American Democracy

July 28, 2022 @ 12:00PM — 1:00PM Eastern Time (US & Canada) Add to Calendar

Kayla McClurg House: 2708 Ontario Rd Washington, DC 20009 Get Directions

How We Got Here: Straight Talk on American Democracy image

Taught by David Hilfiker

This eight week course will take place every Thursday at noon. The course calendar is as follows: July 28 | August 4 | August 11 | August 18 | August 25 | September 1 | September 8 | September 15 Only one ticket is needed for the entirety of the course.

Democracy in the United States has become dysfunctional. This is a dangerous time in American political history that risks a slide into authoritarianism. This Festival Center course will be an attempt to understand where we are, how we got here, and how we might prepare for the future.

“Majority rule” is not enough. A liberal democracy requires a commitment to the rule of law and fair legal procedures, free and fair elections, the right to assemble, and the freedoms of speech, the press, and of religion. As a Christian, we are often deeply committed to liberal democracy because it gives a country the best opportunity to organize itself according to the principles of universal love and justice. But there is no guarantee. While democracy gives a state the best chance of creating a just society, America's history of slavery and the oppression of people of color make clear that democracy gives only the framework — the opportunity — for structures that promote love and justice.

This course will primarily be history. We will seek to understand the formal structure of our democracy, its written foundations as well as its unwritten norms. We will review its historical successes but also its dependence upon racial oppression to maintain the comity that sustained the norms. What has happened over the last 45 years to precipitate the threat of right-wing populism? And what happened in some other Western democracies to precipitate their slide from democracy into authoritarianism? Where are we now? What are the dangers?


I’m a 77-year-old retired physician and writer. During my seven years in a rural practice in northeastern Minnesota and ten years in the inner city of Washington, my patients–many of them very poor–allowed me glimpses of their lives and their environments. They changed me profoundly.

As an author, I’ve told their stories through three books:

1. Healing the Wounds: A Physician Looks at His Work, a memoir of my seven years in rural practice.

2. Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor’s Journey with the Poor, a memoir of stories about ten years as a physician in the inner city of Washington DC.

3. Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, a short history of the black inner-city ghetto from 1890 to the present.

In 2012 I was told (incorrectly, it turns out) that I had Alzheimer’s disease. For the next year, I wrote a regular blog: Watching the Lights Go Out: A Memoir of an Uncertain Mind, a very meaningful year-long conversation with many people touched in different ways by dementia. It turned out I didn’t have Alzheimer’s. While that was, of course, wonderful news, I was reluctant to let the blog go and did so with sadness.

I have followed politics closely over the last thirty years (especially as it related to poverty) and watched the gradual deterioration of our politics and our ability to converse over partisan lines. Our country has gotten off the tracks. This blog is an attempt to respond and to share what I see.

I live with my wife Marja Hilfiker in Washington DC, and am part of the 8th Day Faith Community.

Check out David’s blog here.

$80 raised by 3 people


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