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Keith GaddieAmerica is gearing up for a presidential election year. At the core of that is democracy. Keith Gaddie, Hoffman Family Chair in the American Ideal and political science professor, is sharing his insight on the topic of democracy and its critical role in American politics.

On the TCU campus Jan. 31, Gaddie will host a bipartisan panel titled to objectively explore creating a more collaborative society. Ahead of the panel, Gaddie gleans from his most recent book, Democracy鈥檚 Meanings, to answer questions for TCU News.  

What do you see as the major challenges as we enter an election season?  
We've heard for several years now that polarized politics were dooming democracy, that people cannot get along, and that divisiveness would destroy the American democracy. The research I鈥檝e conducted shows that most people believe in democracy, but they cannot agree on what the definition is.  

Can you give examples of the various perceptions and definitions? 
Some people think democracy is about process, such as elections, majoritarianism and the use of political parties. Some people think democracy is about guarantees of rights and liberties and protecting minorities from the political majority. Still others think democracy鈥痠s about guarantees of economic justice or redistributing wealth in a manner to reduce poverty and want. Most often, they think it is a combination of these things, to a greater or lesser extent. And it is the balance of the recipe and the mix that is at the basis of most political debate. 

Is this varying viewpoint on democracy contributing to the divisiveness in American politics? 
I believe it is. We see a problem with people having the ability to speak constructively with those with whom they might disagree. This ability to listen to and respect a different opinion, to understand鈥痺hy we have different opinions, is lost on many Americans.鈥疘t seems many disputes in politics derive from differences in how we perceive democracy. 

How do we make progress in this area?  
I believe we can do this by engaging the conversation about what is democracy and how democratic is the U.S. That will help us understand our environment.鈥疊y having people define democracy, we can ask them if democracy is at risk and, if so,鈥痜rom what. Then, we can explore how we got here and what might be the solutions. Is it education? Quality journalism? Elite cues and leadership? We need to find the means for constructive conversation and debate toward constructive politics. 

facultyqaWhat do you hope to accomplish with the upcoming panel?  
We have found some local political leaders with different experiences and beliefs who, nonetheless, have the ability listen, speak and reach across these divides, to discuss how they define democracy; why it might be at risk; and where the 鈥渇ix鈥 might reside.鈥疻e hope to have our guests explain how they've worked for civility, without sacrificing the responsibility of also addressing difficult problems with controversial solutions.鈥疘deals exist to give us a vehicle for resolving disputes or making decisions.鈥疘 credit Ron Pitcock (dean of the John V. Roach Honors College) and Don Mills (retired faculty) with creating this event. We hope to find out, from our panel and attendees, whether we still have the ideals to operate a democracy and how to guarantee the integrity and endurance of the critical pieces of democracy. 

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