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Presidential centers warn of the fragility of American democracy


Concerns for American democracy amid deep national polarization have prompted entities that support 13 presidential libraries dating back to Herbert Hoover to call for a recommitment to the country’s fundamental principles, including the rule of law and respect for diversity. Believes.

The statement released Thursday, the first time libraries have teamed up to make such a public statement, says Americans have a vested interest in supporting democratic movements and human rights around the world because “free societies elsewhere contribute to our own security and prosperity here at home”. “.

“But that interest,” he says, “is undermined when others see our own messy house.”

The joint message from presidential centers, foundations, and institutes emphasized the need for compassion, tolerance, and pluralism while urging Americans to respect democratic institutions and maintain safe and accessible elections.

The statement stresses that “debate and disagreement” are at the heart of democracy, but also alludes to the hardening of dialogue in the public space at a time when officials and their families are receiving death threats.

“Civility and respect in political discourse, whether in an election year or otherwise, is essential,” he said.

Most living former presidents have been spared in expressing their public opinion on the state of the nation, as polls show that a large portion of Republicans still believe the lies perpetrated by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Trump, a Republican, has also hit out at the justice system as he faces indictments in four criminal cases, including two related to his efforts to overturn his re-election results against Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Thursday’s statement was not directed at individuals, but it still marked one of the most substantial acknowledgments that people associated with the country’s former presidents care about the country’s trajectory.

“I think there is great concern right now about the state of our democracy,” said Mark Updegrove, CEO of the LBJ Foundation, which supports the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. “You don’t have to go much further than January 6 to realize that we are in a perilous situation.”

Efforts to suppress or weaken voter turnout are of particular interest to the LBJ Foundation, Updegrove said, given that President Lyndon Johnson considered his signing of the Voting Rights Act his “proudest legislative achievement.”

The bipartisan statement was signed by the Hoover Presidential Foundation, Roosevelt Institute, Truman Library Institute, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, LBJ Foundation, Richard Nixon Foundation, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, Carter Center, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, the George & Barbara Bush Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and the Obama Presidential Center. These organizations support all presidential libraries established under the Presidential Library Act of 1955, alongside the Eisenhower Foundation.

The Eisenhower Foundation chose not to sign and said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press: “The Eisenhower Foundation respectfully declines to sign this statement. This would be the first joint statement the Presidential Centers and Foundations have ever issued as a group, but we had no collective discussion about it, only an invitation to sign.”

The foundation said each presidential entity has its own democracy-related programs.

The push for the joint statement was led by Daniel Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. Kramer said the former president “saw and signed that statement.”

He said the effort was meant to send “a positive message reminding us of who we are and also reminding us that when we are in disarray, when we are at loggerheads, people overseas also look at us and wonder what happens”. He also said it was necessary to remind Americans that their democracy cannot be taken for granted.

He said the Bush Institute held several election events, including one as part of a joint initiative with other groups called More Perfect, which was attended by Maricopa County Supervisory Board member Bill Gates. in Arizona, which includes Phoenix. The county, its supervisors and election staff have been repeatedly targeted by election conspiracy theorists in recent years.

Gates and his family have been threatened by people who believe false allegations of voter fraud.

“We wanted to remind people that those overseeing our elections are our citizens,” Kramer said. “Some of them told almost heartbreaking stories of the threats they faced.”

He said he hoped the joint statement would garner broad support, but added: “It’s hard to say whether or not it will in these polarized times.”

Melissa Giller, director of marketing at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute, said the decision to sign was quick. The foundation was contacted shortly after launching a new effort, its Center on Public Civility in Washington, DC. She said the statement represented “everything our center will stand for”.

“We must help end the serious discord and divisions within our society,” Giller said in an emailed response. “America is experiencing a decline in trust, social cohesion, and personal interactions.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to former President Barack Obama and now CEO of the Obama Foundation, said the former president supports the statement.

“This is the time when we could all come together and show that democracy is not about partisan politics,” she said. “It’s about making our country stronger, more decent, kinder, more human.”

Jarrett said one of the foundation’s priorities is to try to restore trust in the institutions that are the pillars of society. This has required tackling misinformation and creating opportunities where “people believe our democracy is thriving.”

She added that Obama had led a forum on democracy and was planning another later this year in Chicago.

“I think part of it has to be recognizing that we’re very fragile right now,” Jarrett said, citing the fact that “we didn’t have a smooth, orderly transition of power in the last election,” as well as the public’s distrust of the judicial system and elected officials.

“The wheels on our Democracy bus,” she said, “look a little wonky right now.”