Is Confidence in the Resilience of U.S. Democracy Justified?

October 26, 2023

Speakers Fahrenkopf-Manatt Lecture

Matthew Weil, left, and Chuck Todd speak on the stage of Jack Morton Auditorium. (Jordan Tovin/GW Today)

This year's Fahrenkopf-Manatt Endowed Lecture provided compelling insights into the current state of American democracy and political engagement, highlighting two key takeaways that left attendees both hopeful and inspired. Despite the concerning rise in polarization and authoritarian tendencies, the lecture emphasized the grounds for optimism regarding the resilience of democracy in the United States. Amidst these challenges, there is a belief in the potential for a return to political bipartisanship, suggesting that unity can prevail over division. Furthermore, the event underscored the vibrant atmosphere at the Graduate School of Political Management, showcasing a remarkable level of energy and enthusiasm surrounding political discourse. This passionate engagement signifies a promising future for informed and active citizenship within the university community.

There were two main takeaways at this year’s Fahrenkopf-Manatt lecture. First, despite discouraging polarization and moves toward autocracy, it is possible to be optimistic about the resilience of democracy in the United States and about the chances of a return to political bipartisanship. And second, there is a great deal of energy and interest at the George Washington University surrounding politics.

The Frank J. Fahrenkopf-Charles T. Manatt Lecture for 2023 consisted of three main parts: a talk given by Matthew Weil, executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), was followed by a conversation between Weil and NBC’s chief political analyst, Charles “Chuck” Todd, ATT '90–’94, Hon. ’22. The evening concluded with questions from the audience.

The annual lecture is named in honor of donors Frank Fahrenkopf and the late Charles Manatt, J.D. ’62, Hon. ’08, who were longtime friends despite differing political affiliations. Fahrenkopf was chair of the Republican National Committee during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and Manatt was chair of the Democratic National Committee in the same period.

The lecture series is dedicated to highlighting how the nation’s business is advanced when relationships across the political divide are conducted with bipartisan civility. It is presented by the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), which offers a program focused on applied politics, within GW’s College of Professional Studies (CPS).

Liesl Riddle, dean of CPS, gave brief welcoming and closing remarks. Michele Manatt, daughter of Charles Manatt and a member of the GSPM Board of Advisors, introduced the evening’s speakers.

Her father and Fahrenkopf, Manatt said, “had very different views on key issues facing the country, such as defense spending levels, welfare reform and supply-side economics. At the same time, they championed the integrity of the American electoral process and the architecture that supports it. They accepted election outcomes. Once the results were determined and announced, they called to congratulate the winner. They enjoyed spending time together, both publicly and  privately.”


CPS Dean Liesl Riddle introduces Michele Manatt, a member of the GSPM Board of Advisors.

Michele Manatt, a member of the GSPM Board of Advisors, introduced the speakers at the 2023 Fahrenkopf-Manatt Lecture.

Weil began by acknowledging that the current state of U.S. politics does not show the country at its best, but he urged listeners not to withdraw.

“There’s a whole lot right now that doesn't feel right and seems unprecedented going on in our body politic,” Weil said. “And that can be discouraging. More than discouraging—it can be disengaging.”


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