By: Maia Zasler
From: Sciences Po Menton
The Washington Post, an American daily newspaper, adopted the tagline “Democracy Dies in Darkness” in 2017. The slogan references the organization’s steadfast commitment to illuminating truth and its critique of government secrecy as well as the general importance of maintaining liberal principles in a functioning democracy. However, the sentiments expressed by this particular combination of four words does not end in the realm of political or investigative journalism.
Studies have shown that American democracy is on the decline, driven by an amalgamation of increasing income and wealth gaps, populist / identity politics and extremism, and corroded voting systems and trust in both government and fellow citizens (Carnegie Endowment). The recognition of this reality leaves Americans at an inflection point, faced with the question of how to move forward: Will we be driven to implement positive change, or will we spiral further into division and strife, locked in inaction due to an inability to compromise or disagree better?
This question is particularly pertinent for American businesses. Although there remains dispute—and legitimate skepticism—as to whether democracies or autocracies exhibit greater, accelerated economic development, recent evidence suggests democracies, on average, promote higher rates of growth. Democracies allow for longterm expansion through historical precedent of investment in education and healthcare; by fostering stability and overall well-being, people’s work / employed positions become less hindered by economic, social, or political concerns. An article in the University of Chicago Press Journals reports that democratization can increase GDP by 20% in the long run. The liberal characterization of open debate—of freedom of the press and of expression / protest—better facilitates effective, beneficial policies. These elements also mitigate, to an extent, massive economic risks that are often associated with autocratic regimes; constraints placed on the economy in democracies are in fact the conduits for its steady success.
Thus, American businesses are directly affected by and should be invested in the promotion of liberal democracy. They also have a direct link to approximately 85% of American workers, indicating not only a responsibility to employees but an opportunity for profound influence on the American population and global community.
Civic learning workshops show promise in training employees to combat the identified threats to democracy. Seminars, covering topics ranging from the value of election participation and reacting to disinformation to tackling hate speech and the nuances of digital culture, “have become a way to ensure healthier relationships at the workplace, and in society at large” (Eddy, Melissa).
These workshops have been widely implemented across Germany, and a few other non-partisan organizations have taken up similar work in the United States (e.g. Leadership Now Project). Some corporations have even mandated these often eight week-long seminars as an integral step in training.
Whether optative or required, such seminars have a significant impact on cultivating a more cohesive, inclusive work environment in which employees report feeling an increased sense of confidence. Although the curriculum may vary, there is a common focus on instilling media literacy skills—showing disinformation posts online and opening up a forum for discussion—and understanding government and voting processes / the capacity for employees to act.
The workshops promote trust: centered in the workplace / corporate culture and in the government. The Pew Research Center found that, as of 2023, only 17% of Americans trust Washington D.C. officials to “do the right thing.” Business, on the other hand, “is the only institution seen as competent and ethical” (Edelman). A report by the Edelman Trust Barometer further demonstrates that the American public believes that “CEOs are obligated to improve economic optimism and hold divisive forces accountable.”
By conveying and reinforcing civic and personal responsibilities and outlining avenues for social action, social fabric is strengthened, respect is bolstered, and divisions appear less insurmountable. The CEO of Leadership Now (the aforementioned pro-democracy organization operating in the United States), Daniella Ballou-Aares, posits that “understanding democracy is more than an intellectual exercise—it is a safeguard against the instability that threatens our economic and political landscapes” (Determann, Gretta).
“2023 Edelman Trust Barometer.” Edelman, www.edelman.com/trust/2023/trust-barometer. Accessed 30 Dec. 2023.
Acemoglu, Daron, et al. “Democracy Does Cause Growth.” University of Chicago Press.
Determann, Gretta. “Fostering Democracy through Civics Workshops at the Office.” Leadership Now Project, Leadership Now Project, 22 Nov. 2023, www.leadershipnowproject.org/lnp-insights/2023/11/20/fostering-democracy-through-civics-workshops-at-the-office-insights-from-a-new-york-times-piece.
Eddy, Melissa. “A New Place to Learn Civics: The Workplace.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Oct. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/10/29/world/europe/businesses-civics-education.html.
Kleinfeld, Rachel. “Polarization, Democracy, and Political Violence in the United States ...” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, carnegieendowment.org/2023/09/05/polarization-democracy-and-political-violence-in-united-states-what-research-says-pub-90457. Accessed 30 Dec. 2023.
Knutsen, Carl Henrik. “Playing The Long Game: Why Democracy Is Good for Business.” The Loop, 30 June 2021, theloop.ecpr.eu/playing-the-long-game-why-democracy-is-good-for-business/.
“Public Trust in Government: 1958-2023.” Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy, Pew Research Center, 19 Sept. 2023, www.pewresearch.org/politics/2023/09/19/public-trust-in-government-1958-2023/.