Defending American Democracy Series

Dialogues on the Future of U.S. Democracy

American democracy is facing a critical moment. The next two electoral cycles may well determine whether the United States deepens its democracy or faces an erosion that gradually weakens its democratic system. The McCain Institute is deeply committed to standing on the side of democracy and progress and is making it a top institutional priority to make our voice heard in service of restoring faith in fact-based journalism, countering mis- and disinformation, and most importantly defending our American democracy.   

To do so, the McCain Institute is launching a series of complementary and mutually reinforcing conversations designed to advance this cause by convening key stakeholders, empowering likeminded organizations, engaging elected officials and communicating with the public. At a time when so many have lost the courage to stand up for truth, this work will be inspired by Senator McCain’s legacy of political courage—putting service to country before politics and leading as a voice of reason and clarity that inspired others to join a just cause.

In the Senator’s own words: “We don’t build walls to freedom and opportunity. We tear them down. We will act on our founding conviction that all people have equal dignity and should be accorded the same respect by the laws and governments. We never hide from history. We make history.” His words compel us to contribute to an effort to change history for the better.


Event 1: Is the Loss of Local Journalism Endangering American Democracy?

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Local journalism has long been a pillar of American democracy. However, newsrooms across the country have shuttered leaving many communities without local news outlets. There is a movement to help revive local media, but is it too little too late? Many American have already changed their habits and tune into national news media and social media to get their news. How can Americans again regain trust in local media outlets to strengthen American democracy?


Emily Woodruff – Report for America Corps Member at The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Erica Beshears Perel – Director, UNC’s Center for Innovation and Sustainabilty in Local Media

Representative Todd Novak – Wisconsin State Assembly


Steve Waldman – President & CEO, Report for America

Event 2: When Local Elections Are Threatened, What Are the National Implications?

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The United States is not immune from electoral interference as evidenced from 2016 and 2020 which saw unprecedented levels of harassment and intimidation of election workers. The threats got so bad in the weeks before and after Election Day 2020 that several officials had to temporarily abandon their homes, fearing for their safety. Many experts have pointed to President Donald Trump’s attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election results as “rigged” — and the “Stop the Steal” movement he inspired — as the reason for targeting election officials. On top of that, election officials have also been subjected to strict institutional constraints which limit their ability to do their jobs. Across the nation, state legislatures have taken steps to strip election officials of the power to run, count, and certify elections, consolidating power in their own hands over processes intended to be free of partisan or political interference.

All of this represents a mortal danger to American democracy, which cannot survive without public servants who can freely and fairly run our elections. We must ensure that they feel not only safe but also supported and appreciated for their critical efforts. This event convened election officials from key battleground states to discuss the democratic impact of these threats what can be done to combat this issue.


Jocelyn Benson – Secretary of State | Michigan

Brian Corley – Supervisor of Elections | Pasco County, Fla.

Bill Gates – Chairman of the Board of Supervisors | Maricopa County, Ariz.


David Becker – Executive Director and Founder | Center for Election Innovation & Research

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

We are social investors who support democracy by funding free expression and journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of American cities and towns where the Knight brothers once had newspapers. Learn more at and follow @knightfdn on social media.