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NYT: Reviews | What is it like to keep American democracy alive?

In the wake of the “Stop the Steal” campaign, the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill, and the wave of voter suppression bills making their way into Republican legislatures across the country, the struggle for American democracy seems, to many, visceral and even existential. But for Martha S. Jones, legal and cultural historian at Johns Hopkins University, now is anything but an aberration.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

“I’m not someone who tells stories about a Whiggish arc where we always get better, we get better, we get better,” Jones says. “Much of American history is a story of competition, conflict, disagreement over basic ideas and basic tenets, basic principles, like citizenship and the right to vote.”

Jones has spent his career documenting the challenge to American democracy. His 2018 book, “Birthright citizens”, Tells the story of how black Americans in the 19th century fought to overcome the silence of the Constitution on the question of who counts as a citizen, ultimately ensuring the establishment of birthright citizenship by the 14th amendment. And his book 2020 “Vanguard: How black women broke barriers, won the vote, and insisted on equality for allIs a comprehensive account of the 200-year struggle of black women for equal suffrage.

This conversation is about how political struggles by marginalized groups shaped American democracy as we know it – and the virtues, habits and practices of democratic citizenship that we can learn from those struggles. But it also explores the need to reimagine the true “founders” of America, ”how black women of the 19th and 20th centuries modeled intersectionality long before it became a buzzword, what a current discussion around “Black women voters” go awry, how worried we should be about current threats to American democracy and more.

You can listen to the whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. Check out our clients’ book recommendations list here.

This episode is hosted by Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times columnist whose work focuses on the intersection of politics and history. Prior to joining The Times in 2019, he was the chief political correspondent of Slate magazine. You can read his work here and follow him on Twitter @jbouie. (Learn more about other guests invited during Ezra’s parental leave here.)

(A full transcript of the episode will be available at noon on the Times website.)

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact check by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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