Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Radio & Podcasts
26 October 2022

Is American democracy in danger?

In the first episode of Owen Bennett-Jones’s new Radio 4 show, the journalist investigates Russia’s attempt to meddle in the US elections.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Democracy is in crisis. And not just in the UK. Forget Liz Truss’s demise as prime minister and the Conservative Party’s chaotic scramble to replace her and consider, for a moment, the US and whether its electoral systems are fit for purpose. In five 15-minute episodes running across a week, Owen Bennett-Jones explores the threats to the ability of America’s political process to deliver fair results: from the “Stop the Steal” movement and voter suppression to security flaws in electronic voting machines.

[See also: From Jeffrey Dahmer to Adnan Syed: can true crime as entertainment ever be ethical?]

Episode one is entitled “Russia, if you’re listening” – a reference to a comment made by Donald Trump before the 2016 presidential election, when he called on Moscow to release more of Hillary Clinton’s emails. That Russia has attempted to meddle in American elections is not in doubt: in addition to the emails it released to WikiLeaks, in 2016 it also conducted a social media trolling campaign to target certain demographics, while hackers broke into voter registration databases in multiple states. It is not clear how far they got in their cyber attacks on US electoral infrastructure but, as Bennett-Jones and his guests explain, that’s not necessarily the point. The attacks themselves “could be enough to sow confusion and mistrust in the electoral system”.

[See also: My Name is Leon: a horribly preachy drama]

All of this raises a conundrum for those who care about democracy. Clearly there are vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. But there is also a risk that the very act of drawing attention to them could undermine faith in the democratic process. Dispute the integrity of an election, as Trump did, and the entire system falls apart. In January 2021 Trump supporters were so convinced the election had been “stolen” they stormed the US Capitol; today, around two thirds of Republicans still believe Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. With all the threats to a free and fair presidential race in 2024 – analysed throughout the series – what incentive would the losing side (whoever they are) have to honour the result?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The Threat to American Democracy
BBC Radio 4, weekdays from 31 October, 1.45pm

Content from our partners
<strong>What you need to know about private markets </strong>
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article : ,

This article appears in the 26 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Disorder