On Monday, Nov. 18, hundreds of MinnPost readers and supporters gathered to mark the nonprofit newsroom’s 12th anniversary at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis. The program featured an in-depth conversation about democracy with Brian Klaas, a Washington Post columnist and Minnesota native. The discussion was moderated by MinnPost editor Andy Putz.
Klaas has researched the tactics of authoritarian regimes across the globe. In the past few years, his research and writing have focused on attacks against democratic norms and systems in the West, including the United States. While Klaas thinks multiple factors are leading to these trends, including cultural change, nostalgia and xenophobia, he points to misinformation as the central weapon against democracy in the 21st century.
“Democracy requires a shared sense of reality,” he said. “Democracy is based on compromise, but you can’t solve a problem if you don’t agree a problem exists.” He pointed to “deep fakes” as a particular concern, where technology can doctor video to a point that looks real to most viewers.
In terms of counteracting misinformation, Klaas points to the strong need for journalism. “Media is central to democracy because it’s informed consent of the government, and if you take out the informed, you don’t have democracy,” he said, noting that local journalism can be especially important in terms of accountability in local government.
When Putz asked what individuals can do to counter anti-democratic trends, Klaas pointed most immediately to voting, noting that there are a lot of ways to advocate for higher democratic participation that aren’t partisan. He also encouraged people to engage more in their local government and consider running for local offices.
In looking ahead to the 2020 election in the United States, Klaas said he hopes for a consensus to emerge across the political spectrum around protecting western democratic norms and institutions. “We are people who believe in decency and civility,” he said, “and that shouldn’t be partisan.”
The proceeds from MinnPost’s Anniversary Celebration provide crucial support for our nonprofit journalism in the year ahead.