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“I’m Scared to Death”: Jefferson Cowie on Trump vs. Democracy

The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian tells editor Michael Tomasky that we’ll save liberalism by saving democracy first.

Photo collage of Jefferson Cowie
Illustration by The New Republic

For the cover package in the July/August 110th Anniversary issue, TNR asked five distinguished contributors to ponder the question, “What Is Liberalism Today?” One of those five was the celebrated historian Jefferson Cowie of Vanderbilt University, whose 2022 book, Freedom’s Dominion, won the Pulitzer Prize for history. Cowie answered the question by challenging it: “Liberalism is too big and too messy,” Cowie said. “We should focus on democracy.” Not just should—damn well better. Of the prospect of a Donald Trump victory, Cowie said: “I’m scared to death. He’s able to get people to do his bidding at the state and local level. That’s the key to his success.”