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Truth is Powerful

Political Scientists Turned a Blind Eye to America’s Democratic Failures


A state built on Black repression and local violence was smugly coded as a mature democracy. In the autumn of 1912, the white residents of Forsyth County, Georgia, expelled its Black community.

The trigger, or the excuse, was the killing of a young white woman. A Black man was lynched in response, followed by the judicial murder of two more Black defendants and a campaign of white violence and intimidation that chased away more than a thousand Black residents.

Blood at the Root, Patrick Phillips’s history of the ethnic cleansing, shows that the participants even included white children, who could dispossess a Black family by threat alone.

Such events do not fit neatly into the categories that conventional political science long used to understand politics in the United States. As debates over how to understand Jan. 6, 2021, demonstrate, until recently most practicing American social scientists reflexively dismissed such events as incidental, regrettable exceptions to a democratic, rule-based system.

Many political scientists like political behavior to fall into neat boxes, whether those be typologies cleanly defining terms or spreadsheets in which every row contains a discrete observation.

They recognize that there’s always phenomena that won’t fit, cleanly, […]

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