The Disunited States

Is the Trump presidency causing irreparable damage to America?

Wednesday 9 May 2018, 7pm | PODCAST NOW ONLINE

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America has never seen anything like this. Time and again, Donald Trump has attacked the very fabric of US democracy. He has called the press ‘the enemy of the American people’. He says that claims that Russia interfered in the US election are a hoax. And that the FBI – currently investigating his campaign – should be personally loyal to the president.

And it’s not just political institutions Trump is damaging, his opponents say: in America he has stoked racial tension, coddled Wall Street and given succour to the gun lobby. On the world stage, he’s alienated key allies, slapped $50 billion in tariffs on China that may spark off a trade war, and appointed the hawkish John Bolton, who has advocated regime change in Iran and North Korea, as national security adviser.

If Trump is a new kind of threat, the big question is whether the damage he is doing to America will be permanent. Will the country that survived two world wars, the Cold War and the attacks of 9/11 really be put off its stride by a reality show host who could be gone in less than three years’ time? Or is Trump dismantling the robust system that has kept America united and irreparably damaging its standing as the most powerful nation on earth?

But perhaps this is all liberal hand-wringing. Could Trump, in fact, be that rarest of things – a politician who delivers on his promises – and prove to be the reformer the American electorate voted for?

To examine the political health and standing of the United States at this crucial moment, Intelligence Squared are bringing together Ronan Farrow, former US government adviser and journalist, who has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking the Harvey Weinstein scandal; Mark Lilla, the American political scientist who hit the headlines last year with an article arguing that it is the left’s preoccupation with identity politics that opened the door to Trump’s victory; Lionel Shriver, award-winning novelist and commentator; and Brian Klaas, an expert on authoritarianism who claims that with every autocratic tweet Trump is edging America away from its democratic norms.


Ronan Farrow

Investigative journalist who writes for the New Yorker and makes documentaries for HBO. He has been an anchor and reporter at MSNBC and NBC News, and his writing has appeared in publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He is the joint winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service for exposing the alleged sexual predations of Harvey Weinstein. He has also won a 2018 George Polk Award and been nominated for the National Magazine Award, among other commendations. He is a lawyer and former State Department official. He is the author of War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence.

Brian Klaas

Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, where he focuses on democratisation and political violence. He is the author of The Despot’s Apprentice, in which he argues that Donald Trump poses a unique threat to to global democracy.

Mark Lilla

Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. In a New York Times op-ed in November 2016, ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’, he argued that Trump’s victory in the presidential contest was a backlash against the American left’s obsession with identity politics. Lilla’s article was the NYT’s most read political op-ed of the year, and he has now expanded his argument into a book, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

Lionel Shriver

Author of twelve novels, including the bestsellers The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 and the Orange-Prize winner We Need to Talk About Kevin (also a 2011 feature film). She won the 2014 BBC National Short Story Award, and her novella and story collection Property was published in spring 2018. She is a prolific journalist whose writing has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, amongst other publications.


Justin Webb

One of the presenters of Radio 4’s Today programme. He was the BBC’s North America Editor for 8 years, covering the 9/11 attacks and the election of President Obama.

Speakers subject to change