Biden quietly met with a group of historians who warned him about threats to democracy and compared the current moment to the pre-Civil War era, report says
President Joe Biden addresses reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on May 9, 2022. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
President Joe Biden met with historians at the White House last week, the Washington Post reported.
People familiar with the conversation said they warned Biden about the rise of totalitarianism around the world.
They also drew comparisons to the pre-Civil War era and pro-fascist sentiments during World War II.
President Joe Biden met privately last week with a group of historians at the White House who warned him of ongoing threats to democracy, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Sources familiar with the Aug. 4 meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, told the outlet the experts described the current moment as one of the most dangerous for democracy in modern history.
Attendees at the meeting included Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black, journalist Anne Applebaum, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Also present at the meeting were pro-Biden speechwriters, including Vinay Reddy and Jon Meacham, and senior White House adviser Anita Dunn.
According to The Post, the small group discussed almost exclusively global totalitarianism and the threat to American democracy.
The outlet reported that scholars compared the current state of affairs to the pre-Civil War era as well as to fascist movements that emerged before World War II. They noted in particular the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.
Some of the experts allegedly present have spoken out publicly about the threat to democracy. For example, Applebaum, a permanent contributor at The Atlantic, published a book in 2020 called Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism about the rise of right-wing populism and the demise of democracy.
The White House did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The meeting was consistent with Biden's habit of seeking outside experts to offer advice on domestic and foreign policy issues. He also met with former President Bill Clinton in May to discuss inflation and the midterms, and in January ahead of an expected Russian invasion of Ukraine with a group of foreign policy experts.
The meetings also continue a tradition of US presidents sought by historians for context, which began with President Ronald Reagan but faltered under former President Donald Trump, according to The Post.
Historians have raised public alarms about threats to democracy in recent years, particularly after the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Insider's Charles R. Davis in June that the attack on the Capitol, which she described as an attempted coup, still poses a threat to US democracy. Ken Hughes, another historian and expert on Watergate, told Insider's Erin Snodgrass in July that democracy is in a "dangerous" position because the systems that normally protect against presidential abuses of power are no longer working.
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