The Sunday Magazine

"One year into Trump presidency, America is facing biggest ever threat to its democracy": Adam Gopnik

Canadian Adam Gopnik has been a staff writer at the New Yorker for three decades; he lives in New York City.
Adam Gopnik (Penguin Random House/Brigitte Lacombe)

Almost 200 years ago, the French government dispatched Alexis de Tocqueville on a fact-finding mission, to learn about the penal system in the young republic of the United States. 

Tocqueville duly submitted his report to the French government. But while he was in the U.S., he embarked on a project of much greater significance — a study of one of the world's great political experiments: American democracy. 

Tocqueville's two-volume book Democracy in America became a classic of political anthropology. He saw America's democracy as rough-hewn, boisterous, idealistic, dynamic and altogether novel. 

He did have some misgivings about America's culture of individualism, the toxic issue of slavery and the threat of the tyranny of the majority. 

And the American president at the time was Andrew Jackson — a blustery, temperamental, and polarizing populist, who inspired both rabid adoration, and fear and loathing. 

But it was clear to Tocqueville that Europe's aristocracies were in their twilight, and the future belonged to American democracy. 

One can only imagine what a latter-day Tocqueville would make of democracy in the U.S. right now, one year after Andrew Jackson's political heir, Donald Trump, became president.

Michael Wolff's book 'Fire And Fury' quickly made it to the top of the bestsellers list, as readers gobble up the gossipy revelations about goings-on in the Oval Office. (Phil Noble/Reuters)
The events of the past two weeks alone, with the mad circus swirling around Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, might lead one to conclude that America's democratic experiment has been left heating on the bunsen burner too long — and that it's about to explode. 
Montreal-raised, New York-based writer Adam Gopnik. (Will Ragozzino/Getty Images )
Adam Gopnik is one of today's most penetrating observers of American political culture, and like Toqueville, he does bring something of an outsider's perspective to the U.S. He grew up in Montreal, where he attended McGill University. 

He moved to New York in the 1980s and has been a staff writer at the New Yorker for three decades, spending five of those years as the magazine's Paris correspondent in the 1990s. 

His books include his best-selling Paris to the Moon, and his latest book is At The Strangers' Gate: Arrivals in New York.

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.