President Joe Biden met with historians at the White House last week, The Washington Post reported.
People familiar with the conversation said the historians warned Biden about totalitarianism’s rise.
They were also said to have discussed the antebellum period and pre-World War II fascism.
President Joe Biden privately met with a group of historians at the White House last week who warned him about ongoing threats to democracy, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Sources familiar with the August 4 meeting, which was said to have lasted nearly two hours, told the outlet the experts described the current moment as among the most dangerous to democracy in modern history.
The people in the meeting were said to have included the Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, the University of Virginia historian Allida Black, the journalist Anne Applebaum, and the presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Speechwriters for Biden, including Vinay Reddy and Jon Meacham, and the White House senior advisor Anita Dunn were also said to have attended.
The small group almost exclusively discussed totalitarianism around the world and threats to American democracy, according to the Post.
The outlet reported the scholars compared the current state of affairs to the era that preceded the American Civil War, as well as the period before World War II when fascist movements emerged, specifically noting Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1940 election.
Some of the people associated with the meeting have spoken publicly about threats to democracy. Applebaum, a staff writer 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 democratic decline.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
The meeting was in step with Biden’s habit of seeking outside experts to provide guidance on domestic and foreign-policy issues. He also met with Bill Clinton in May to discuss inflation and the midterms and with a group of foreign-policy experts in January when the US anticipated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The meetings also continue a tradition of US presidents seeking big-picture context from historians that started with Ronald Reagan but stalled under Donald Trump, according to the Post.
Historians have publicly been sounding the alarm on threats to democracy in recent years, especially since the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.
The historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Insider’s Charles R. Davis in June that the Capitol attack, which she described as an attempted coup, still posed a threat to US democracy. Ken Hughes, another historian, who is an expert on Watergate, told Insider’s Erin Snodgrass in July that democracy was in a “dangerous” position as the systems that usually protected against a presidential abuses of power were no longer functioning.
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