Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Nationhood Lab Director Addresses U.S. Senators On Challenges To U.S. Democracy And Nationhood And How To Overcome Them

September 14, 2023

WASHINGTON – On the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), the director of Salve Regina University’s Nationhood Lab addressed the weekly caucus meeting of Democratic Senators last week about the challenges to maintaining U.S. nationhood and how to help overcome them.

Colin Woodard, who directs the project at the Salve’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, addressed the 25 senators in the U.S. Capitol building Sept. 7 about the deep structural vulnerabilities the U.S. has always faced, their implications on politics and policy, and the importance of having a compelling story of national purpose to bring and hold the country together around shared the liberal democratic values.

“The forces of autocracy and ethnonationalism are on the march and they have their narrative – their story of the kind of country they are fighting for – all worked out,” Woodard told the senators. “We – the 70 percent of Americans who don’t want to live in that authoritarian world – have lost our story, our message.”

“We (Americans) were never great at talking about what those civic ideals mean in practice, but we stopped trying after the Cold War. A vacuum opened up and demagogues stepped right in, Woodard added. “We need that story.”

Woodard fielded questions from the senators in the closed-door meeting and shared the work Nationhood Lab is doing to develop and test a story of U.S. purpose and identity that a trans-partisan supermajority of Americans can unite behind. He described the Balkanized nature of the U.S. and the vulnerabilities it has caused, the topic of one of his books, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.”

Woodard, a native of Maine, was introduced by Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. He has previously had separate meetings about Nationhood Lab’s work with Maine’s senior Senator, Republican Susan Collins, and Democratic senators Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Leader Schumer, who represents New York. “I would be pleased to share our project with the other three Congressional caucuses at any time,” Woodard says.

Woodard will return to Washington later this month to present the findings of a recent scientific study he co-authored to a working group of the National Academy of Sciences. That work, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, revealed dramatic differences in obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity rates that correspond to the borders of the regional cultures described in “American Nations.”

Nationhood Lab, based at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, is an interdisciplinary research, writing, testing and dissemination project focused on counteracting the authoritarian threat to American democracy and the centrifugal forces threatening the federation’s stability. The project delivers more effective tools with which to describe and defend the American liberal democratic tradition and better understand the forces undermining it.