Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett: The Constitution, Elections, and Democracy

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Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett: The Constitution, Elections, and Democracy

As political polarization and economic inequality deepen, increasingly corrosive public discourse tears at the social fabric of democracy. Across the country, Americans agree: we are living in troublesome times. The challenges we face today appear more daunting than ever before – but we’ve been here before. In their new book, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett combine storytelling and statistical analysis to provide a sweeping overview of more than a century of history. Drawing on lessons from earlier eras, the authors show us the path to a society once again based on community. In the Presidential Roundtable series’ culminating installment, Putnam and Garrett join President Philomena Mantella and her predecessors Arend Lubbers, Mark Murray, and Thomas Haas for a discussion that navigates how, as a collective society, we can restore faith in our institutions, our democracy, and ourselves.

The Presidential Roundtable Series is presented by Grand Valley State University, the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, assisted by the GVSU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, the Office of Student Life, the Frederik Meijer Honors College and its Padnos/Sarosik Civil Discourse Program.


Robert Putnam

Robert Putnam

Robert D. Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, having retired from active teaching in May 2018. Raised in a small town in Ohio, he was educated at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006 Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world’s highest accolade for a political scientist, in 2013 President Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities, for “deepening our understanding of community in America,” and in 2018 the International Political Science Association awarded him the Karl Deutsch Award for cross-disciplinary research. He has received eighteen honorary degrees from universities in eight countries, including in 2018, Oxford.

Putnam has written fifteen books, translated into twenty languages, including Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy and Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, both among the most cited (and bestselling) social science works in the last half-century. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, co-authored with David Campbell, won the Woodrow Wilson award as the best book in political science published in 2011. His 2015 bestseller, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, chronicled the growing class gap among American youth.

Before coming to Harvard in 1979, Putnam taught at the University of Michigan and served on the staff of the US National Security Council. At Harvard, he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He co-founded the Saguaro Seminar, bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners (including President Obama) to develop actionable ideas for civic renewal. His counsel has been sought by national and grassroots leaders on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Atlantic, including Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, Prime Ministers Blair and Cameron, and prime ministers from Ireland and Finland to Singapore and South Korea. Over the last several decades he has also worked directly with thousands of grassroots leaders in scores of local communities coast to coast across America.

He lives in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife Rosemary.

Shaylyn Romney Garrett

Shaylyn Romney Garrett

Shaylyn Romney Garrett is a writer who has dedicated her life to the pursuit of connection, community, and healing in an increasingly fragmented world. Her work includes the uniquely revealing portraits of religious communities across the United States in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. She is a founding contributor to the Aspen Institute’s initiative, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, and writes about her personal journey back to community on her blog, Project Reconnect.

Shaylyn has also had a successful career as a social entrepreneur. With her husband, James Garrett, she co-founded Think Unlimited, a nonprofit venture working to catalyze social innovation in the Middle East. She lived in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for six years, during which time she partnered with Queen Rania Al-Abdullah to bring an original Arabic language curriculum on creativity and critical thinking to Jordanian public schools. Shaylyn’s work has been featured by the New York Times, FastCompany, LinkedIn, Harvard Business Review, and Arab Investor. In 2011 she was honored with the prestigious Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, and was a finalist in the global Echoing Green Competition. She was twice awarded a membership to the Clinton Global Initiative, and has been a speaker at TEDx.

Shaylyn holds a BA magna cum laude in Government from Harvard University, and is a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She is also a permaculturalist who loves to get her hands in the dirt, and thinks a lot about healthy soils as a model for thriving human communities. She lives in the beautiful red rock desert of Southern Utah with her husband James, her daughter Sophie, her son Aeon, and her loyal dog Dewey.