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American Decadence

Nick Bryant, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Adam Tooze
Chaired by Geraldine Doogue
Sun 18 September 12:00pm
Sun 18 September 12:00pm
What if America has gone too far into decline to come back?

American decline has been a topic of conversation for decades, as the euphoric optimism of the end of the Cold War gave way to ballooning inequality, military overreach, gun violence and police shootings, the great recession and the opioid crisis. But while the idea of a slightly less-powerful America was attractive to many countries tired of US dominance, the dramatic acceleration of the slide into decadence and division provided by Donald Trump’s presidency has been shocking. With Xi Jinping relishing the role of the most powerful man in the world, and Vladmir Putin flexing his muscles, what if America has gone too far into decline to come back? 

Trump has led the United States into dangerous territory from which there is no clear exit.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an expert commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda — and the threats these present to democracies today. Author of the #1 Amazon bestseller Strongmen and over 100 op-eds and essays in CNN, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, she brings historical perspective to her analyses of current events. Her insight into the authoritarian playbook has made her an expert source for television, radio, podcasts, and online events. Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and an advisor to Protect Democracy. A historical consultant for film and television productions, she was a featured commentator in the Netflix limited series How To Become a Tyrant (2021) and the PBS series The Dictators’ Playbook (2019). Her work has been supported by Fulbright, Guggenheim, and other prestigious fellowships. Her latest book, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present (Norton, 2020), carefully assesses how illiberal leaders use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded over a century. Her books Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema detail what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold and explore the appeal of strongmen to collaborators and followers.


Nick Bryant

During a distinguished career with the BBC, Nick Bryant came to be regarded as one of its finest foreign correspondents. He has covered some of the most momentous events of our times, the attacks of September 11, the war in Afghanistan, the Asian tsunami, the election of Barack Obama and the presidency of Donald Trump. In addition to his broadcast work, he has also written for an array of publications, including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Economist, The New Statesman, The Guardian, The Independent, The Monthly, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present, which made it onto Joe Biden’s bookshelf in the Oval Office, and The Rise and Fall of Australia: How a Great Nation Lost its Way. He is a history graduate from Cambridge University, who holds a doctorate in US politics from Oxford University. He now lives in Sydney with his wife and three children.


Adam Tooze

Prize-winning historian, writer and economic commentator, Adam Tooze combines deep historical expertise with up to date economic analysis to answer questions about current and future political power and economical shifts that could be used to navigate in our dynamic contemporary world. Tooze teaches at Columbia University where he is the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History and the Director of the European Institute. He has advised governments and ministries and toured the world as a lecturer. His most recent books, Shutdown: How COVID Shook the World’s Economy (2021) is a tour-de-force account of 2020, the year that changed everything.


Geraldine Doogue

Presenter, ABC RN Saturday Extra which specialises in foreign policy, regional issues, agenda-changing commentators, good books. Previously a reporter for The West Australian, The Australian, 2UE, Channel 10 and the Presenter/Creator of ABC RN’s Life Matters; host of ABC TV’s Nationwide in the 1980s. Played a central role in ABC-TV’s coverage of the first Gulf War in 1991, receiving a United Nations Media Peace Prize and two Penguin Awards. Awarded a Churchill Fellowship for social and cultural reporting (2000. Co-author “Tomorrow’s Islam: Uniting Age-Old Beliefs and a Modern World” (2005); in August 2014 released a book published by Text Publishing called The Climb: Conversations with Australian Women in Power. Honorary Doctor of Letters awarded from the University of Western Australia (her alma mater), Macquarie University, Sydney University, and the ANU. Officer in the Order of Australia for distinguished service on issues involving ethics, values, religion and social change. Admitted to the Australian Media Hall of Fame in 2018.