Among the many discussion topics between Jonathan Holloway and Richard Haass during their Oct. 4, 2023, Byrne Seminar conversation was the significance of norms in sustaining a democratic society.

Richard Haass spoke with the Rutgers president during a Byrne seminar for first-year students

As a historian, President Jonathan Holloway looks for precedents. But the morning after the majority speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was ousted, he talked with his class on citizenship about what seems to be another unprecedented time in the nation.

“We’re in a different moment right now,” he said as he introduced veteran diplomat Richard Haass, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, to the first-year students in the Byrne seminar, “Citizenship, Institutions, and the Public.”

The first-ever removal of the speaker is unparalleled, agreed Haass, who led the nonpartisan think tank for 20 years.

“This is costly, and I think it is the culmination as of today of mounting dysfunction in our political process,” he said. “What is unprecedented, I believe, is the falling off of support for American democracy and a lack of commitment to American democracy.”

Haass, author of the The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens, joined Holloway and the students for a wide-ranging conversation about not taking our democracy for granted, getting involved in public service, the importance of teaching civics and where we go from here.

Watch the full conversation