Jacob Sherer


"The future of American democracy depends on our ability to adapt and respond to the new challenges of our day. We can do this by strengthening the institutions that have gotten us this far and advocating for change when our institutions don’t live up to our highest ideals."

Jacob Sherer is a junior studying political science, with minors in the Glynn Family Honors Program; philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE); and European studies. Originally from Platteville, Wisconsin, Jacob has championed democracy as president of BridgeND, a Washington Program student, and intern with LangleyCyber.

What does being a champion of democracy mean to you?

Growing up in Southwest Wisconsin, I had the privilege of living in an increasingly-rare battleground district. My county—Grant County—is one of the few places to vote for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In 2020, even The New York Times recognized it as one of the twenty most important counties that would decide the presidential election. It is commonplace to engage with friends and neighbors from a wide variety of different political perspectives. I cherish the opportunity, as a Hesburgh Democracy Fellow, to join a community of students who, like my hometown, hold beliefs from all across the political spectrum.

I’m interested in engaging with issues related to American democracy because I’m worried about the future of our nation. This statistic always shocks me: in 2020, nearly eight in ten registered voters believed that their disagreements with the other side were about more than politics and policies, but “core American values" (Pew Research). We are reaching levels of polarization and distrust that are unsustainable and ultimately weakening our democracy. A “champion of democracy” is someone committed to democratic principles and to strengthening our communities. They don’t need to moderate their positions or hold any particular political views. Promoting democracy transcends partisan lines. All it requires is standing up to forces that seek to tear down our institutions and undermine our democracy.

Luckily, “a champion of democracy” doesn’t need to be superhuman. It sounds like an overwhelming task, but it can be as simple as showing up to the polls on election day or voicing political concerns with a friend. There is strength in numbers. We can have a debate about what we want our future to look like, but only if we remain committed to our democratic system. I look forward to working with all others who share my same commitment to democracy.

How did this experience in the Washington Program and LangleyCyber internship shape your understanding of democracy and what it means to champion it?

My experience in DC was incredible, but it taught me that we should not take American democracy for granted. Democracy is not inevitable or self-sustaining, but must be actively maintained by public servants, engaged citizens, and other democratic organizations dedicated to the principles of self-governance. At LangleyCyber, I worked with an amazing, mission-driven team that tirelessly defended political campaigns, organizations, and companies from cyber attacks. I learned that in order to champion democracy, we must stay vigilant as new threats evolve. The future of American democracy depends on our ability to adapt and respond to the new challenges of our day. We can do this by strengthening the institutions that have gotten us this far and advocating for change when our institutions don’t live up to our highest ideals.

How have you championed democracy on-campus and in the local community?

I’ve championed democracy on-campus by serving as president of BridgeND, a political club dedicated to bridging Notre Dame’s political divide. We host a wide variety of events centered around getting passionate students with different perspectives in the same room to discuss important issues facing our country. We’ve had a wide variety of conversations on topics such as healthcare, affirmative action, and the environment. Additionally, we encourage students to share their perspectives on current events by writing an op-ed for our column in The Observer. Last semester, we published nine op-eds written by members of BridgeND. Lastly, we host larger events such as ConvergeND, where we pair 50-100 students with different political views to meet for coffee or a meal and have a constructive conversation about their political opinions.

My involvement with BridgeND rests on my conviction that in order to champion democracy and maintain our republic, we must actively engage with people who hold differing views and see the world differently than ourselves. In the current political climate, constructive political discourse is often not incentivized, but it is needed more than ever. I'm humble in my acknowledgment that one conversation won't magically solve all our problems, but confident that it can help us better empathize with others and orient us towards solution-oriented approaches to the unprecedented challenges we face. BridgeND's greatest strength is not moderation, but the willingness of its members to communicate their strong convictions with others. In order to champion democracy, we have to learn how to talk with each other, even if we vehemently disagree.

Do you have a favorite course/book that you found helpful for thinking about democracy - either in the US or abroad? 

One of my favorite books to help me think about democracy is Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. In this book, Cramer masterfully argues that – in addition to partisanship, race, or class – a person’s place-based identity shapes how they understand politics. For rural Americans, this often leads to a multi-faceted resentment towards city dwellers and the “liberal elite.” As Cramer succinctly points out, “[i]n a politics of resentment, attitudes towards social groups do the work of ideology.”

This book predicts the appeal of figures such as Donald Trump who tap into these well-established anxieties and resentment. To understand the present moment, we need to understand the increasing rural-urban divide. This division creates an “us versus them” mentality that increases affective polarization and threatens our democracy. I applaud Cramer’s work for beginning the conversation on this divide and providing us with a better conceptualization of rural identity. Through this, we can empathize with our fellow citizens while working towards a more inclusive style of politics where everyone feels heard.

Who is a public leader or historical figure that you admire, or would consider a model 'champion of democracy'? 

While far from perfect, I greatly admire Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette and consider him a ‘champion of democracy.’ Born and raised in Wisconsin, La Follette became a leading voice for American progressivism during the early 20th century, as both governor and senator of Wisconsin. As governor, La Follette implemented primary elections for all statewide elections and worked to limit the burgeoning power of the railroads. Additionally, he fought for workers’ rights, environmental protections for state forests, and an end to patronage politics. Because of his leadership, Wisconsin was widely recognized as one of America's leading “laboratories of democracy.” As a senator, La Follette helped ratify the 17th Amendment (direct election of U.S. senators) and the 19th Amendment (right of women to vote).

La Follette is a model ‘champion of democracy’ because of his commitment to expanding suffrage and the involvement of Americans in the political process. He understood that the United States was at its best when its citizens—rather than corporate power and the wealthy—made political decisions. In an age of vast inequalities, we should look to leaders like Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette for inspiration.

To learn more about the Hesburgh Democracy Fellows, ND Democracy Talks, the Washington Program, and other opportunities to engage the work of the Rooney Center and Hesburgh Program, visit rooneycenter.nd.edu/undergraduate.