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Although populist figures are often thought to thrive during crises that allow them to ‘perform’ decisive leadership, the US experience under Donald Trump during the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that the opposite may sometimes occur. Despite its scientific and medical prowess, the US suffered more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country in the world during the first year of the pandemic, and this abysmal performance was largely attributable to a failure of government. Fixated on the pandemic's economic effects and its potential political fallout, the Trump administration's framing of the crisis tried to minimize the public health emergency, externalize blame through a focus on the Chinese scapegoat and accuse the media and Democrats of hyping the pandemic to undermine Trump's presidency. In responding to the pandemic, Trump and his allies cast doubt on scientific and medical expertise that called for more aggressive testing, mask wearing and social-distancing measures. Trump delegated responsibility for crisis management to subnational governments and the private sector, and he politicized their efforts to regulate social behaviour in the public interest, intensifying partisan polarization.
When and why do legislatures impeach presidents? We analyse six cases of attempted impeachment in Paraguay, Brazil and Peru to argue that intra-coalitional politics is central to impeachment outcomes. Presidents in Latin America often govern with multiparty, ideologically heterogeneous coalitions sustained by tenuous pacts. Coalitions are tested when crises, scandals or mass protests emerge, but presidents can withstand these threats if they tend to allies’ interests and maintain coalitions intact. Conversely, in the absence of major threats, presidents can be impeached if they fail to serve partners’ interests, inducing allies to support impeachment as acts of opportunism or self-preservation.
Recent patterns of democratic “backsliding” around the world have followed in the wake of a generalized weakening of organized labor under the modern, globalized variant of capitalism. Scholars have long debated whether and how labor contributes to the construction of democratic regimes and the expansion of social citizenship rights, but the current period makes it abundantly clear that democratic advances are always subject to reversal. As such, it is imperative to interrogate labor’s role in the defense of democratic rights and liberties, and not merely the introduction or expansion of those rights. These questions call for a multi-dimensional approach to the study of labor’s relationship to democracy, one that explores labor’s role in (1) constructing democratic regimes, (2) “deepening” democracy by expanding social citizenship rights, and (3) defending democracy against its adversaries and authoritarian currents in society.
Politics in the United States has become more polarized in recent decades as both political elites and everyday citizens have been divided into rival and mutually antagonistic partisan camps. Increasingly, these rival camps question the political legitimacy and democratic commitments of the other side. Such polarization or “teamsmanship” can have a number of important political consequences: it can drive actors further apart, intensify political conflict, impede negotiation and compromise, and block the construction of bipartisan legislative and policymaking coalitions. Since polarization makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find common political ground, it can prevent democratic institutions from making important policy choices and responding to the critical issues of the day. Polarization, in short, can easily lead to democratic gridlock, paralysis, the decay of rights, and, in the extreme, violent conflict, as the Trump administration’s waning weeks so vividly demonstrated.
Politics in the United States has become increasingly polarized in recent decades. Both political elites and everyday citizens are divided into rival and mutually antagonistic partisan camps, with each camp questioning the political legitimacy and democratic commitments of the other side. Does this polarization pose threats to democracy itself? What can make some democratic institutions resilient in the face of such challenges? Democratic Resilience brings together a distinguished group of specialists to examine how polarization affects the performance of institutional checks and balances as well as the political behavior of voters, civil society actors, and political elites. The volume bridges the conventional divide between institutional and behavioral approaches to the study of American politics and incorporates historical and comparative insights to explain the nature of contemporary challenges to democracy. It also breaks new ground to identify the institutional and societal sources of democratic resilience.
Polarization may be the most consistent effect of populism, as it is integral to the logic of constructing populist subjects. This article distinguishes between constitutive, spatial and institutional dimensions of polarization, adopting a cross-regional comparative perspective on different subtypes of populism in Europe, Latin America and the US. It explains why populism typically arises in contexts of low political polarization (the US being a major, if partial, outlier), but has the effect of sharply increasing polarization by constructing an anti-establishment political frontier, politicizing new policy or issue dimensions, and contesting democracy's institutional and procedural norms. Populism places new issues on the political agenda and realigns partisan and electoral competition along new programmatic divides or political cleavages. Its polarizing effects, however, raise the stakes of political competition and intensify conflict over the control of key institutional sites.