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The Rise of Populism: A Threat to Democratic Institutions?

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Over the recent years, one can find very few ideas that have had a sudden resurgence in the world as populism. Charismatic leaders, upstart political parties and attractive propaganda have upset the world order to win power in what previously appeared to be stable democracies.

The election of Donald Trump brought this issue to the forefront of the political agenda. Trump, however, only joined a rather long existing list of populist leaders around the world such as Erdoğan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Chávez and Maduro in Venezuela, Orban in Hungary to name a few. Does such a surge in populist attitudes presage the demise of democracy as we know it?

The rise of populism is not new. There have been different varieties of populist movements in the past: the United States and Russia, for example, had some sort of  populism in the 1800s, so one can say that there is not anything new here. Nevertheless, there is a substantial difference between the populism of the past and the one of today: while the former one was intrinsically national, the latter has taken a dangerous international undertone.

Populist parties have almost tripled their vote share in most European countries, and this is slowly being replicated in different regions of the world. Political contexts vary geographically, and so does populism. Right-wing populism tends to find echo in Western and Northern Europe, and the US due to a stronger economy and much more generous welfare systems. This is not the case in Latin America, where rampant insecurity, corruption, poverty and frustration have made a more radical Left-wing message more successful. The failure of political parties and democracies to successfully meet the needs of a fast-changing society and political reality has created a dangerous buffer zone between the establishment and the people. This gap has been effectively exploited by populist leaders on either side of the political spectrum.

While the sudden rise of populism is indeed worrying, it is too early to say that the current world order as we know it is about to collapse. We do, however, need to understand that the tectonic plates are shifting, and if unaware of possible consequences, political systems could eventually become unstable.

Populism has no self-containment mechanism. It also erodes the respect for opposition; the existence of checks and balances; and precludes the possibility of a reasoned debate among political actors as it normalises disagreement over negotiation.

One aspect that is often misunderstood and under analysed is the dramatic rise of political consumerism over party politics. The former should be understood here as giving people what they want. It erodes political representation as political leaders do not represent neither the electorate or the political party. Political consumerism can, thus, pave the way to a sudden resurgence in populism, especially in societies where party fragmentation and electoral volatility are high; but also among societies where political parties, regardless of their political orientation, converge ideologically and reinforce the idea among voters that all political parties are the same.

Therefore, while populism may not kill democracy, it will certainly strain democratic institutions. We need to be able to distance ourselves from our own ideological preferences and seek to understand that populist movements on the Right and Left of the political spectrum, legitimately represent and articulate the demands of certain sectors of society that perceive themselves as forgotten, ignored or let down by mainstream political parties. It is therefore essential to acknowledge that there might be some degree of validity on what they have put on the agenda rather than fully disregard them as non-viable option. Ignoring and disqualifying populist movements may only lead to further entrenchment of radical positions and further fragmentation of politics.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.

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A Disintegrating Trump Administration?

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If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the only president to have been impeached twice.

According to the rules, the House impeaches followed by a trial in the Senate.  There is precedent for the trial to continue even when the office holder has left office.  Should that trial result in conviction, it prevents him from seeking any future elected office.  Conviction is unlikely, however, as it requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

It has been reported that Trump wanted to lead the crowd in the march to the Capitol, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Secret Service who considered it much too dangerous and could not guarantee his safety.

Various sources attest that Trump’s mind is focused on pardons including himself and his family members.  Whether it is legal for him to pardon himself appears to be an unresolved question.  But then Trump enjoys pushing the boundaries of tolerated behavior while his businesses skirt legal limits.

He appears to have been greatly upset with his longtime faithful vice-president after a conversation early on the day of the riot.  As reported by The New York Times, he wanted Mike Pence to overturn the vote instead of simply certifying it as is usual.  The certification is of course a formality after the state votes already certified by the governors have been reported.  Pence is reputed to have said he did not have the power to do so.  Since then Trump has called Vice President Pence a “pussy” and expressed great disappointment in him although there are reports now that fences have been mended.

Trump’s response to the mob attacking the Capitol has also infuriated many, including lawmakers who cowered in the House chamber fearful for their lives.  Instead of holding an immediate press conference calling on the attackers to stop, Trump responded through a recorded message eight hours later.  He called on his supporters to go home but again repeated his claims of a fraudulent election.

Aside from headlining the US as the laughingstock among democracies across the world, the fall-out includes a greater security risk for politicians.  Thus the rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed raising questions about the inauguration itself on January 20th.

Worse, the Trump White House appears to be disintegrating as coordination diminishes and people go their own way.  Secretary of State Pompeo has unilaterally removed the curbs on meeting Taiwanese officials put in place originally to mollify China.  If it angers China further, it only exacerbates Biden’s difficulties in restoring fractured relationships. 

Trump is causing havoc as he prepares to leave the White House.  He seems unable to face losing an election and departing with grace.  At the same time, we have to be grateful to him for one major policy shift.  He has tried to pull the country out of its wars and has not started a new one.  He has even attempted the complicated undertaking of peace in Afghanistan, given the numerous actors involved.  We can only hope Biden learned enough from the Obama-Biden administration’s disastrous surge to be able to follow the same path.

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Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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