The world often looks to the west to seek democratic values, and with modernization, many countries have become more economically stable. With this new fiscal stability comes an era of increasing democracy, yet the upkeep of democratic values in the prosperous country of the United States has greatly decreased this year. According to the Freedom House’s newest released report, the United States was outranked by more than 50 countries this year. Just less than ten years ago, the United States only had 30 countries ahead of its rank. I believe that this democratic backsliding is due to the populist values of President Donald Trump. Trump’s populist style of presidency is defined by his anti-immigrant policy making and his authoritarianism. In a working paper called Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States, political scientists outline Trump’s populist and authoritarian tendencies. The paper claims that these tendencies as well as America’s ideological and partisan polarization are “a distinct challenge to the resiliency of the American regime’s institutional checks and balances.” Trump’s form of populism is categorized as protectionist, or even nativist. His challenges to the citizenship and participatory rights for minority groups serve as a threat to American democracy because they raise the possibility that those participating in democratic procedures are undermining the general will by doing so. During Trump’s candidacy in 2016, his idea of a border wall captured the attention and admiration of those who lost their jobs to immigrants, and the older generation of white males with xenophobic and white-nationalist views. These two different strands of voters created a coalition of populism supporters. Trump’s bad manners are another sign of a populist leader.
Populism causes democratic erosion for many reasons, and the way I see it is that populism is not much different than fascism. Besides the use of violence and authoritarian leadership, the only real difference between a populist leader and a fascist leader is that populist leaders such as Trump or Sanders view themselves as democratic. Both fascists and populists like to appeal to those who are being wronged by a class of opposers. Whether it be Trump appealing to white nationalists who feel that immigrants are ruining the America they once knew, or Sanders appealing to those who feel manipulated by the wealthy class. Yet, Trump still claimed he was nothing like the corrupt politicians who came before him which worked as a blanket of democracy covering the fascist undertones of his populist mentality. Trump’s form of populism threatens our democracy because it is unpredictable, irrational, and anti-empirical. His presidency is based on his resentment towards minority groups, and when politics are based on emotions it is a recipe for democratic backsliding. The idea of building a wall and the government shutdown that has come with it is a symbol of democratic erosion in and of its own. As freshman congresswoman Ocasio Cortez has said, “The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms.”
Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.
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