In 2020 Andrzej Duda won Poland’s presidential election with 51.2 percent of the vote. This very narrow margin unveiled the clear divide of polarization throughout their country. In addition, there are many instances of political sorting through gender and religious group, which has allowed conservative extremists with authoritarian goals to take power within Poland. While the social collapse of democracy can be seen through its people and their polarization between each other, the fall to autocracy can more visibly be seen through the government’s actions.
Within the first two years of Andrzej Duda’s presidency, his party, the Law and Justice Party or PiS, had a majority within the electoral branch and in parliament. This allowed PiS to take over the judicial branch of government by stacking the courts within the constitutional court. This ensured that more and more politicians from the same party are elected as judges within the judicial branch in an attempt to get as much of a majority as possible, which worked in their favor. They added judges loyal to the Law and Justice Party to the constitutional court. They forced about one-third of the polish supreme court to retire forcibly within Poland’s supreme court, the other half of Poland’s judicial branch, without breaking their constitution.
While all of the political decisions this regime is taking are legal within its constitution, that does not mean its leader and country have not become authoritarian and eroded all signs of democracy within their country. In fact, this democracy has become so concerningly authoritarian that the European Union has noticed.
One of the founding principles of the European Union is that citizens must get fair trials and the judges of that country must be impartial, which Poland has easily broken by forcibly staking both halves of their judicial branch. The European Union has even gone as far as invoking Article 7 for the first time in its history, which would suspend the voting rights of Poland within the European Union. However, this vote has to be unanimous, but there is another underlying authoritarian government protecting Poland throughout this process, Hungary. With Hungary’s protection, Poland can continue to do whatever they want within its country with minor discipline from the European Union.
This hostile takeover of all branches of government has quickly led to the decimation of human rights within Poland. The best example of this is that Poland has now seen the highest restrictions on abortion it has ever seen and is the only country in Europe to have these types of laws. Abortions have now been criminalized, with even people who provide pills for abortion to face jail time of up to three years, like Justyna Wydrzyńska.
In the United States, the overturning of Roe v Wade is a tall tell sign that the United States might be heading in the same direction. Starting in 2016, President Donald Trump took control of the electoral branch of the United States, with his party having a majority in the legislative branch, just like Andrzej Duda.
In addition, during his presidency, Donald Trump appointed three of the current nine supreme court justices that all had political allegiances to the republican party with a conservative viewpoint. While this is similar to Poland’s authoritarian takeover of the judicial branch, Donald Trump never forced any supreme court justices to retire. They just happened to all retire during his presidency but have led to the same result, the opening for restrictions on abortion.
The stark contrast between the current United States and Poland is that the United States democracy is still intact and has recovered since the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. However, one of the main gateways that allowed this to happen in Poland was polarization and political sorting within the country.
Currently, the United States is polarizing faster than many other democracies around the world. It is also polarization spawned by religious, gender, racial, and geographical differences, which is very similar to Poland’s political sorting.
This democratic republic was built on the ability of the political elites to reach beyond their party to compromise for the betterment of the country. There have been glimmers of hope with President Biden trying to work with Republicans on several bills. However, until the political elites of this country can continually compromise beyond parties, the United States could be headed down the same path as Poland. And the first to feel the impact will be the human rights of its citizens, with abortion just being the start.
Your post provides a very important and detailed comparison between Poland and the US. It is important to analyze these situations comparatively since they do not occur in isolation and may be a part of global trends. For example, in the cases of Donald Trump and Andrzej Duda, there has been a global rise in right-wing populism. Cases such as Poland allow us to understand the possible consequences of populism and how populism is able to rise.
You also made a great point about the role of polarization in democratic erosion. Polarization can lead to the erosion of democratic norms such as forbearance and mutual toleration. When polarization increases, different sides are more likely to see each other as existential threats. This often justifies anti-democratic actions under the idea that it is necessary to stay in power. This can be seen in US politics today.