Mike Johnson was recently elected as the new speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Johnson is a supporter of former President Trump and had recently filed a lawsuit to overturn the election of President Joe Biden in 2020. However, the main concern of the article is that fact that Johnson and the House of Representatives will have to certify the winner of the 2024 presidential election cycle. Johnson has shown continuous support for former President Trump and even continued to support the former President after the January 6th insurrection at the White House. Rick Hansen a Professor at the University of California mentions reasons why having Mike Johnson as the speaker of the House may be detrimental to the coming presidential election. The most concerning of those being that Johnson believed and acted on the belief that the last election was stolen. Hasen’s second most worry is that Johnson is a Constitutional lawyer and may be able to be more persuasive about election outcomes as he could be able to wrap them in legal technical terms.
The article goes on to talk about the recent election of the speaker of the House and the interview that followed after the election. The article is one that can be used as an example of democratic backsliding within the United States because it demonstrates the effects of a populist leader being in charge. Many political scientists would agree that former President Trump fits the definitions of a populist leader. President Trump used the strong polarization within the U.S. as well as misinformation in order to gain a strong number of supporters during the 2016 election cycle which ended up winning him the election. However, the the United States is still facing the consequences of having a populist leader in power as seen with Representative Mike Johnson being elected speaker of the House. President Trump filled the Supreme court with a majority of right leaning judges as well as the lower courts, better known as packing the courts in order to strengthen the power of the Republican party. Jan-Werner Muller in their book, “What is Populism?”, talks about how populism is anti-pluralist elite-critical politics and mentions how populists leaders can distort power dynamics within democracies in order to give more power to themselves or their party throughout the time they are in power.
Packing the courts, was not the only way that President Trump demonstrated populist tendencies. He also used the power of misinformation in order to gain supporters and blame the other side for anything that did not go his way. The main example of this is the lost 2020 election and the insurrection that followed. Looking at the current House representative however, it is easy to be worried about what can follow considering the previous lack of peaceful transition of power which is a stable in U.S. democracy. With Johnson’s legal Constitutional knowledge, Hasen has the right to be fearful of further misinformation spreading and being convincing as Johnson may be looked upon as an expert in the subject. It is equally concerning that Johnson continued to support Trump even after the insurrection at the capital because the rules in Congress were changed, as mentioned in the article, in order to help prevent a repeat of the January 6th insurrection. However, populists can continue to blame the opposing side for wanting to take more power away from the “true people” and cite the change as an example of this. Considering Johnson is now in an elevated position to speak on matters such as this, misinformation is probable to keep spreading and pull the populist parties closer together.
The main concern about the continued spreading of misinformation especially considering the polarization within the United States is that it can create more opportunities for populist leaders to arise and slowly decay the principles of democracy. Misinformation can strengthen polarization and other factors in declining democracies until it chips all of the democratic practices away. Inglehart and Norris in their article “Trump and the Populist Authoritarian Parties: The Silent Revolution in Reverse” also mention how polarization and misinformation can help populists to use naturally formed ingroup outgroups to their advantage. All and all, while there is need to watch and be acutely aware of the possibly of Johnson abusing the power he has been given, there are still systems in place to limit the amount of damage he can do by himself as Speaker of the House. The checks in power to balance the legislative branch can help to keep Johnson out of abuse of power. The most concerning power Johnson currently has is that of his words as there is little limitation that can be pressed against his own statements. However, there is a new representative vote coming soon for the house so Johnson may not even be of concern in the near future. For now being vigilant of misinformation and shifting power is the main check to Johnson’s current position.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Pippa Norris (2017). “Trump and the Populist Authoritarian Parties: The Silent Revolution in Reverse.” Perspectives on Politics 15(2): 443-454.
Muller, Jan-Werner. 2016. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (Ch. 1-2).
Riccardi, N. (2023, October 26). New US House speaker tried to help overturn the 2020 election, raising concerns about the next one. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/congress-house-speaker-2024-election-certification-8cd7c5a9e6ae69635bbb4624cc78e5c5