Liberal democracy is still under threat

Sighs of relief could be heard around the world after Joe Biden’s election victory as US president last year. For many in the West, his victory over Donald Trump signaled that populism could be defeated. The Biden campaign strategy of igniting the liberal base while also reaching out to those on the fence has worked wonders and presented a victory to supporters of liberal democracy.

But Biden’s victory cannot be read as the death knell for populism, whether in the United States or elsewhere. The issues that turned public disillusionment into victories for Trump, Brexit and other populist movements around the world – on the left and on the right – are just as strong today as they were about five years ago. .

A Pew Research survey of global attitudes earlier this year found distrust of political and economic order to be highest in some of the richest countries in the world. In the United States, 85% of Americans said the political order should either be completely reformed or undergo major change, while 66% said the same about the economy and 76% said the system. health.

In Italy, Spain, Greece and France, the vast majority of voters aligned with Americans, expressing disaffection with the status quo, not to mention dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of democracy.

Research shows that voters in many countries around the world are unhappy with their current political and economic systems. Groups advocating for change in these countries may not be far right or far left. They don’t need to be. But they could threaten to destabilize these systems if those in power are sticking to a “keep moving” agenda rather than a “change of things”.

The data indicate that the most threatened current systems are in the Mediterranean, France and the United States. Biden’s win last year was more of a win versus Trump than a victory for Biden. His victory should not be written as an endorsement of all that is bidenite. The political and economic order there needs to be repaired. Voters want something done and want their leaders to be seen doing it. If they feel that the available systems, parties and candidates are unable to do this, they can look for alternative movements. Pessimism in America than anything can the change amounts to 58 percent. If Biden fails to convince voters that he can make changes, the conditions for a Trump (or Trump-style) return and subsequent victory are in place.

It seems Biden and his strategists know this, however. Its first 100 days were, as my colleague Emily Tamkin writes, more “action” than many imagined. As to whether he continues to implement the change – and to be seen as making the change – it’s too early to tell. Right now, he’s more popular than Trump, but that gap is narrowing day by day.

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In France, meanwhile, skepticism about the possibility of achieving political change is almost as high as in America, at 54%. Here is a country which, according to all poll-based measures should elect radicals. Many are disappointed with its political and economic systems. The attitude of the majority towards minorities is less equality and more remoteness, and is sensitive to far-right ideas such as the “great replacement theory, an unfounded belief that white populations are being replaced by non-European immigrants. Support for radical-right candidates is increasing, and far-right television personality and opponent Eric Zemmour turns out to have more appeal in France than the more established Marine Le Pen.

[See also: French election 2022: centre-right candidates fail to find their voice in debate]

But the victories of these candidates remain, without being impossible, improbable. Emmanuel Macron is not a perfect advocate of liberal democracy. He is seen as terribly out of touch, a candidate of the rich, and he continues to alienate the left wing that backed him in 2017. Yet over 54 percent of French voters believe he has done something change in the country. While only 9% see these efforts as part of their promised “radical transformation”, a substantial number do not see their president as a man on the sidelines. It is more attractive than François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy have never had at this stage of their presidency.

Whatever the policy of the French citizen, he considers him at least as a man relevant to the changes in the daily life of people. For them, he’s a politician to do things. At the same time, because Macron commands a country that is largely disappointed with the established order, he is walking on ice – and he could fail again. So far, however, his ability to be seen as the candidate for “change” has kept him the best dog – a lesson, perhaps, for other leaders.

The final months of 2021 will see a world still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and, with it, electorates eager for change. In a way, it’s a world not that different from 2008 or 2016, when candidates like Barack Obama, with his “hope” and “change” campaign, and Boris Johnson, with his “Take Back” slogan. control ”had more influence than those pushing for continuity. Meanwhile, “drain the swamp” has been adopted by the American right.

The Liberal Democrats must be seen as reform agitators, to reassess our contemporary order and be seen as reforming it. Many reject German Angela Merkel and New Zealander Jacinda Ardern for their steadfast hands, but the key to their appeal lies in how they have been active politicians, seen as tackling issues. Although the fact that disaffection with the political and economic order in Germany and New Zealand is considerably weaker than in France and elsewhere has also helped Merkel and Ardern.

To defend the status quo today in places like the United States or Western and Southern Europe is to risk losing ground to radical forces. Liberal democracy is not clear. It needs to change with society, reflecting it and its demands in the process, lest it be fought by radicals and torn to shreds.

[See also: Joe Biden and the spectre of Donald Trump]


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