Why US Democracy Trumps Populism: Comparative Lessons Reconsidered

Why US Democracy Trumps Populism: Comparative Lessons Reconsidered

By Kurt Weyland, University of Texas at Austin

Matias López and Juan Luna (2021) challenged my comparative analysis of populism’s threat to democracy, its reliance on institutional factors (coupled with conjunctural opportunities), and especially the inference about US democracy’s immunity to populist suffocation. However, their emphasis on structuralist and culturalist factors, which would suggest the vulnerability of the United States, is strikingly selective, theoretically unconvincing, and empirically problematic. López and Luna’s methodological improvement of my analysis does not alter the substantive findings or overturn my sanguine inference about US democracy’s likely resilience. Only their further modifications yield more pessimistic scenarios, but those adjustments stand on shaky theoretical and empirical ground. Indeed, the experiences of 2020–2021 corroborate my theory and its comparative lessons. The US institutional framework held firm and foiled the insistent attempts of President Trump and his most fervent followers to perpetuate the US populist in power. Consequently, US democracy continues to appear quite safe from populist strangulation.

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