Democracies around the world are being upended by insurgent political movements and deepening social divisions, both new and old. Why have mainstream parties in so many countries been unable to mount an effective response?
In this Big Picture, Slawomir Sierakowski notes that today’s populist forces owe their success as much to divisions among their opponents as to the strength of their ideas. Indeed, as Shlomo Ben-Ami points out, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu secured his recent electoral victory largely because the left and center refused to form a united front with Arab Israelis.
On the policy front, Mitchell A. Orenstein shows that populist and illiberal governments have shored up their positions by delivering economic and social benefits to poor and middle-class voters. And Bill Emmott explains that while populism might well work as a campaign tactic, the real secret to these politicians’ electoral success is their unapologetic embrace of a nationalist agenda. Still, Jan-Werner Mueller warns that chauvinism works only for the right, leaving few options for a mainstream left that has lost its way – and many of its supporters – in the weeds of neoliberalism.
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