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Illiberal Democracy or Undemocratic Liberalism?

CAMBRIDGE – How did it come to this? In the space of a few short months, the prospect of a President Donald Trump has gone from preposterous speculation to terrifying possibility. How could a man with so little political experience and such manifest disregard for facts get so close to the White House?

In a much-discussed essay, Andrew Sullivan recently argued that “too much democracy” is to blame for Trump’s rise. According to Sullivan, the political establishment has been shoved aside by the anti-intellectualism of the far right and the anti-elitism of the far left. Meanwhile, the Internet has amplified the influence of the angry and the ignorant. What matters in politics today is not substance or ideology; it is a willingness to give voice to the people’s nastiest grievances – a skill at which Trump undoubtedly excels.

In an incisive response, Michael Lind argued that Sullivan gets things backwards: the real culprit is “too little democracy.” Trump, he points out, has fared best among voters who believe that “people like me don’t have any say.”

And there’s a reason why more and more voters feel that way. Some of the most important political decisions are now made by technocrats. Even in policy areas where elected representatives still call the shots, they rarely reflect citizens’ preferences.