Just a follow-up on my previous post… Reading the Economist over breakfast this morning (yep, that’s what I do), I was struck by this line (in an article that was actually about Ted Cruz):
Of the top two Republicans in Iowa, one is a universally recognisable type. Short on policy, long on ego and bombast, promising to redeem a nation he disparages through the force of his will, Donald Trump’s strongman shtick is familiar from Buenos Aires to Rome, inflected though it is by reality TV and the property business.
I like the observation that Trump is a “universally recognizable” type, a figure that would strike most non-Americans (e.g. particularly South Americans) as a normal feature of democratic politics. (Think also PKP in Quebec…) Indeed, in certain respects the Trump candidacy represents the normalization of American politics.
And yet, when I turn to (normative) democratic theory, I find absolutely nothing that is of any use in understanding the phenomenon, much less thinking about how a society might respond to it. Indeed, what I find is a discipline that seems to be in total denial about how democracies actual work. Or perhaps I’m wrong about this, and I’m just reading the wrong stuff. It seems to me that if one is worried about Trump, and Trump-like figures, then one should have something intelligible to say about the sort of institutional reforms that would make it more difficult for individuals like this to get close to political power, without compromising, as it were, the normative core of democracy. The only approach that seems to me to offer any traction at all on this question is Ian Shapiro’s so-called “competitive theory” of democracy (which is a better term than “neo-Schumpeterian”). But all of the other approaches — first and foremost, the deliberative — seem to me to have nothing to say (except for the usual blather about campaign finance reform, which the Trump phenomenon shows is not the issue). Seriously, is there something I’m missing?