After November 3, I allowed myself to dream that the battered troops of democracy would regain their courage and go on the offensive.
For a decade or more, authoritarian populists around the globe had won one upset victory after another. They rose to power in India and Brazil, in the Philippines and the United States. And though Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte were at first mocked as incompetent leaders who would soon lose power, they have proved surprisingly shrewd at maintaining their popularity or concentrating power in their own hands. Over the past 10 years, examples of populist politicians being thrown out of office in free and fair elections have been few and far between.
Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump finally changed that. For the first time in a decade, the citizens of a powerful democracy took a close look at populist politics and decided that they had seen enough. It felt as though the tide might finally be turning. The democratic fightback was about to begin.
It is still eminently possible that this optimism will ultimately be vindicated. But in the months since the election, two important developments have made me more pessimistic.
The first is domestic. Trump and his allies have managed to convince a worryingly large share of his base that the election was stolen from him. And while Trump has somewhat faded from public view, the Republican Party, for now, remains under his firm control. As his triumphal reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference demonstrates, he remains his party’s only real star.