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Kleinfeld, Rachel, Thomas Carothers, Steven Feldstein, and Richard Youngs. “How Middle-Power Democracies Can Help Renovate Global Democracy Support.” (2021).


Democracy is on the defensive globally. Elected governments are struggling to stand up to emboldened authoritarian rivals. The coronavirus pandemic has increased democratic backsliding. Democracies are struggling to address these international challenges in the face of the pandemic and internal pressure from their own aggrieved citizens dissatisfied with progress on issues like economic inequality and racial injustice. Global leadership on democracy issues was absent from the United States while Donald Trump was president. While some U.S. democracy programming continued in the Trump years, U.S. presidential support for dictators overseas accompanied the destruction of democratic norms within the United States.

Many middle-power democracies hope that the administration of President Joe Biden will return the United States to its leadership role. The new administration certainly desires to restore democracy at home and fight for it abroad. Yet the past four years have left key parts of the diplomatic corps and bureaucracy hollowed out. A tightly split Congress may leave democracy support polarized and caught in political gridlock. The geopolitical challenge is too great even for a superpower to meet alone. And much work must occur domestically to undo the immense damage to the United States’ reputation as a democracy and thus its ability to gain support from the domestic constituencies of other states. […]

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.