Democracy in the Global Era of Populism


WILLIAM HOWELL: We’re
going to pan back a little bit from the
conversation that we just had. We just had a conversation
that was focusing, I think, really intently
in powerful ways on our city, this beautiful city
and this deeply troubled city that we live in. And I want to pan
back a little bit and think about
democracy and populism as forces that are working
their way through our country and around the globe and to
think about the relationship between the two. So what does that mean? Well, think about democracy
broadly for the moment. Think about democracy as a
set of democratic practices and norms and
commitments that we have. And you can think about
populism as kind of a movement, and there are populists
as individuals. We want to explore the
bearing of one on the other, recognizing that the results
are surely contested and mixed. On the positive side, populism
presents a deep critique of a political order and
can focus a bright light on a set of voices
that feel excluded from a political order, both
in terms of representation and in terms of the extent to
which they can exercise power in a democracy, on the one hand. And then on the
other hand, there’s a negative component to
this, ways in which populism will talk about the people in
ways that can be racialized, that can be highly
selective, and can employ a kind of rhetoric that’s
oppositional and divisive. And we want to take some time,
we’ve got a great group today to talk to us about
these two forces, what they mean for our politics
today, what the future is going to look like. We’ve got up in the front
here, if Peter Roskam could come forward, is a
former US congressman. He served for the
last 25 years in the– boy, in the House in
Illinois, in the Senate in Illinois, and in Congress. Pleasure to have you, Peter. Anne Richard, who served as the
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees,
and Migration in the US State Department from 2012 to 2017. Currently teaches at
Georgetown in the Institute for the Study of
International Migration. And we have Marco Mena,
who is a governor in Mexico in a state that’s just
outside of Mexico City. Graduated from the
Harris School in 1994. And we take great pride
in having a school that is distinctly
international in focus, and Marco was the
very first Mexican to come through the Harris
School of Public Policy. So let’s welcome our panelists. [APPLAUSE] So to kick things off, I’ve
got a couple of questions that we can all field,
and then we can have some back and forth if we might. If we could start with just
sort of thinking broadly about the ways in which populism
is good or bad for democracy. How do you come out on this? When you think about populism
as a force in our politics here or in Mexico or in
Europe, is it something which invigorates our
democracy, or are there ways in which it cripples it? And if you could, if
you could say something about what you think
distinguishing features of populism might be in your
answer, just to get us started. Peter, do you want to start? And then we’ll come
right down here to Marco. PETER ROSKAM: Well, I
thought you framed it up well in terms of a brightness
and a word of caution, too. And I think that the animating
negative thing about populism is if it is saturated
with cynicism. Because cynicism is very dark,
and cynicism is not something that animated the
founding of this country. And cynicism creates a
notion that nothing, nothing, nothing at all can be
taken at face value. And the dark side, the
insidious side of populism says, you can never make it. You’re going to press your
nose up against the glass and look in, and
you’re never going to be satisfied by this system. The inverse, though, is
a sense of refreshment and a sense of accountability
and a sense of a public that comes along and has that phrase
that my 22-year-old says, hey, dad, I’m just saying. And I’m just saying,
this is not the way it’s supposed to be working. So I thought you
framed it up well. There’s a brightness to
it, but not when it’s running rampant over others. And we’ve got to be very
careful to guard ourselves against being cynical
about a process. WILLIAM HOWELL: Thank you. ANNE RICHARD:
Populism has played a role in how Europe
and North America have responded to record-setting
levels of refugees, displaced people, migrants
on the move around the world. And Europe really woke
up and paid attention in the summer of 2015 when
so many Syrians, but also Pakistanis, Afghans, other
Middle Eastern countries, folks were coming across the
Mediterranean going to Europe. Most were headed to Germany. And in working within the
administration, the Obama administration, to work with
Europeans to find solutions– and there is no one
single easy solution– but to pull people together for
high level conferences to look at improvements in how the world
comes together to deal with these issues– why are people fleeing,
what are they fleeing from, what to do about the
Syrian Civil War, the diplomacy that’s needed
throughout the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa
and other hotspots– we found that our alliances
really started to get frayed and that populist governments
in Hungary and in Poland were speaking out and
beating up on migrants and speaking out
against refugees and calling them rapists and
criminals and terrorists. And then that became part of
the US election scene, too. So I have seen how
populist governments and political parties that latch
on to that kind of verbiage can really pose a threat
for good government. WILLIAM HOWELL:
As a follow-up, is part of what’s happening
here in the dynamics you’re characterizing, though,
that the populism as a movement forces those who are not
populist to pay attention to a set of issues they wouldn’t
otherwise pay attention to? ANNE RICHARD: I think they would
pay attention to those issues, but it changes the conversation. So– and we were talking
about this earlier– instead of experts talking
to experts, people who have Master’s degrees
from the University of Chicago in public policy,
looking at these issues, you have troublemakers really
shaking things up, using really violent rude language,
turning vulnerable people into the problem, into
criminals, terrorists, untrustworthy people
who have to be kept out. And of course, that
then is now infused in our own domestic politics. WILLIAM HOWELL: Marco? Oh, here you go. MARCO MENA: Thank you. Thank you, Professor Howell. First of all, I
would like to thank Dean Baker for the invitation,
for having the opportunity to be part of this panel. I feel very grateful,
very honored. It’s a great
opportunity to come back to the Harris School in this
wonderful building this time. I would say that
in the early ’70s, there was a big disappointment
about government’s performance. There was a need for experts. Experts were regarded as an
option to solve that problem. Public policy analysis
became a professional option to improve the public
decision-making, experts for improving decision-making
in government, and to have a better
policy impact. And it worked. We had better results in health,
better results in education, better results in
public finance, better results in
poverty reduction. But there was an unsatisfied
feeling in society. And at the same
time, more countries become more
democratic, especially in the electoral arena. And in order to win
elections, politicians were trying to benefit from
this unsatisfied feeling. So evidence is no
longer that important. The truth, if you want to
call evidence that way, it’s not that influential
in the public policy decision-making process. I would say that that take
us to the relationship between public policy
analysis and politics. In my opinion,
that is the problem with having good decisions to
make, the practice of politics itself. WILLIAM HOWELL: So we’ve mostly
heard negative here, right? That is, in terms
of the effects. We’ve got populism unleashing
cynicism, derailing responsible debates
about hard problems, and, if I can read into
what you’ve just said, driving a wedge between
the kind of work that happens in schools like
this, which is trying to think hard about data and then
bringing that data out into the political world to
effect meaningful change. Marco, why don’t you
get us started on this? You pointed to a
dissatisfied feeling. What I’m wondering is,
where does the populism come from as a force? It is something
which is ascendant. It was particularly
ascendant in 2015 in Europe as a result
of immigration. But is there’s something
even more foundational that unleashes this as a
political force in our politics that you can point to? What is that dissatisfied
feeling that you characterize? MARCO MENA: I believe
that this feeling is grounded in three
aspects, all of them based on inequality. I would say that the first
one is income inequality. The second one is inequality
about opportunities. And the third one
is, in my opinion, inequality about expectations
about the future. And I think this is a
very important point because, generally
speaking, citizens perceive this inequality as an
injustice, and that is a very powerful element
in the electoral arena. If there is some injustice
in the electoral field, evidence is not relevant to
this cause among politicians and winning elections. ANNE RICHARD: Can
I jump in on that? Because one of the things
that I’ve been told is that if we want to break down
the sort of very ugly rhetoric on both sides over issues
like refugees and migrants, one of the things people want
to hear about is fairness. They want to believe that
there are systems in place and that if you follow the
rules, then you benefit. If you don’t follow the
rules, you get screened out. And so I think
that’s a trick for us to try to figure out how to take
some very, very complex issues and address them in a way that
there’s an appeal to people who are worried about fairness,
who feel somehow dispossessed or threatened or left out,
and try to explain to them why the systems we have or
the systems we should have are, in fact, fair. WILLIAM HOWELL: Peter. PETER ROSKAM: I
think that there’s an element here, a social
element, that is overlaying us that is a fairly new phenomenon
within our lifetimes. In that, I mean we are all
instant gratification people. We are an instant
gratification culture. And this is upon us now. I am at the head of this
parade, but everybody here feels this exact experience. Let me just give you
a quick snapshot. Four years ago, my
father was passing away, and it became
clear we had to get one of our sons home from
a study abroad quickly. I sat down, I pulled out my
iPhone, I clicked on an app, I had an e-ticket sent to
my son three minutes later. Four hours later,
he was flying back, and I thought that was normal. I expected that. I didn’t say, wow,
is this a marvel? Can you believe this thing? I expected it. We all expect that. Now lay that expectation
of instant gratification over a system of governance
that was not designed for instant gratification. Our system of governance was
designed to restrain power. It was designed to be
miserable to get things done. And the United States
Congress by design is the most passive aggressive
institution known to man. And so there in lies
part of the challenge. So the fairness that
Anne was talking about goes to the level
of dissatisfaction that the governor
was talking about, and people feel like, hey,
my person won the election, I want this done quickly. Let me throw a founding
father’s quote at you. And I’m not playing fair if
I’m throwing Thomas Jefferson at you, but think about this. Jefferson, we know,
was a great mind. What was interesting is
14 years after he wrote the Declaration of
Independence, he wrote a letter to a guy
named Charles Clay in 1790. And in this letter– think about it– Jefferson, the
visionary of the Declaration, writes this, and I’ll give you
three lines from this letter. He said, “The ground of liberty
is to be gained by inches. We must be content with what
we can get from time to time and eternally press forward
for what is yet to get. It takes time to
persuade men even to do what is for
their own good.” Now, therein lies, I think,
a big part of our challenge. So the dissatisfaction
that the governor just described, that notion of
fairness that Anne just described, people have
to say, all right, I’m willing to take a small
step towards a goal that is aspirational. And if we can measure
that and value that, we’re going to be
much better off. But if we say, hey my
team won in November, I have an expectation that
this gets done quickly, we’re going to be
continually dissatisfied. WILLIAM HOWELL: I think
one notion is that there’s a violation
of principles, vis-á-vis justice or fairness. And I think one of
the things that you’re pointing to is this disjuncture
between people’s expectations of the performance of
government and what the government by design is
actually capable of doing and to the extent that
they aren’t synchronizing. We’re not getting things
at this kind of clip because that’s what we expect. But because we have
a set of institutions that impede effective
forthright immediate action, then that leads to rising
discontent, cynicism, populism. Question mark? PETER ROSKAM: Let me give
you an example from the news in the past two weeks. So in Ukraine just recently,
there was a populist election. President-elect Zelensky, a
comedian, ran a populist race. Didn’t really debate much. Took on the incumbent
president Petro Poroshenko. The hard no re-elect for
Poroshenko going into that race was 53%. In other words,
53% of the public said, I will never vote for
Petro Poroshenko for president. And Zelensky won like 3
to 1 in the runoff race. But the back story
is fascinating. For five years, Ukraine has
kept their nose above water from an economic point of
view, have fought the Russians to a stalemate in a very
aggressive Russian move in the East. They have decoupled
themselves from Russia as it relates to energy. And they did pull basically a
coup with the Orthodox Church, decoupling from Russia again. You would have thought
that Poroshenko would have a great thing to run on. But only 9% of Ukrainians were
satisfied with where they were. Now, I sound like I’m
Poroshenko’s spokesman, but my point is to take a look
at this and sort of measure these things and realize,
oh, if you take a longer view and take an incremental
step, there’s something that’s
more to celebrate. But people are not
willing to do that, and I think that’s the
reality of where we are. WILLIAM HOWELL: So we
at the Harris School just did a poll along with
the Associated Press and NORC and asked a set of
questions about trust in government, the
performance of government. And when you ask
the American public, do you believe
that you can trust the government all or most
of the time, 13% of people come back and say,
give it a thumbs up. When you ask about the
need for systemic change, fully 55% of Americans think
that, quote, “major change” is needed to our
politics, and another 12% think we ought to scrap the
system altogether and start over. So you’re talking
to all told about 2 in 3 Americans who are deeply
dissatisfied with the state of our institutions. Is this a unique feature
of American politics, or these undercurrents, do
you observe them in Mexico? MARCO MENA: In my
opinion on it, it’s happening in many countries. And I would like to
mention, especially being here at the Harris
School, regarding your question, the relationship between
public policy and politics. Because the people is losing
confidence in expert knowledge, and expert knowledge
can improve decisions. I would say that
even if it’s not a new question, the relationship
between public policy analysis and politics, it’s
important today. For example, I wanted to
be a public policy analyst. That is the reason for which
I came to the Harris School. What matters today in
the political arena is the dissatisfaction
of society. People is not very
interested in evidence because evidence
is not persuasive. So if you have the elements
to make better decisions, but if that elements are
not useful to win elections, you have to select
another option in order to make public policy
more effective. What can we do to make
public policy more effective? I believe that one must
somehow to get into politics. I know that it doesn’t
sound very attractive for many people, and I
think that it’s a dilemma. But as a former student
of the Harris School, I think that it’s a dilemma
that sooner or later you have to solve. It happened to me like
around 10 years ago. I wanted to be a policy analyst,
and I’m a politician now. So I think that
the main question is, how can we make
evidence relevant in the electoral arena? It’s a metaphor, it’s not exact,
but I think it’s illustrative. It’s like going to the doctor. You don’t feel very well,
so you go to the doctor, a very good doctor. The doctor runs clinical tests,
gives you a prescription. And after some days,
the clinical tests indicate that your
health is improving, but you don’t have that feeling. So you start calling the doctor,
and the doctor is telling you, please do not
overreact, you’re fine. No, doctor, I don’t feel that. So you keep calling the doctor
and keep calling the doctor, and he stops answering your
calls and you become anxious. And at the same time, you have
a friend who’s telling you, you know, I think that
that doctor is not making any good to you. I think that those
clinical tests, they have to be scientific. Well, I don’t know. I don’t think that
they are reliable. The worst thing is that
that friend is telling you that the doctor is trying
to take advantage of you, that he’s trying to make some
benefit out of your illness, and that is just unacceptable. So you stop trusting the doctor. And I think that is the current
situation that illustrates the relationship between
expert knowledge, people who know evidence,
better decisions that can have an
impact in society and the electoral arena. WILLIAM HOWELL: Anne,
does this resonate in thinking about, again,
the issue of immigration in Europe and Eastern Europe? You alluded to
earlier ways in which populists, who, in many
ways in their rhetoric, take not just a formal,
but a metaphorical stance against the expert
class, so-called experts, the political
establishment, whatnot. But it’s not in the
service of advancing a responsible conversation
that hasn’t happened yet, it’s more in the service
of disruption and not grappling with, in this
case, huge population movements that require hard answers. ANNE RICHARD: I suppose if
you’re a populist politician, you can make charges, or if
you’re a talking head on TV, you can make charges
and then just keep moving on to your next
sort of untethered claim. And meanwhile, working
in the State Department, I was constantly being handed
reports by well-meaning people– nongovernmental
organizations, sometimes think tanks, academics. And this is something that we’ve
talked about with the setting up of the Pearson Institute
is, how do you produce not just information, but then turn that
into information as something useful to an assistant
Secretary of State, who’s running from meeting
to meeting to meeting and looks at it and says,
gee, this is important, I’ll have to read that someday,
and then finds it later when she’s packing out her office? So that’s the key is, how do
you take the real information, use it, and have
it on hand when you want to rebut some of
these sort of really sweeping, but
irresponsible charges that get thrown around
in our own blogosphere and our own
television and so on? PETER ROSKAM: I think we’ve
got to be careful to make sure that we’re not casting
too big of a shadow and giving too much
credit to populism, and so just a word of caution. That is, when people are
irrationally working together, many times it just doesn’t
get a lot of attention. And this is sort of a
weakness of the media model that we have right now. Let me give you a couple
of specific examples. Last year, Congress dealt
with the opioid crisis on a bipartisan basis
and came together and wrestled with some very
complicated and controversial issues as it
relates to treatment formulas and various approaches
and funding and money and law enforcement and so forth. Came together, was signed
into law by Donald Trump. And I will predict
that in 10 years’ time, we will, as a nation, be
having a different and better conversation about opioids
than we’re having today. Why? Because of this
bipartisan solution. Now, that didn’t get
much attention at all. Or similarly, I worked, myself,
hard on civil asset forfeiture reform on a bipartisan basis. Moved this through
vis-á-vis the IRS. Or some changes that
took place late last year in revisiting sentencing laws
in our criminal justice system. Again, both sides came
together in ways that five years ago were impossible. It was like, there was no way
this thing was going to happen. And yet, now we’re
able to celebrate that. And yet, the celebration
was fairly muted. So my pitch, my
appeal is we need to be measured by populism,
we need to be sobered by it, we need to be caution
about it, but we ought not give it more attention than
it deserves because there is an underlying infrastructure
of rational thought on a bipartisan basis
and finding common ground on issues that have been fairly
complicated to deal with. WILLIAM HOWELL: Would you
say that our popular– not populist, our popular– understanding of goings-on
within Congress is– well, it mischaracterizes the
level of meaningful dialogue that may be happening. There’s actual deal-making
that’s going on [INAUDIBLE].. Is it sold down the
river, Congress, or are we doing all right? PETER ROSKAM: You are
provoking me right now. WILLIAM HOWELL: I’m trying to. [LAUGHS] PETER ROSKAM: Look, I lived a
happy life of low expectations. But I think most
people view Congress and they see an
institution that’s just fraught with conflict. And if all you were doing
was watching Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC, you would think
that people are just at one another’s throats. I was just in London on Tuesday
talking to a group there, and we were staring
at one another as if we were zoo animals
because they were looking at us trying to figure out what
in the world is going on here, and I said, you are all the
freak show in terms of Brexit, we can’t figure you people out. And yet, within the
institution that I served, I know and I can bear
witness to the fact that there is much more
bipartisan work that’s happening and the
relationships are much more enduring, frankly, than the
cable pitch would indicate. WILLIAM HOWELL: And in foreign
policymaking more generally, when you think about the
foreign policy establishment– not the sort of folks
who were elected, but people working in
the State Department, in the Defense Department,
longstanding career civil servants– is there a level of kind of
rationality and hard-minded thinking, a place where
an evidence can take hold and inform decision-making such
that these populous currents– and this isn’t the only current,
but it’s a problem one that we’re observing now– can be sort of deflected? Or do we see it embedding
in the bureaucracy as well? ANNE RICHARD: Not a
good situation right now in the State Department. But we have a colleague,
a fellow alumnus, who is in the State
Department serving in Zambia from
the Class of 2004, so he’d be probably more ready
to answer this than I would. What I’m doing is I’m
hanging out at Georgetown and watching all the senior
people from the State Department come take a year
off or retire and come. And I was standing in the lobby
of the Foreign Service School, and I said to the dean, look
at all these ambassadors we have here. He said, yes, we
have more ambassadors than the State Department. And so that’s not a
good sign actually. What’s happening is
that I think there’s large parts of US relations
with other countries that if they’re off the
political radar screen, you have capable
ambassadors, you have really good Americans
who have been trained to work with these other
countries, who put in long days and who care very much
about what they’re doing. At the top, we have very
disruptive policies coming out of the White House, and we
have policymaking by tweet. And so the people who, I
think, have the hardest times are the ones who have
developed a plan, have it signed off by somebody
at a senior level, a cabinet officer, and then it’s
sort of upset by tweet. And so that makes
it difficult. What I thought was interesting was
when we were talking before, you said that in Mexico that
a lot of government officials are learning to screen
out some of the sort of volcanic eruptions
that take place. Instead, focus on sort
of the enduring parts of the US-Mexican relationship. Is that true? MARCO MENA: The relationship
between Mexico and the US is very complex. And currently,
the United States, it’s a kind of a
re-election environment. So in Mexico, the
main thinking is that the very strong links,
the very strong relationship between Mexico and
the US, is what matters, not the
political arguments that we understand as
related exclusively to the domestic electoral
arena in the US. We have a very deep relationship
commercially, economically, and the main problem
currently is immigration, especially from Central
America passing through Mexico up to our northern border,
US southern border. But I’d like to mention
something very quickly, which is my point of view as a former
student of the Harris School, especially related to the
relationship between how to make public policy more
effective, in my opinion, you have to go to
talk to the people. You have to go out
to the communities to get to know their
problems, their interest, and making those problems
the subject of your analysis, to get into politics somehow. You don’t have to
run for an office, but you have to get into
politics to make your points and to try to make public
policy more influential. I think that a great analysis
based on hot evidence is not enough to make
public policy effective. And I think that by doing
that, we are not only going to have an improvement
in the public decision-making, but also I think
that we are going to improve the quality
of our democracy itself. WILLIAM HOWELL: We have
time for one last question. You’ve already answered it. This is a school
that has placed bets on producing students who care
a whole lot about data, who take policy issues
really seriously, think analytically, think rigorously. And we’re in a
political environment wherein expertise is often
marginalized, wherein– I’ll keep pointing to populism
as an emblematic force– doesn’t encourage
serious-minded thinking about the problems at hand. There’s a lot of sort
of division and sort of sweeping rhetoric. If you would offer some advice
to the graduate students who are coming through
the program here who want to go out
and make a difference and have share in the
importance of expertise, but who want to be effective,
what would you say to them? ANNE RICHARD: I guess one
piece is that you sometimes can’t control timing. So you can do great
work and then think, wouldn’t it be great if this
led to change overnight? And instead, you may find
that the political environment is not ready for change yet. But that doesn’t mean
your work isn’t great or that your work won’t
eventually be influential. And so you have to think about
that second piece, the advocacy piece, the sales piece, the
marketing piece, the marketing of your own ideas. If you’re not good
at it, you need partners who can take those
ideas and run with them. But for me, what I
always felt trying to get members of Congress and
officials inside the government when I was an advocate for
the National Rescue Committee, what I always felt is if we
had a really strong anecdote, a moving story, and we paired
it with the evidence, that was a really powerful combination. But just having the data
in a dry and lifeless form without the moving story,
without the journalist, without the artist
illustrating the stories, that then you’re really
missing something that gets people to
sit up and notice. PETER ROSKAM: I would
have three pieces of advice for the graduates. One is, avoid zero
sum game politics. That is, the notion that the
only way that you can, quote, “win” is if your opponent loses. That’s pretty dark. It doesn’t end well. The second thing is,
learn– and it’s related– learn to take yes for an answer. What a delightful thing. Say yes when
something comes along that’s fairly reasonable, even
if it’s not the whole thing. And then I think– and this
would be true for Harris graduates because
the subtext is, hey, this is a smart group of
people, and they are– there is a danger that flashes
into elitism if you marinate in that a little bit too much. And so I think that there is a
winsomeness with which people can do things. And I go back to a quote that’s
attributed to Saint Ambrose from the fourth century. This was in the
context of his faith, but you can imagine
this applying in a lot of other circumstances. He said, “We don’t
impose on the world, we propose a more
excellent way.” And I think if you’re
making a proposal that is so much easier for people
to hear and gather around as an invitation as opposed
to a declaration of, oh, we’ve got this figured
out, here’s the data, and if you don’t understand
this, then you’re just obtuse. WILLIAM HOWELL: Which brings
us back to, Marco, your point underscoring the
importance of engagement with the people
who you ostensibly want to represent, right? That we need to have meaningful
conversation and dialogue that’s going on. Well, we’ve had some here. Let’s thank our guests
and thank all of you. [APPLAUSE]

Maurice Vega

1 Response

  1. Ask the Democrats and the progressives/socialist how we can pay for open borders and free unlimited health care for everyone including all illegal aliens?
    Please find out.
    Democrats hate the rule of law, they won't even deport illegal aliens who have deportation orders from a judge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment