Trump may be gone, but Covid has not seen off populism

It is liberal fantasy to imagine that poor handing of the pandemic has lessened the allure of Modi and Bolsonaro. They are learning fast how to subvert voting

When the pandemic struck, newspaper opinion pages were full of pieces predicting the end of authoritarian populism. Surely Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Jair Bolsonaro couldn’t survive their mishandling of Covid-19? Finally, people were waking up to the reality of what these leaders represented.

Trump may not have lasted, but the expectation that the pandemic might see off populism is mistaken. Liberal observers have long assumed that populists are by definition incompetent demagogues. But populism is not all about promising simplistic solutions in a complex world and, contrary to a complacent liberal narrative, populist leaders are not incapable of correcting failed policies. The threat of authoritarian populism is compounded by the fact that these leaders are learning from each other – though what they are copying are not more effective strategies to combat the pandemic, but techniques for disabling democracy.

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