The rise and rise of national populism

D. Myles Cullen / White House

A global resurgence of populism and nationalism has galvanised support for leaders with policies inimical to the rule of law. Global Insight assesses the risks and how they can be countered. Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, spoke with Ruth Green from the International Bar Association, to discuss this issue. 

Comments by Michael Camilleri: 

“Populist leaders, including Donald Trump, are often effective at detecting and channeling legitimate public grievances. In the United States, these grievances related to questions of economic displacement, but also to questions of identity. The challenge to the rule of law emerges when populists use their platforms to stoke resentment of the other, sometimes on racial or ethnic lines, or exploit public frustration with governing elites to erode institutions and concentrate power.”

“The early versions of the Muslim travel ban and the separation of migrant children from their parents were struck down by the courts, and the administration’s modifications to asylum procedures are also under challenge. In this sense, the rule of law is working, however slowly and imperfectly. Perhaps the gravest risk, as we saw recently in El Paso, is that exclusionary rhetoric emboldens racists and incites lethal violence against minority communities, for whom justice will come too late.”

“For various reasons, including the continuing shadow of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has perhaps been slower to address the growing threat of white nationalism than it should have been. It certainly does not help when the President responds to a new Nazi march by claiming there were “very fine people on both sides”, as Trump did in 2017.”

“While the vast majority of Americans favour sensible gun legislation, the powerful National Rifle Association lobby has long used its influence to prevent such legislation from advancing. If the past is any indication, that will not change even in the face of recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso.”  

“The strength of Brazil’s institutions stand the country in good stead to resist any challenges to the rule of law throughout Bolsonaro’s tenure. President Bolsonaro’s positions on issues such as equality, human rights, police violence and environmental protection raise clear rule of law concerns. In contrast to some of its neighbours, however, Brazil has fairly strong institutions. Their capacity to safeguard the rule of law will be tested under this administration.”

Read the full interview in Global Insight from the International Bar Association