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Rigging the System – Righting the System: Dimensions of a constitutional, political and societal crisis in the United States

Democracy
Federalism
Government
Institutions
Political Parties
USA
Courts
POTUS
S46
Julia Simon
Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Armed Forces Hamburg
Jared Sonnicksen
RWTH Aachen University


Abstract

Often understood to be the longest-standing democracy in the world, the current democratic state of the Union seems precarious. On January 6, 2021 the ‘Stop the Steal‘ riots at the US Capitol set fire to the city upon a hill for all the world to see. Yet, the grievances, attitudes, divisions, resentments and conspiracies revolving around the alleged ‘stolen election’ and the ‘deep state’ that erupted into violence that day have far deeper roots. At the same time, the political, media and public discourses transpiring since the tumultuous alternation in power in Washington clearly suggest that the tensions are becoming stronger rather than weaker. It is thus highly significant to map, analytically dissect, assess and normatively discuss the political – including institutional, epistemic, socio-economic and constitutional – conditions affecting the current fundamental crisis. Our section translates this research purpose into three inter-related objectives. Most importantly, the section aims to facilitate a both multifaceted and in-depth scrutiny of the historical, social and political paths of development that have led to the ongoing crisis. Diverse research traditions (like e.g. American Political Development) have provided ample evidence that longer-term factors like the institutional arrangements engineered by the founders or the legacy of slavery, segregation, and structural racism continue to shape political, social and economic relations in the US. Moreover, antecedent developments relate to more recent ones like the resurgence in polarization and hyperpartisanship, the pervasive political significance of social media and the now established ‘Trumpian’ approach to politics based on ‘alternative facts‘, personal gain, tribalism, zero sum games and domination. Indeed, the ensuing pandemic appears to have only amplified these interlinked problems. Accordingly, and secondly, the section seeks to address these tensions and frictions in multiple dimensions: in the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the polity, i.e. between levels and branches of governments; as well as in the dimension of political processes and politics, with a particular view to political parties; with, again, an overarching concern for the dimension of temporarily (e.g. especially how the crises at play rest on antecedent processes and political development). Against this backdrop, the section, thirdly, aspires to address the current state of the US in terms of the broader crisis of liberal democracy in the ‘West‘. Political disaffection with the ‘establishment’ and perceptions of a ‘rigged system’ favoring elites are hardly limited to the US case. Further theoretical and empirical research on changes in political discourse, competition, and modes of governing can identify and compare similar trends within Europe as well as more direct interplay, organizational networking and strategic and ideological ‘contagion’ within the transatlantic space, especially also in terms of digital activism and in the context of the SarsCov2 pandemic. In addition, the corresponding research can shed light on potential paths for ‘righting’ or reforming liberal-democratic systems toward greater resilience. Our section seeks to bring together scholars and research from diverse theoretical, method(olog)ical and empirical perspectives to tackle the following (and further) aspects: • The idiosyncrasies of the US constitution, the institutional design and the way they encourage or enable situations we can identify as contributing to the current crises and especially to consistent imbalances across branches and levels of government as well as across states, interests and communities. Likewise of interest are questions regarding rules, norms, conventions and other ways how institutions (do not) constrain the behavior of individual and/or collective actors; • The judicialization of politics versus the politicization of the judiciary and the role of the court system, especially of the Supreme Court, in upholding the rule of law, democratic principles and civil rights as well as in shaping politics – including concrete policies and the polity itself – in a hyperpartisan context; • The relations between local, state and federal levels including the contested division of competencies for example with regard to voting laws, the protection of civil rights (e.g. speech, religion, gun ownership, women’s reproductive rights) or policies in fields like education, environmental protection and public health; • The peculiar parallel surge of anti-politics, anti-system and thus ‘anti-establishment’ populist forces but also illiberal, autocratic and especially white supremacist tendencies and conspiracy theories in (social) media, society and government as well as (non-)legislative measures to curb autocratization and to increase the resilience of the representative democratic system; • The radicalization of partisanship and the development of the Republican Party in particular, both at state and federal level including with a view to changes in traditional party functions (like the selection of candidates for public office, social integration and policy-making when elected) and to the role of factual information as a basis for policy-making and political communication. We welcome papers from all (sub)disciplines as well as a variety of approaches (e.g. empirical, conceptual, normative, singular focus on US or in comparative perspective). We would also especially encourage early career researchers to submit their proposals. Panel Chairs: • Prof. Dr. Roland Lhotta (Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg) • Prof. Dr. François Vergniolle de Chantal (Université Paris Diderot) • PD Dr. Jared Sonnicksen (Technical University of Darmstadt) & Matthew Davis (Birmingham City University) • PD Dr. Claudia Franziska Brühwiler (Universiy St. Gallen) • Dr. Julia Simon (Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg) & Dr. Vasiliki Tsagkroni (Leiden University)
Code Title Details
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