At the time of writing this article, one of the bastions of liberal democracy is in great turmoil. On 6 January 2021, protesters loyal to President Trump invaded the capitol to stop the certification of election results. It was a move characterised as domestic terrorism and condemned as anti‐democratic by politicians from across the aisle. For many commentators, this was an inescapable result of Trumpism left unchecked, of the unfettered circulation of lies and the stoking of resentment against the democratic establishment. Articles question whether America can bridge the rift between democrat and republican forces or whether differences have become irreconcilable. But such polarisation is not the preserve of the US. It is also rampant in other liberal representative democracies, including the UK where Brexit has laid bare the split between remainers and leavers, liberals and conservatives.
“Articles question whether America can bridge the rift between democrat and republican forces or whether differences have become irreconcilable”
It is tempting to view polarisation in a rather simplistic manner, as an increasing distance between and strengthening of the far left and far right of the political spectrum. However, this conceptualisation smooths over the variance between different parts of the left and right (and the centre). It also creates a false equivalence between far‐right and far‐left forces, often disregarding the explicitly anti‐democratic character of some far‐right actors as opposed to the deep‐seated belief in democracy epitomising the progressive left. In such a simplistic analysis, the only solution to problems of polarisation is a nostalgic return to ‘the centre’.
But, as I argue in this article, this ignores that the foundational compromise that underpinned the centre in liberal representative democracy has not been tenable since the 2008 economic crisis. Instead, progressive movements have chosen a different way to address the flaws of liberal democracy: they have attempted to reimagine democracy by advocating for alternative models of governance. This article outlines some of the core values underlining these movements’ democratic vision and considers the role of the media in this process.