Trumpism in Denmark

Harvard STS launched a writing campaing to accompany the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Peter Lauritsen and I contributed a piece on Trumpism in Denmark.

Andersen, L. B. & Lauritsen, P.
Debate contribution
Harvard STS
Trumpism in Denmark

Denmark is known for having a strong democracy. We have high election turnouts, political transparency, widespread and profound trust in the public system, and a lively political debate facilitated by strong and nuanced medias.

However, we argue that there is a growing breeding ground for Trumpism in Denmark and would like to point out two reasons why.

Research and politics

The first is a weak relation between research and politics.

In many situations, it has become perfectly legitimate for politicians to ignore firmly established knowledge and to refer only to their ‘gut feeling’, when accounting for political measures. This is not a new trend. Many consider former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s 2002 New Year’s address a milestone in this regard. In the speech, he announced that there was too many ‘taste panels’ for politics and that neither the people nor their politicians should allow themselves to be subdued by ‘lifted fingers’ from the ‘tyranny of experts’.

Today, politicians remain trustful of their gut and feel comfortable dismissing firmly established knowledge if it fits their agenda. But, at the same time, there is a widespread and growing political demand for strong and authoritative research to guide policies.

Politicians request knowledge on ‘what works’ when they write up policies and, as a consequence, researchers, think tanks, and consultancies are producing a tremendous amount of policy-orientated studies, which circulate through the media with different calls for political action.

Thus, the relationship between research and politics has become somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, there is widespread neglect of knowledge while, on the other, there is a growing number of research studies claiming political authority.

Clearly, there is a pressing task to develop a more nuanced and mutually binding relationship between research and politics. Not to build a technocracy of research but, on the contrary, to search out more productive ways for research to qualify the political process.

Such a task entails not only a change in political culture. It must also be recognized that research does not fulfil its democratic purpose only through the provision of objective facts or policy recommendations. Rather, research must facilitate a qualified and informed debate open for all and others beyond the recommendations of this or that study.

Media and neutrality

The other reason for the growth of Trumpism in Denmark has to do with the non-neutral neutrality of Danish media.

In recent years, major news corporations have provided a lectern for rather extreme opinion formers and have, in consequence, come under criticism for ‘naturalizing’ populist and far-right views. This is particularly evident in the use of opinion formers over experts and the growth of unedited blogs on the websites of newspapers.

Confronted with this criticism, media corporations mostly defend themselves by referring to their neutrality; that all opinions should be voiced and that it is not their job to censor certain views.

Of course, a nuanced democratic debate will require that all opinions have a chance to be heard. But there are obvious political consequences of the current form of non-neutrality. Journalists are forced into a ‘position of nowhere’ from where they distribute speaking time evenly to opposing views, no matter what or who these views represent or indeed how well their arguments are constructed. People are invited to speak, but we cannot see the knowledge and ideologies that went into their arguments.

Consequently, views that are only marginal to begin with are treated the same way as views that are more firmly rooted in available knowledge and the democratic tradition and, as such, put on the same footing as these.

Readers of Donna Haraway will know that such forms of neutrality from nowhere are not only untenable but also deeply politicised. Thus, an important task for journalists and researchers alike is to reassume a situated position from somewhere and acknowledge the moral and political consequences of that position. Not to politicise the media but to depoliticise them by bringing journalism back into the picture.

A task for STS

It is easy to make fun of Trump the person. Especially for Danes and their politicians, who, for the most part, would have preferred Hillary Clinton as the president of the United States. But if one had expected the political establishment to unite to form a strong opposition against the methods and policies of Trump, then one would be disappointed.

It is thus worth speculating if the vague reactions to Trumpism could be related to the fact that a similar form of populism has been growing in Denmark for a number of years.

In this situation, researchers too carry a responsibility for the task of rearranging relations between research, politics and the democratic process. In Denmark, however, there is little tradition for researchers to practically intervene in the democratic process. But now seems the time to reconsider this stance and step up our engagement.

The research methods we teach, develop and defend are not only about obtaining knowledge but also about making that knowledge democratically relevant. We have to insist that good research has a dual democratic contribution that we cannot do without: that it opens up the problems of society for democratic debate while, at the same time, helps to enforce the pivotal distinction between informed and populist policies.