Why coronavirus is an "existential crisis" for American democracy

Yes, Trump plays a role in this—in Allen’s estimation, “he cares about politics and he cares about his own popularity, but he doesn’t care about governance”—but the problem is much deeper, a window into the shortcomings of the kind of democracy America has turned into.

“The democracies led by populists—the U.S., the United Kingdom, Brazil—have done poorly, and the democracies led by institutionalists have done well—[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel being a prime example of an institutionalist,” Allen said.

“Then there’s a separate cut, which is ‘old democracy’ vs. ‘young democracy,’” she continued. “Basically, if you look at Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan — those are all young democracies. Whereas the U.K., the U.S., France, those are older democracies.” The older ones have more “bureaucratic buildup” and have trouble responding in an agile way, she says—and are also less in agreement on social rights, and more built around 18th-century ideas about political and civil rights. In a crisis, they struggle to rally around the public welfare without getting in fights about it.