Populism and Transparency: The Political Core of an Administrative Norm

59 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2021

See all articles by Mark Fenster

Mark Fenster

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: February 1, 2021


Transparency has become a preeminent administrative norm with unimpeachable status as a pillar of democracy. But the rise of right-wing populism, reminiscent of older forms of militaristic authoritarianism, threatens transparency’s standing. Recently elected governments in Europe and Latin and North America have represented a counter-movement away from liberal-democratic institutions that promote the visibility and popular accountability that transparency promises. Contemporary populist movements have not, however, entirely rejected it as an ideal. The populist rebuke of power inequities and its advocacy for popular sovereignty implicitly and sometimes explicitly include a demand for a more visible, accessible state. Populists’ seemingly hypocritical embrace of transparency in the face of their resistance to open government mandates demonstrates transparency’s important historical connections and conceptual affiliations with populism, in the process illuminating its complicated politics and the difficulty of ensuring legal compliance in a period of renewed populism. Drawing on transparency and populism’s historical development and using Donald Trump’s one-term presidency as a case study, this article reveals the relationship between an administrative norm and a political movement and style, and what democracy’s current state portends for transparency’s future.

Keywords: transparency, populism, open government, FOIA, Trump, Twitter

Suggested Citation

Fenster, Mark, Populism and Transparency: The Political Core of an Administrative Norm (February 1, 2021). 89 U. Cin. L. Rev. 286 (2021), University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 21-6, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3780371

Mark Fenster (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0962 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)

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