GAAS PolSci Conference 2020: Democracy and its Limits. The United States in Perspective

Project no.:



Thursday, 5th– Friday, 6th November 2020


Online - Webex-based


Bard College Berlin
John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin 

The conference is friendly supported by the

Philipp Schwartz Initiative, Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung


Aysuda Kölemen, Christian Lammert, David Sirakov & Boris Vormann

Target group:

Political scientists, historians, sociologists as well as a larger interested audience

Participation fee:

No admission


Links will be shared after registration and shortly before the respective event. Please register for free here until noon (CET) November 1, 2020.


Democratic institutions in the United States are often thought of as bulwarks against manifold threats, both from inside and outside of the American polity. Donald Trump’s first term in office has been a stress test to these democratic institutions and processes. This conference asks for the causes as well as the consequences of Trump’s electoral success. We consider illiberal tendencies as a serious political phenomenon in the United States and see Trump as a symptom of a longer-standing set of dynamics that we can better grasp through a comparative view and against the backdrop of global dynamics. 

As a glimpse at different cases from Jair Bolsonaro to Viktor Orbán shows, demagogues, once in office, alter the structures of the state and civil society in ways that are likely to inflict long term damage. Compromises to the separation of powers, public officials' conflicts of interest, the defamation of the media: some of the essential pillars of democracy and core ideals of the Enlightenment are under attack.

As such, the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS) examines the effects of Donald Trump on democratic processes and institutions, and reflects on the immediate and potential long-term consequences of his administration for democratic participation in the political system of the United States, and how these processes compare to other democracies in crisis. 

Program (pdf)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Opening Remarks

Panel I
Trump in Power: Illiberalism and Democracy
Panel Chair: Betsy Leimbigler

Michael Weinman (Indiana University/BCB): A Passing Storm? American Illiberalism and the 2020 Elections
Jörg Hebenstreit (FSU Jena): Independence under Threat – Attempts of Expanding Presidential Supervisory Authority over Independent Agencies under the Trump Administration
Michael Dreyer (FSU Jena): Packing the Courts? Donald Trump, Checks and Balances, and the “Least Dangerous Branch”
Elena Broda (University of Passau): Perfect phone call or abuse of power? How ideological media framed Trump’s Impeachment

Panel II: Fake News, Social Media, and Political Communication
Panel Chair: Gülçin Balamir Coşkun

Maren Schäfer (HCA): “Totally Compromised Kangaroo Courts” and the “Fake News Media” – Donald Trump’s Anti-Democratic Right-Wing Populist Rhetoric
Curd Knüpfer (JFKI) and Michael Oswald (Univ. Passau): Tapping the sphere of deviance: Right-wing news sites as a peripheral network to the Trump-Fox News information nexus
Mike Cowburn (GSNAS): Republican Legislator Adoption of the Fake News Label on Twitter
Martin Thunert (HCA): (Dis)Trust of Experts and Contemporary Populism: The Case of the United States in Perspective 

Assessing the Elections
Panel Chair: David Sirakov (Atlantische Akademie)

Sean Theriault (University of Texas): Congressional Elections 2020
Rachel Bitecofer (Niskanen Center): Presidential Election 2020

Friday, November 6, 2020

Business Meeting
Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies 

Panel III: The New Normal? International Relations under Trump
Panel Chair: Florian Böller?

Cornelia-Adriana Baciu (Johns Hopkins Univ.): Paradoxes of American Exceptionalism and Restraint. A Neo-Classical Realism Perspective
M.J. Packo (HU Berlin): The international implications of Anti-abortion rights narratives under the Trump administration
Ana-Constantina Frost (GSNAS): Whose Foreign Policy Is It Anyway? Studying Diaspora Politics in a Time of International Upheaval

Panel IV: Persisting Problems: Inequalities and Social Rights
Panel Chair: Aysuda Kölemen

Guido Rohmann (GSNAS): ‘Left behind' - A term we should leave behind?
Betsy Leimbigler (JFKI): Interactions between illiberalism and institutions: Economic and social rights in the U.S.
Laura Kettel (GSNAS): Contested Governance: The Federal Response to Homelessness in the United States

Panel V: Race and Public Policy
Panel Chair: Christian Lammert

Rachel Wetts (Brown University): Activating and Harnessing White Racial Prejudice in the 2020 US Election.
Aysuda Kölemen (BCB): Race as a Category in Evaluations of Deservingness and Undeservingness of Government Assistance.
Candis Smith (Penn State University): Who Stands a Chance? Disparate Worldviews on the Social Constructions of Vulnerable Populations.

Introduction: Boris Vormann
Keynote: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, CUNY Graduate Center