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The populists are revolting

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Donald Trump? He wasn’t supposed to be the Republican nominee. A lightweight. Too vulgar. A joke candidate.

Brexit? The people weren’t supposed to vote to leave the European Union. Too risky. Too parochial. Economic and political suicide.

Austrians almost electing the European Union’s first far-right head of state? Unthinkable. Unimaginable. Not happening.

Yet, these things did happen. And these types of things seemingly keep happening. In all of these situations – where “the people” were supposed to “know better” – media pundits, mainstream parties, pollsters and experts of various stripes have been shocked by outcomes that previously seemed inconceivable.

But these are not strange blips on the radar, not weird one-offs: the events are happening across the globe, where the people are spitting in the face of the elite, and rejecting what is being offered to them.

Indeed, we are witnessing what I have termed “the global rise of populism.” What I mean by this is that populism, once seen as a fringe phenomenon relegated to another era or only certain parts of the world, is now a mainstay of contemporary politics across the globe, from the Americas to Europe, from Africa to the Asia Pacific. Populism – a political style that features 1) an appeal to “the people” versus “the elite”; 2) the use of bad manners that are perceived as unbecoming for politicians; and 3) the evocation of crisis, breakdown or threat – isn’t going anywhere. It is here to stay.

What factors can help explain the global rise of populism, on both the left and the right of the political spectrum?

First, the elite have lost credibility in many parts of the world. Mainstream parties are increasingly being seen as incapable of channeling popular interests, governments are viewed as being in thrall to global finance, and experts are increasingly distrusted and questioned. Populists position themselves as representing a break from the status quo, and claim to be able to return power to the people. This message has great resonance at this particular historical juncture, where faith in institutions has been badly shaken.

Second, the shifting media landscape has favoured populists. In a time of communicative abundance, populists deliver a simple, often headline-grabbing message that plays to mass media’s desire for polarization, dramatization and emotionalization. This allows them to break through the constant noise and grab free media attention. There is no better example of this than Trump, whose single tweets inspire media frenzy. More so, many populists have been at the forefront of utilizing social media to communicate directly with their followers – the examples of Italy’s 5 Star Movement, the Tea Party in the United States and Hungary’s Jobbik are instructive here. This type of engagement is something on which mainstream parties have tended to be woefully behind-the-times.

Third, populists have become more savvy and have increased their appeal in the past decade. In fields of candidates who often seem to be cut from a very similar cloth, populists stand out by offering a performance that seems more authentic, more appealing and often downright more entertaining than other politicians. This is something that often gets skirted past in the panic over Trump: Much of his appeal stems from the fact that he is entertaining and often quite funny, no doubt a byproduct of years on reality television and media training. Although being entertaining and amusing may seem trivial when we talk about politics, these things matter. Populists understand that contemporary politics is not just a matter of putting forward policies for voters to deliberate rationally upon as some kind of homo politicus, but rather appealing to people with a full performative package that is attractive, emotionally resonant and relevant.

Fourth, populists have been remarkably successful at not only reacting to crises, but actively aiming to bring about and perpetuate a sense of crisis through their performances. Populist actors use this sense of crisis, breakdown or threat to pit the people against the elite and associated enemies, to radically simplify the terms and terrain of political debate, and to advocate (their) strong leadership and quick political action to solve the crisis. In an era when it seems that we pinball from crisis to crisis – the global financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, and an alleged widespread “crisis of democracy,” among others – this tactic has proved very effective.

Finally, populists are often very effective at exposing the deficiencies of contemporary democratic systems. Populism in Latin America and Asia has in many cases been an understandable reaction to corrupt, hollowed-out and exclusionary democratic political systems while, in Europe, many populist actors’ opposition to the European Union or the demands of the Troika has brought to light the democratic deficit at the heart of elite projects. Similarly, populists have often positioned themselves as the only true voice standing up to the economic and social forces of globalization – something that is, by and large, supported by many mainstream parties – meaning that they can effectively appeal to those receiving the pointy end of the stick from such processes.

So why the shock? If we take these factors together, it is little surprise that populism is on the rise across the globe. People have very valid reasons for following and voting for populist actors, and they are increasingly doing so. As such, instead of repeatedly acting shocked when populists do well – when Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, when Rodrigo Duterte is elected president of the Philippines, when Pauline Hanson is elected as a senator in Australia, when UKIP dreams become reality – a list only from the last few weeks – we need to face reality. These are not mistakes, not outliers, not weird aberrations. As such, let’s drop the surprise, the shaking of heads in disbelief, the paralysis brought on by continually asking ourselves “how can this be?” Instead, it’s time to acknowledge that populism is now a central part of contemporary politics: time to get used to it.

© The Mark News

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I really strongly disagree with how Moffitt is using the word "populism".

Populism – a political style that features 1) an appeal to “the people” versus “the elite”; 2) the use of bad manners that are perceived as unbecoming for politicians; and 3) the evocation of crisis, breakdown or threat – isn’t going anywhere. It is here to stay.

Only the first is really relevant to populism. It's been part of American politics at least for my entire life. This is the country where you can't get the nuclear football unless you prove that you can look comfortable bowling and can appear to be the sort of guy any factory worker would be willing to have a beer with. None of that is new. When conservatives sneer at Obama for eating arugula, that's populism. When conservatives accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim trying to destroy the US by importing Syrian terrorists disguised as refugees (something people on this very board have claimed), that's not populism, that's something far darker. When British towns claim that their whole problem is the EU allowing immigrants in, even when the town has few if any immigrants and is itself a major recipient of aid from Brussels, that's not populism. That's xenophobia and bigotry.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Populism? How about regular people who are tired of being pillaged and beaten on by the elite political class. It isn't populism, that is just people throwing off oppressors, which is hopefully normal

1 ( +5 / -4 )

even when the town has few if any immigrants and is itself a major recipient of aid from Brussels,

In 2015, the UK paid 13 billion pounds to the EU, and received 4.5 billion pounds in spending from the EU.

Those working in Britain and the US see their wages stagnant, or declining, and, despite official numbers pointing rosy unemployment figures, record numbers of people are not working. These people are less xenophobes or bigots than they are worried about their own economic well-being. When there is not enough work or money to pay the current population, adding more immigrants into the economy is not going to improve the situation. Even worse is that immigrants with no jobs, little education, and few skills add little of value to the economy, and tend to consume more in public services than they contribute in taxes.

Your average Brit seems to be able to understand rudimentary math and economic principles much better than the average politician.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

sangetsu03JUL. 23, 2016 - 12:02PM JST even when the town has few if any immigrants and is itself a major recipient of aid from Brussels, In 2015, the UK paid 13 billion pounds to the EU, and received 4.5 billion pounds in spending from the EU.

This would have been a stinging rebuttal that shamed me for being so incorrect, if not for a critical flaw. I didn't compare countries. I compared towns. If you want to make a comment that's relevant to that, then you need data broken down by towns, not the nation in aggregate.

Those working in Britain and the US see their wages stagnant, or declining, and, despite official numbers pointing rosy unemployment figures, record numbers of people are not working. These people are less xenophobes or bigots than they are worried about their own economic well-being.

You'll note that the people who voted in support of Brexit were not generally Londoners or people in major cities, i.e. the people who make the greatest chunk of the UK's payments to Brussels. The majority of the people who voted for Brexit were the people in rural towns who received the most benefits from Brussels. The only explanations for this behavior are either bigotry or utter and completely self-destructive ignorance.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Plato argued I think, that populism is the end of democracy. Populism is revolting, and it will result in all sorts of unpleasant policies and rampant government spending in particular. It seems he is right. I think that we need to respect undemocratic, paternalistic (or maternalistic) countries in which the populace are not given the option of making revolting decisions, such as China, our countries where the populace seem more inclined to leave decisions to decision makers, such as Japan, more.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In 2015, the UK paid 13 billion pounds to the EU, and received 4.5 billion pounds in spending from the EU.

or the price of a pint of beer per person each week.

even when the town has few if any immigrants and is itself a major recipient of aid from Brussels

it's not immune from the effects of government austerity on the delivery of services: a supposedly 'ring-fenced' NHS forced to realise 4% PA "efficiencies" for a decade; 1,000 libraries closed since 2009; and benefit cuts like the bedroom tax which disproportionately impacts the disabled.

Add to this a climate that already permits zero hours contracts and major employers failing to pay minimum wage. Brexit voters, the ones most impacted by these factors, were conned by the post-truth trinity of Johnson, Gove and Farage, who, expecting no more than a protest vote, buggered off to make everyone else pick up the pieces. These voters are the ones at most risk from losing the European Convention on Human Rights, which Theresa May already had her sights on.

Enjoy this little piece with Star Trek's Patrick Stewart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptfmAY6M6aA

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I myself do not accept the idea that these recent events are the result of populism. I suspect however that what we are seeing is a rejection of the ideas that evolved during WWII that with free trade, open markets, and jobs for all that the world could be so much a better place. Instead people have found that five TVs in one house, two cars in a garage, a 4000 square-foot home do not bring you happiness and that all these trappings are no more than a burden, requiring hours of maintenance and limiting one's freedom.... As for the free trade and kumbaya, it has resulted in not much more than bad conditions for all concerned.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Populism? What I see is the majority trying to get rid of a fake democracy and rigged system sustained in place by puppet politicians in the name of the corporations. Hilary Clinton for example has supported every disastrous war for her corporate friends, has also supporyed NAFTA, TPP and now she is saying she hasn't, she got caught breaking the law and she wasn't indicted. A lying, corrupt politicians above the law. No wonder people vote for the clowns and exteemists, at least they are not corporate puppets.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"Populist actors use this sense of crisis, breakdown or threat to pit the people against the elite and associated enemies, to radically simplify the terms and terrain of political debate, and to advocate (their) strong leadership and quick political action to solve the crisis" - article

Shallow belief and lack of any awareness paired with instant gratification tweets isn't rightly called "populism".

It is, in fact, the cultivation of fear based on instant rumor and conclusions.

The article provides several conditions of the "populist" but fails in its conclusion.

The conclusion: "let’s drop the surprise, the shaking of heads in disbelief, the paralysis brought on by continually asking ourselves “how can this be?” Instead, it’s time to acknowledge that populism is now a central part of contemporary politics: time to get used to it".

Dr Benjamin Moffitt's suggestion, that somehow accepting falsehood and manipulation of violence, as a standard of behavior and critical thinking (get used to it), is both irresponsible and beneath his obvious intelligence.

When the conclusion is that 'it's ok to act dangerously and speak irrational taunts to provoke fear and violence' the critical thinker doesn't "get used to it". The critical thinker offers something better. That starts with respect and identifying the dangers of reckless "populism" which amounts to thuggery and nothing more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

".... buggered off to make everyone else pick up the pieces"

What planet are you on?. Brexiteers have been appointed to key posts in the new cabinet.

Which side are truly the liars, again?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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