Populism on the Rise



Populism is more or less defined by a public figures appeal to the masses by communicating and appealing to their desires and fears as a people. While populism itself has not always been a factor in the way governments typically operate, it has recently been a way for right wing politicians to gain prominence as citizens of sovereign nations seek for change in countries where the status quo has failed them. You have seen this all over the world from the Philippines, to South Korea, To Greta Britain, to most recently, and most notably, the united states.

One reason populism can be so effective, particularly in modern democracies, is because often times those politicians who implement populist rhetoric often simplify the issues that matter to their constituent base. You see this in the Brexit campaign stating that immigration was leading to much of England’s economic strain and that the money paid to the EU would be better spent elsewhere. You also see it with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s literal War on Drug users and pushers, where he simply kills drug users without a trial or investigation.

 One of the biggest problems with appealing to masses in this manner is that solutions to these problems are often more complicated than the solutions offered by the politicians and become a tool (or in most cases, flat-out lies) simply to become elected or to pass an initiative. This can also become an issue because the general public is not as well-versed in the issues that their elected officials talk about and try to sell to the general public. So a politician or public figure could incorporate something into their platform that goes directly against the will of the constituents they’re trying to appeal to but still garner support because of the simplicity they bring to the issue. You see this no more with an issue like defense. While it’s easy for an elected official to tout the dangers of global terrorism and support intervention/invasions into countries where ideological terrorism is present because of the fear it invokes of the other when you present it to voters, the policy would almost certainly have a net negative impact on the voter based on the extra billions of dollars it would cost to implement a policy of that sort.

This is where it is important to compare social populism to authoritarian populism. We see social populism from politicians like Bernie Sanders who emphasize putting the economic and political power in the hands of citizens to empower them to get what they want. Things like free college for all and universal health care. Donald Trump has implemented a more authoritarian populist rhetoric by building himself and those closest to them as the ones who need the power to enforce the will of the people. Things like building a wall and nationwide stop-and-frisk. Authoritarian populism also tends to look at large groups of individuals and looks at them as the reason for issues as Trump has done with Mexican immigrants and Muslims or as Nigel Farage did with Polish immigrants. Social Populism tends to look at the economic and political systems put in place by a government and is critical of those systems when assessing the root cause of issues, as Bernie Sanders has done making money in politics and anti-trade the key Platform in his 2016 run for office.

It’s no secret that I’m a Bernie fan and a Trump critic so there is some bias in how I examine right wing and left wing populism, but I truly don’t see populism as a bad thing. The problem I have with it is the people it’s used on. Humans have always had a short attention span and populism is a way for people to feel like they understand what’s going on without any of the actual work of deciphering what actually going on in the world. It is my hope that people can work in 2017 to stay informed and engage people with conversation who have different and opposing viewpoints. This is the only way we can be sure we are not fooled when we elect a leader who claims to have our best interest at heart. 

PoliticsAlec Bose