Populism in 2020

What is Populism?

Click for definitionPopulism, political program or movement that champions, or claims to champion, the common person, usually by favourable contrast with a real or perceived elite or establishment. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right, opposing large business and financial interests but also frequently being hostile to established socialist and labour parties. Encyclopedia Britannica 2020

I have seen the term over the years, mostly it seems with Huey Long of Louisiana. The word rings of popular which made me wonder how it differs from democracy.

The difference is that populism separates the people into common folk and elites. Using this separation, populists view the elites as running the country for their own advantage, while unconcerned of the well-being of the common folk.

Political Leaders

Populism is not politically right or left. Both sides have used populism (never self-declared as it is an unflattering term). The left had Stalin. The right had Hitler. Both ended up with totalitarian regimes where the proclamation of the leader was law and binding.

One of the chief goals of a populist leader is to set himself up as the ultimate authority on all issues. To accomplish that, it is necessary to discredit all who disagree. Those people are the so-called elite—experts in the discussion subject.

The populist leader relies on his beliefs. This is most noticeable when those beliefs are in conflict with facts. Some current examples: reaction to coronavirus, hurricane forecasts, and wildfire avoidance.

Reliance on belief only leads us astray when we must ignore facts. Facts are correctives to flawed beliefs.

US 2020 Election  

In the United States, we chose our Presidents, not based on a complete analysis of their beliefs and stated policies, but on the story they tell us, weaving together positions we care about that will lead them to policies which make sense to our beliefs. This is a short-hand version of why we elect representatives. There are too many intricate issues for each citizen to consider.  

Leaders in both parties have followed that formula since the first elections. One disadvantage of the candidate story technique is that it depends on the candidate’s narrative skill. Also, until now, our leaders acknowledged the usefulness of facts in achieving practical success.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump, despite great skill in his narrative presentation, does not adhere to long-standing American  practicality of truth. When he declares his administration’s tremendous success over coronavirus, it is denied by hospitalizations and death counts. Since he has consistently argued against public health statements, putting his own beliefs ahead of factual measurements, he again reveals he is a populist who wants actions based on his beliefs, irrespective of relevant facts that cut against his preferred action.

Populism-Democracy signposts image from Biznews


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