What is Populism and Why is it so Powerful?

Posted on December 15, 2016

Behind Brexit, Populism must be one of the most used words of 2016. If you watch TV or follow social media news outlets, you will have heard it several times, sometimes loosely, others sincerely, but it has been there throughout 2016, particularly after the referendum vote in June and the US election in November.

I had never really heard the term much before this year, perhaps occasionally from France, courtesy of the Le Pen family, with other vague references with regards to Austria and Holland.

I was always of the assumption that Populism arrived courtesy of the masses feeling disenchanted and wanting impact answers to difficult questions to solve issues that, historically, have been economic and xenophobic. Good examples are 1930’s Germany and to an extent, here in the UK where it also took hold, if only temporarily (The Blackshirts).

Essentially, I am mostly correct,  but perhaps wrong with my previous assumption that the seeds of populism are always sewn by the far-right. Moseley is a great example, as his populist rhetoric had lead the Labour Party to victory before he set up the New Party and then the BUF.

The reasons behind the current wave of populism stem from a successful cocktail of disaffection and racism that creates angry voters in large numbers and is difficult to control without anyone carrying a legitimate, strong enough personality to make a case against it.

The Left are a lot to blame here as they have long disengaged with their core support in forgotten towns, leaving them attracted to anyone who would tell them what they want to hear such as “British Jobs for British People” or “Getting our Borders Back”.

You can repeat this scenario in America, a replicated story where the Democrats have become seen as an uncaring neoliberal elite and Trump is the only man to bring jobs back to the American people and make it a great nation again.

I can see why Trump is appealing to those who have been left behind in forgotten towns. He offers them a return to industrial greatness via ‘Protectionism’ and ‘Nationalism’ which, we need to understand and accept, is actually National Socialism, known in 1930’s Germany as Nationalsozialist (Nazism). Look it up if you think I am exaggerating.

This is a belief based on the theory that your nation is pure and that the workers should be indigenous, and the economy self-sufficient and protectionist, without global interference. To bring this ideology to the fore, those alien people who have infiltrated it and profited from it, should disposed of by repatriation or potentially, worse scenarios.

As oft quoted…National Socialism began with Populism, not the gas chamber.

The most difficult task that anyone trying to halt populism can be charged with is to try and stop its rise without sounding patronising or appearing pompously intellectually superior. This is  because once someone has made their mind up, they will steadfastly refuse to change direction through fear of having ignorance exposed.

Denying being caught out by one’s own ignorance is a human condition we have all suffered from at some point even if we are at pains to admit it. In 1920’s German scholars pleaded with the masses to stop and think about the consequences of Populism, but they couldn’t find a convincing way to change the tide before it was too late.

Just how do you convince people they have enthusiastically chosen an historically poor route to prosperity without being patronising? I don’t know but there must be a well trained political orator out there who can.

It may just have to be accepted that once again, Populism must run its course and we will have to sit tight and hope we are not too high up the pecking order of eradication before democracy wins through.

The silver lining is that Democracy always wins because Populism is an ideology of providing simple answers to complex questions that end in disaster and chaos with those who chased its fanciful dream, often the ones who pay the hardest price.

Ultimately, complex socio-economic questions need well constructed solutions.


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