Populism: the reality de-mythed


On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, Thomas Frank published an unusual article in The Guardian, entitled “Forget Trump – populism is the cure, not the disease” *.  The article is important in that it at least hints at the reality that current attacks on populism distort important realities, failing to recognize that it has two basic aspects and that one is essential for real democracy.

Most current editorials on point focus on what is really a corollary to populism, the use by would-be political leaders of tactics designed to generate a populist reaction in their favor, and allege that the tactics are dishonest and the goals antilibertarian and antidemocratic.  But the corollary is not the concept.  The concept involves active popular electoral reaction to political perceptions a majority of the electorate rejects but which traditional political and socioeconomic elites in power are determined to keep in place.  Thus populism is a democratic reaction to oligarchic imposition of unpopular policies.  It is not a political philosophy but a reactive reality tied to neither right nor left wing movements.

Populism is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong but rather almost always reactionary, not in the sense of extreme conservatism but in the sense of a reaction against conditions that have finally become intolerable, reactionary in much the same way as revolutions tend to be reactionary.  The 2016 elections in the United States reflected a popular populist wave emanating from both the left and wright wings of the political spectrum.  The successful defeat of the left wing wave by the Democratic Party establishment through illegitimate institutionalist tactics is what led to the triumph of the remaining right wing wave.  Populism is not, as Mr. Frank reflects, an American phenomenon, it never has been, it is perhaps even older than the populism Julius Caesar successfully abused to destroy the Roman Republic and give birth to the Empire.  Today it is a worldwide phenomenon in reaction to the international cultural consequences of the refugee crisis caused by Zionist neoconservatism and the related crisis of accelerating economic inequality inherent in globalist neoliberal policies. The latest election in Italy makes that abundantly clear (see Spannaus, Andrew [2018]. “European Earthquake as Populist Government Forms in Italy”, Consortium News, May 24, 2018, available at https://consortiumnews.com/2018/05/24/european-earthquake-as-populist-government-forms-in-italy/).  Clearly foreseeable consequences but in the “Western” globalist society’s emphasis on the short term and short term profits, utterly ignored even as the causal policies, e.g., the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya, the overthrow of the democratically elected albeit corrupt government in the Ukraine, and the manufacture of civil war in Syria, were ruthlessly imposed.

In the eternal battle between mankind’s conflicting natures, one as an individual and the other as a member of the human collective, a malignant mutation of selective individualism, i.e., a parasitic infection whereby a tiny fraction of individuals usurp individual rights for their sole benefit and to the detriment of all other individuals as well as of the collective, has attained and abused political, economic and cultural power, and today’s populism everywhere is the foreseeable reaction.  A battle by the excluded masses against the privileged classes all too similar to the simmering atmosphere of pre-revolutionary eighteenth century France seems under way and like the aristocrats of that era and that of the ensuing, reactive Concert of Europe, one that today’s elites are trying to resolve by shoving the tides of history back into its designated bottle, viciously attacking the predictable populist reaction and of course, populism itself.

Irony is one of hypocrisy’s more important tools, not as a reflective observation but rather as a deliberative ploy.  It is ironic that today in the United States, it is the Democratic Party that is using the tactics of the populist corollary, constantly staged protests, distortive and selective use of the media, obstruction of governmental processes through abuse of the non-democratic branch of government purportedly in an effort to defuse the results of a real populist reaction during the 2016 electoral cycle, cynical ploys aimed solely at recapturing the political power lost through abandonment of what should have been its own populist base.  The reaction against the populist Brexit victory in the United Kingdom follows a similar script.  However, recent populist victories in different parts of the European Union illustrate how difficult it is to constrict legitimate populist realities, even where the solutions of those that populism is bringing to power are not those needed to attain legitimate populist goals.

We are apparently in the era of breaking eggs in order to make omelets, with genies refusing to return to their bottles and the cover of Pandora’s Box blown wide open.  But the omelets are not getting made.

* Frank, Thomas (2018). “Forget Trump – populism is the cure, not the disease”; The Guardian, May 23, 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/23/thomas-frank-trump-populism-books, first accessed May 24, 2018.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen).  Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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