Populism has been rising in the past decade and now appears to have engulfed Western Politics whether it be as the leading opposition or as the leadership itself. This movement has terrified those of us who value the previous consensus of facts and, to a certain extent, centrism, whether it be slightly left or right.
Populism has established itself in many different ways and parts of the political spectrum. Indeed, it would be folly to simply label populism as an exclusively right-wing movement as shown in this country where the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is, himself, a Populist leader.
This article will take three different examples of current movements of populism in the western world and display how it has a corrosive and divisive effect on society. It will show how it neglects the truth for a supposed reality which is fanciful and therefore wilfully leads the public down a route of destruction with false promises. The other key theme that will be represented by these cases is the almost God-like representation of key Populist leaders.
Ah, whatever would a political article be in this period without this orange man popping up?
If there were ever a personification of the term ‘toxic-masculinity’, this man would be it. However, this is not an article where I will make personal jabs at people I do not know out of pure spite, I will leave that to Trump himself.
Trumps obsession with the idea of “Fake News” has broken the very bedrock of past political debates. As a Populist leader he has managed to convince his followers that even the, probably, most trusted news producer after the BBC, CNN, is biased against him and therefore anything that they report that might not back up his arguments, is made up. Expert’s opinion now does not matter. In fact, they actually are read with a hint of suspicion whenever they write about anything that is anti-Trump as it is seen as the establishment trying to regain control.
Due to this rejection of experts it is very difficult for the old consensus to get a look in because they are met with suspicion and what they offer is not as sexy as what Trump and other Populist leaders claim to offer, as seen with the Leave campaign’s branding of “Project Fear” by the Remain campaign during the EU Referendum build-up. Populist leaders tend to have an interesting relationship with reality, they manage to capture the imagination of a lot of people who would never have voted before because they claim to offer something which the “establishment” deems impossible and irresponsible. A key example of which is Trump’s pledge to restrict access of all Muslims into the country during the 2016 American General Election Campaign. This therefore means that you could end up with Populists leaders, such as Trump, who are elected on the back of fanciful promises that they do not actually make happen when they see how it will affect the country. The other possibility is that another Populist leader gets elected and they attempt to implement their policies anyway, to the detriment of the economy.
Of course, there is an argument against this tirade that Trump is in-fact a good President by the look of the economy which, there is little argument, is thriving in the USA. However, it has brought an ugly head to a deep lying division in the US which has, from an outsider’s perspective, made the US a deeply troubled and divided land.
There is no God, there is only Corbyn. At least that is what many of his supporters seemingly believe.
(Of course, there are plenty of people who support Corbyn and are religious, I just used that sentence for dramatic effect.)
It is quite scary how similar some of the supporters of Trump and Corbyn are when they are faced with political arguments against their leaders. Of course, this could be explained by horse-shoe theory if you believe that they are extreme enough for it to apply, which I do not, but the other explanation is the fact that they are both Populist leaders.
It is true that a lot of both of these fan-bases seem to believe that all of the trusted, unbiased media whether it be CNN, or the BBC, is, in fact, biased against them. This “fake news” culture used in the case of a Populist leader is incredibly dangerous. The moment that you cannot propose a valid argument against a leader, party or movement without it being shouted out because it is the “establishment” trying to bring down the people’s chance to overthrow it, is when debate is no longer a way to govern and democracy dies. Due to the belief that there is simply nothing that Corbyn can do or say that is wrong it leads to a society where if you stand against him you are a money-hungry, horrible person. There is simply no argument that will be listened to by many of his supporters as they believe that anyone who goes against him is morally inferior to them.
I have no real issue with Corbyn having a say in political matters, but he has got to a point where many of his supporters genuinely believe that there is no valid argument against him and that anyone who proposes one is not worth talking to or debating with. Without meaningful debate democracy is doomed.
Due to his almost religious following, he has been allowed to become the leader of an opposition who were so desperate to not have him as leader they triggered a leadership election. This has led to having a leader of the opposition who has allowed a disgraceful parliamentary procession since the EU Referendum that a more able leader would have capitalised on. His MPs have begged that he leave but many of his supporters have followed despite the objections of those, who on average, will have more knowledge on the matter, a constant theme of populism – the rejection of experts.
And so, the holy trinity of divisive aspects of the Western world today is completed.
I must admit that this is a topic which is far more complicated than just Populism against anti-Populism and there are valid arguments on both Remain and Leave. However, the way in which it was argued is where the issue of Populism is ever present again.
It cannot be stressed enough that Brexit as an act, itself, is not the issue here, it is the emotions, the arguments and the divide in the country that the argument from the Leave campaign has created.
From a centre-right perspective Brexit is not what I would have hoped for but I can understand some of the arguments for it, but it is the arguments that were put forward by the Leave campaign that I find issue with.
As a populist, anti-establishment led movement, the Leave campaign made wildly inaccurate, fanciful promises and statements such as Boris Johnson’s tirade about the bunches of bananas and that iconic red bus which insinuated the false statistic that we spent £350 million on our membership to the European Membership per week that we could be spending on the NHS. Of course, both of these pledges proved to be plain fantasy when we voted to leave the European Union. The difficulty of this was that whenever the Remain campaign attempted to correct these false promises to the population they were not listened to because it was part of “Project Fear” which the Leave campaign devised to make the voters believe that it was all part of a cover-up by the establishment to stop the people making their own choice. This, again, is incredibly dangerous because a lot of people voted on false promises and statements due to the fact that a populist run movement does not have room for actual debate.
I am not claiming that Brexit is in anyway something only a fool would vote for. In fact I am actually incredibly impressed that some people managed to ignore Leave campaign’s false promises and vote to leave the EU for very reasonable reasons but sadly due to the populist nature of the campaign these arguments were scarcely ever heard.
As a result of the Referendum, largely down to how both sides ran their campaigns and now the precession that followed it, the country is more divided than ever. This is a key theme of Populist leaders and movements and another reason why it is endangering the free-world currently.
Some hopeful words for liberal-centrists
There are plenty of people that still believe in the consensus of neoliberalism whether right or left and this is by no means the end but there does need to be a significant push back towards the listening and belief of what experts say and argue for and against. I do not believe, as Michael Gove claimed, that Britons ‘have had enough of experts’ and only time will tell whether I am right. All that can be done now is to stand-up for the old consensus and hope that the wave of populism will pass without any further damage to the structure of our society.