An old political ideology has resurfaced and is trending upward internationally. Like most powerful political movements, it’s the one that holds the power of the people. Populism is on the rise as more and more citizens feel ostracized by their own government’s agenda, and America’s latest presidential election confirmed populism’s place on the world stage. The pendulum of modern American politics has always swung somewhat predictably. Back and forth. Left to right. Right to left. Liberal Democrats occupy the left and conservative Republicans stand firm on the right. For years the bipartisan election process has frustrated Americans. It makes sense that the answer to fighting it has come from within. Populism transcends the spectrum as we know it. Its policies can be shaped to fit the left or the right as seen in this past election.
This year, two populists in particular took the nation by storm. On the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders pledged unwavering support to the lower and middle classes while taking aim at the upper class or “1 per cent” and a corrupt campaign finance system. President-elect Donald Trump won the election by promising the exact same thing from the Republican ticket. In the latter case, it worked.
Since World War II, America took on a much more liberal tone, especially in larger cities. The discovery of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the success of the civil rights movement set forth an expectation of progress, and America felt the need to push for minority rights, many in the nation disagreed with. The most recent example is the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. While being a good move for progress and future generations, many conservatives saw it as the government again choosing a minority over the majority.
Trump caused shockwaves with his insults toward the government and those within his adopted party, but his brash rhetoric resonated with a working class that saw itself as forgotten. His outsider victory was also seen internationally as the culmination of a worldwide political shift in which the rights and pride of nations’ majorities are valued more than ever by the common people.
In Europe, the vast influx of immigrants has given rise to populist popularity. Austria’s Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer, an anti-immigrant gun advocate, nearly won the presidency in December. Germany’s Alternative for Germany populist party is gaining support after a series of attacks on German soil. France’s Marine Le Pen is campaigning on a platform of withdrawing from NATO – sounds familiar? – who recently told BBC that her victory would be the third part of a “global revolution” following the success of Brexit and Trump. The Czech Republic even has a “Czech Donald Trump” named Andrej Babis, a billionaire whose organization Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) echoes the tenets of modern populism.
Again, populism can fall anywhere on the political spectrum, but the parties having the most success seem to primarily occupy the right. For answers as to why, we need to look at how the spectrum of Western politics has shifted.
On the outer edges lie two abandoned ideologies: Communism on the far left and fascism on the far right. These two radical ideologies have been eschewed by Western nations and culturally linked to dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Mao Zedong, leaders known for inspiring the masses while oppressing just
And yet, America has never openly waged war on fascism or the far-right. Ending communism and socialism was the primary agenda of 20th century America. The result was a shortening of the political spectrum.
Communism and socialism became taboo, and still are as evidenced by Bernie Sanders’ lost bid for the White House. As a result, Democrats occupy the left-most stage of American politics and Republicans have been pushed further toward the middle leaving a void on the right.
Conservative voters saw their party become less and less willing to fight for their beliefs and as a result, a new type of right-wing has emerged with the far-right taking the Republicans’ previous spot and populism being the current key to success.
Sanders and Trump both made the capitalist equivalent of the proletariat central to their platform, but with one promising to raise taxes and the other promising to lower them, it’s no surprise that the nearsightedness of an aging generation won.
But what does the rise in populism mean on a global scale?
If the trend continues and Western countries do adopt the ideals of populism and the once far-right, the actions of countries will mirror the individualistic goals of the populist voters.
More nations will put themselves before others. If the climate accord is unravelled it may take decades for anything like it to be re-established. If NATO and the EU fall apart, war is more likely and the world returns to early 20th century politics, this time with more advanced technologies.
Politically, the Democrats will react to the success of nationalistic majority pride and attempt similar populist overtures to voters ahead of the next elections. This can already be seen in countries such as Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel is being pushed to soften her publicly liberal stance on immigration.
The rise of populism is a natural progression, a swing of the pendulum that will eventually swing the other way.
For now, however, it seems it is here to stay. •