Constantly we hear about the actions of populist politicians in the United States and abroad, and why they and their populist movements are terrible (especially if the populist is right wing). Now some of you may be wondering what populism is. Others may have just chalked this up to the buzzword of the week used in MSM against people they don’t like. Maybe you support the notions of populism. Today I’m going to explain the issues with populism, and why it ought to be avoided.
What Is Populism?
Populist movements are defined by the appeal to the common person. At first, you might be thinking “Well isn’t that every politician?” and to a degree, you would be right. Politicians need to have a level of appeal with their voters in order to be elected. Populism takes the notion way further and builds the entire campaign and movement around it.
Populists will go out of their way to make themselves seem plainer. For example, Sarah Palin calling herself “Mama grizzly”. Another example would be Umberto Bossi of the Lega Nord in Italy flipping the bird to the government during his rallies. Populists will downplay their status, be vulgar, and lay the foundation for a public persona of being just like everyone else.
Everybody Is Doing It
Taking the pomp and circumstance out of politics definitely has it’s appeal, and it’s a notion that appeals to all parties in one way or another. Democrats cheered on the “Everyman” aspect of Obama when he invited a cop and a Harvard professor to the White House for a beer. Republicans eventually came to support Donald Trump for his anti-establishment stances and “tell it like it is” attitude. There are ever those Libertarians that jump for excitement every time that Tim Carney puts something new out.
All of these types of things may make a politician likable in the eyes of the public. There is an issue with allowing it to. Populism avoids the key issues that we should be examining when trying to select the people who will be creating laws. We shouldn’t care if they’re “one of us” or if they “speak for the people.” We should care what their policies are, what they stand for, and what their vision is.
There is a reason why we consider Appeal to Emotion a fallacy. Playing on the false dichotomy of “us: the little guy” and “them: the evil elites” invokes empty tribalism. Considering the millions required to run for office to begin with, we already know these people ain’t one of the little guys; even if they truly support them. Populists want us to be angry, or afraid, or distrusting of our neighbors that may disagree with us. Populists want us to believe that their solutions are the only ones that will free “the people” and everyone else is evil for thinking differently.
The biggest issue with populist movements is the dogmatism it breeds. If anyone attacks the leader of the movement it’s perceived in turn that they are attacking the little man. Should I call out Bernie Sanders for his terrible understanding of economics I’ve just branded myself some kind of boot-licker that hates workers. If I call out Trump for how bad the tariff idea is I’ve branded myself as some America hating soyboy. These people are not truly just another “everyday Joe”; if they were then they shouldn’t be above honest criticism.
Fighting for the average person is something I’m sure we all can agree with. We all have our own ways of doing it. We all have our own beliefs in what will work best for it. As such, it is important that we look past the show and towards those beliefs and ideas. Electing someone for who they are rather than what they plan to do can only lead to disaster. Maybe the populist might be the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right tactic. Sadly, in the end, populism speaks more ill of the general voter than it does of the politician that uses it. Don’t be one of those people.
Read more articles from Killian on Think Liberty here.