Trump’s win may be just the beginning of a global populist wave

The Washington Post reports: Not long before Americans shocked the world by selecting Donald Trump to be their next president, a wealthy Brazilian businessman who played a reality-star boss on television became mayor of South America’s largest city.

On the other side of the globe, in Southeast Asia, a gun-slinging vigilante who vowed to kill all criminals and dump their bodies until the “fish will grow fat” was elected to lead a nation of 100 million.

And in Britain, voters with a centuries-long streak of moderation and pragmatism opted to ignore the overwhelming advice of experts by leaping into the abyss of life outside the European Union.

The populist wave of 2016 that carried Trump to the pinnacle of international power and influence didn’t start in the United States. And it certainly won’t end there.

Instead, the biggest prize yet for a global movement built on a seemingly bottomless reserve of political, economic and cultural grievance is likely to be an accelerant to even more victories for people and causes bent on upending the existing world order.

“Success breeds success,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Right now, everyone is susceptible to it. The drivers seem to be universal.”

And unless something dramatic changes to curb the populist appeal, a scattering of surprise victories this year could soon turn into a worldwide rout — the triumph of those who preach strong action over rule of law, unilateralism instead of cooperation and the interests of the majority above the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. [Continue reading…]

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3 thoughts on “Trump’s win may be just the beginning of a global populist wave

  1. hquain

    There’s an ambiguity in the term ‘populist wave’. quite visible in this article, which is probably worth examining. On the one hand, it is reflexively interpreted as an outpouring of grass-roots sentiment coming from ‘the people’ and their (legitimate or at least motivated) grievances. On the other, it refers to the success of a band of political operators who talk a certain way and take cues from each other. The first is ‘noble’; the second is sleazy. Thus it makes a difference how the ‘populist wave’ is conceived.

    In the case of Brexit, it appears that the whole thing underwent a kind of inflationary expansion from an internal tussle among Etonians (i.e. high school rivals in American parlance) in the Tory leadership to a surprise, fairly narrow victory based on blatant falsifications retailed by those same Tories, who assumed they could get away with it because they were going to lose the referendum. Quite the spontaneous wave. The Trump candidacy underwent a vaguely similar explosion from a faction-of-a-faction in a turbid multi-actor primary to an exceedingly narrow win in the general, in which the leader of the revolutionary wave somehow managed to accumulate the same number of votes in this election as the fusty plutocrat Romney did in the last. Again: some wave. So, do we have rightists seizing power, talking like each other in the idiom of the moment, or the ‘people’ speaking with a loud voice?

  2. Paul Woodward

    You’re pointing to an issue that warrants deep consideration right now: what this concept of “the people” actually means. On the Left, it’s a concept held so sacred, I think there’s an unwillingness to dig into its meaning, partly perhaps, because so many champions of “the people” are afraid of exposing how disconnected they are from those with whom they symbolically affiliate themselves. This is a problem for activists as much as politicians. It’s compounded by the vulnerability journalists feel about their own cultural insularity.

  3. hquain

    Thanks for the response — it adds further nuance. I suspect that your characterization of the romantic Left’s aversion to analyzing the concept is broadly applicable across the political spectrum, mutatis mutandis, since virtually everyone claims to be responding to some popular sector. Even those who are not anxious about their elite status are happy to cloak their manipulations. Thus, it remains important to try to figure out what’s going on in any particular instance.

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