Where do we go now? – Five years of #populism (2015-2020)

They were so powerful they wrote the laws to benefit themselves. They got away with everything because they banked on us, all of us, to trust the system, that was our vulnerability and they took advantage of it. (…)
Everything we’ve been through led up to this one moment: the greatest redistribution of wealth in history. We just Robin Hooded those evil motherfuckers! *

In February 2015 appeared the first post for Political Observer on Populism. It was titled Sheep in New Zealand, Pinocchio and Robin Hood. It discussed topics such as Brexit, the role (and style) of Yanis Varoufakis in the unfolding economic crisis, the possibility of an “Italeave” promised by Five Star Movement and Lega, the political use of conspiracy theories, and so on. The benefit of using Twitter to spread the content of the blog seemed self-evident, although over time the air has become increasingly toxic, like in every other commercial social media. As long as it will be worth it, the Twitter account will remain active: probably, however, it won’t be for much longer. What matters is the content published here, the exchange of ideas it feeds, the connections it creates, the people saying “keep the good work up”. This blog already constitutes a powerful tool to better understand populism®, it gives voice to the most brilliant scholars on the topic, and if you want to contribute pass by –> here.

Half a decade later POP is still around and Brexit too, modern Godot which will surely come but not today, maybe tomorrow. Lega and Five Star Movement have formed a government together — which already ended in farce — and contrary to their promises they never mentioned leaving the Euro. The book Varoufakis wrote in 2015 (Adults in the Room) has now become a movie. Populism has been normalized and mainstreamed even in Germany and Scandinavia. Podemos governs Spain together with PSOE, crystallizing and institutionalizing the instances of the Indignados, bringing the previous cycle of struggles right into power, waiting for the new one to reject its compromises. In 2015 Obama was going towards the end of its second mandate, now Donald Trump (under impeachment) and Boris Johnson lead a plethora of populist and nativist politicians with a terrible haircut, which however does not qualify them as a working class phenomenon.

In the meantime, the unfolding of history in front of our eyeballs taught us that no country is immune to populism and nativism, Poland and Hungary can hardly be considered liberal democracies with Fidesz and PiS in power, and Green parties seem to finally be able to compete with right-wing populism for the votes of disillusioned voters who no longer feel represented by mainstream parties. After the Great Recession and the refugee ‘crisis’, climate change and global warming seem to be the third critical juncture of the 21st century. In the next decade they will probably fill the news in a cyclic repetition worthy of Sisyphus. The economy goes down, a wave of refugees, global warming cannot be ignored anymore, the economy goes down, a wave of refugees, etc etc…

Capture

Available here.

2019 saw protests raging around the world: Chile, Hong Kong, Algeria, Catalonia, Brazil, Venezuela, Iran, to mention just a few cases. The Gilets Jaunes and the scandal about Cambridge Analytica ideally connected street protests against old-fashioned capitalism and a global movement against “surveillance capitalism”. Direct democracy proved to be easily manipulated, a new nationalist wave is crossing the continents, and authoritarian tendencies confirm more than ever that democracy is not the only game in town. Spain spent months discussing about Francisco Franco’s remains, Portugal discussed the possibility of a museum (or study center) about the dictatorship in Salazar’s home town, and in Italy the crypt with Mussolini’s tomb has been re-opened to the public. The past is coming back and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it. It’s the fascist Zeitgeist, baby.

Two parties that are exceptionally good at exploiting the lack of historical perspective are the League and the Five Star Movement. In a country like Italy, that created fascism and then found more convenient to hide behind the Resistance, selective amnesia opened the doors of power to (post)fascists already in the 1990s. I was asked to write an article about their ideological roots, and in a few days this piece took form. It is not the first time I talk about these two parties, but I never did it at such length, and I believe that the type of populist discourse they articulate, post-ideological in one case and nativist in the other, offers an interesting insight into the kind of populism that will characterize the 2020s.

Enjoy the reading…

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Interview #33 – Nationalism and Populism between culture and economy

In this interview, Dr. Daphne Halikiopoulou illustrates the common denominator of nationalist and populist political actors such as Donald Trump, Alternative for Germany, and Rassemblement National: they draw on two sets of conflict lines, first between the ‘pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elites’ and second between the in-group and the out-group.

However, this does not mean that nationalism and populism are the same thing: populism, because of its ‘chameleon-like’ nature, can be associated with ideologies which have nothing to do with nationalism, while nationalism does not have to be necessariy associated to a populist rhetoric.

Moreover, while the traditional far right parties that adopt ethnic nationalism (i.e. biological justifications of national inclusion) are electorally marginalized in Western Europe, ‘civic nationalism’ is much more rewarding in electoral terms because it sheds the stigma of fascism by putting forward ideological justifications of national inclusion and emphasizing  values, democratic institutions and liberal cultures. Continue reading

Interview #27 – Populism and Liberal Democracy with Takis Pappas

The promise is that in a democracy we will be able to have some significant degree of control over important issues that affect us. But even supposing that ‘we, the people’ can combine our diverse interests and opinions into a coherent collective will, the hard facts of political and economic interdependence often make that an empty promise. This ambiguity affects democracies regardless of their scale, and cannot be avoided either by participatory democracy in face-to-face communities or by the global democracy now projected in some quarters.

Margaret Canovan, Trust the People! (1999)

In this interview Takis S. Pappas presents his forthcoming book comparing populism across countries and over time, in order to address two crucial points: what causes populism’s rise to power and what happens under and during populist rule. He shows that populism is the outcome of extraordinary leadership acting within conditions of democratic representation crisis and able to set into motion a chain of specific micro-mechanisms until populism emerges as a significant political force. Moreover, engaging in a great populist travel from Fujimori to Papandreou through Cristina Fernández Kirchner, we discuss the peculiar traits of Donald Trump’s populism.

Enjoy the read.

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Interview # 26 – Populism and the future of democracy

A new interview addressing many thorny issues of contemporary democracy. Left-wing populist movements across the globe, malfunctions of representative democracy, the dialectic between people and politicians, horizontal and vertical dimensions of populist mobilisation, the potential democratic renewal inherent in forms of direct democracy, the future of social democracy. This, and much more, in a fluvial chat with Giorgos Katsambekis. 

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Interview #9 with Samuele Mazzolini: Trans-Atlantic Left-Wing Populism

foto mazzoliniIn this interview, Samuele Mazzolini discusses the similarities and differences between Latin American left-wing populism (especially in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia) and European left-wing populism ( in particular about Syriza, Corbyn and Podemos).

Mazzolini is a PhD candidate in Ideology and Discourse Analysis at the University of Essex. His theoretical research focuses on the notions of populism and hegemony in Laclau, while empirically he works on the experiences of the Italian Communist Party and the Ecuadorian Citizens’ Revolution. He previously worked for the Ecuadorian government and was until little ago a regular columnist of the State-owned daily newspaper El Telégrafo. He is a blogger for the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. Continue reading

Three Lessons From Contemporary Populism

2015 seemed like the perfect year for populist actors. All over the world more or less populist discourses were spread among the public opinion. In 2016 the diffusion of populism reached new and unexpected peaks. What changed in the diffusion and perception of populism? Essentially, there are three lessons we can learn. Continue reading

Crisis of a midsummer night

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

This blog wants to show also the paradoxical, extreme, funny, and soft aspects of complex political phenomena.

This is why, if one is prepared to cast an amused look to the Greek crisis, this link is phenomenal:

http://www.random-austerity-measure-generator.com/#

You can generate your random austerity measures from the comfort of your hammock.

random austerity varoufakis

Another aspect of this grotesque situation, is the controversial reply of Angela Merkel to a fourteen-year-old refugee. Merkel, accused of having humiliated Tsipras, had then to face the critiques for her reply to the young girl. I found the critiques to Merkel out of focus. She has not been mean. She has not been hypocritical. She just defended her policies on migration. She told the young Palestinian that Germany cannot host all the migrants. She did not make an exception for electoral purposes, even if that would have been easy. She didn’t say: we don’t want migrants, but since you’re here, in front of me, and you’re cute, and you’re crying, I will make an exception and let you come with your family. One can argue that the German policy about migrants is wrong, but not that Merkel has been mean. Here a good analysis of the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/merkel-and-the-crying-girl-five-lessons

 In case you didn’t see it yet, you can judge by yourself: 

POP goes on holidays for a while. The last suggestion for now is to read this interesting article from The Telegraph. The title is self-explanatory: Republican race has the flavour of ‘populism on crack’.

Here you go: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-election/11734022/Republican-race-has-the-flavour-of-populism-on-crack.html

Have a good summer folks.

“When libertarian sentiments take a populist form, it looks like this: a mix of anger, fear, anti-intellectualism, and fierce government hostility. Welcome to the Tea Party movement.”
David Niose, Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason