Populist Rhetoric, Slanted Causal Stories, and Polarization in Mexico

In this article, Rodolfo Sarsfield talks about the populist ideology in the discourse of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), president of Mexico, and the deep polarization it is unleashing. AMLO has been described as an authoritarian politician without any fixed ideology who inspires cultlike devotion in his followers. How does he construct the idea of people and who is part of what he calls mafia of power? Who are the fifís and who are the chairos? How does the populist discourse change from opposition to government? Sarsfield answers these and other questions…

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What is celebrity populism and why should we take it seriously?

You don’t know what the actor Matthew McConaughey has in common with former comedian Beppe Grillo? You did not know that in 2015 Volodymyr Zelensky played the role of president of Ukraine in a TV show, and that in 2019 he actually became the president of Ukraine? You never heard of Miroslav Škoro or Slavi Trifonov? Then, this article is for you.

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Migration, walls and populism in Bulgaria

In this article Ildiko Otova and Evelina Staykova present their new book ‘Migration and Populism in Bulgaria’, published by Routledge. They descrbe how Bulgaria was unprepared for the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers in 2015, and how this phenomenon produced a sense of emergency that was exploited by populist actors. The populist rhetoric about the ‘migrants crisis’ of 2015 became so widespread that also non-populist actors started framing the topic in the same way. This produced a normalisation of right-wing, authoritarian, and populist discourses. Fear and scapegoating were used to generate a ‘crisis’ that has exacerbated popular dissatisfaction with the country’s institutions. In this context, real solutions and effective policies remained a mirage. Apart from walls, obviously, which are an all-time favourite and an instinctive response of authoritarian populists. In July 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bulgaria’s pushback practice violates human rights, and in August, amid growing concern in Europe over an influx of migrants from Afghanistan, Bulgaria decided once again to bolster its border with Greece and Turkey with hundreds of soldiers.

Ildiko Otova and Evelina Staykova tell us how we got here…

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A Specter is Haunting Brazil: What to Expect from Him who claims to represent “the people?”

In this article, Eduardo Tamaki analyzes the last, worrying developments from Brazil. President Bolsonaro does not simply claim to represent “the people” in opposition to the “elites”, as the classic populist textbook prescribes, but went further. He hijacked religion and introduced nationalistic, patriotic elements. This allowed him to start a moral, religious crusade with the goal to defend the “fatherland” against every sort of enemy: the “old politics”, Communism, the Supreme Federal Court. Of this crusade, of course, he is the leader, the Commander, the Messiah.

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INTERVIEW #52 — Protests and memory politics in Romania

In this interview, Ionut Chiruta explains how the memory of Romania’s Communist past has been used to protect and justify a corrupt system. Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, chose to exploit the traumatic memories linked to the secret police —Securitate— that for decades terrorized the population, to justify his judicial reforms. These reforms had one main purpose: to decriminalize the government’s corruption. To achieve this, Dragnea delegitimized the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) by comparing it to the Securitate system. Dragnea consciously manipulated the country’s collective memories to create a short-circuit that protects his system of corruption by linking his enemies to the most traumatic aspects of the Communist past. A great lesson about the importance of collective memories and the politics of memory, between collective amnesia and dealing with the past.

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The Spanish party system is mutating: a journey through multiple crises

Carolina Plaza Colodro describes the mutations that characterized the Spanish party system during the last decade. Corruption scandals, the management of austerity, and the reactivation of regional identities are among the factors that brought to the end of a bipartisan system based on the centre-right PP and the centre-left PSOE. Populism found favourable opportunity structures and emerged from the necessity of democratic regeneration, marked by a triple crisis: economic, political, and territorial. Podemos, once in power, started struggling to maintain its anti-establishment rhetoric, while the growing role of VOX ended the so-called Spanish exceptionalism, introducing yet another mutation in the Spanish party system, with important implication for the country’s democracy.

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Democracy and Populism: the (Black) Mirror of Society

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
― Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator


Why democracy should listen to populism

Governing well is possible —in fact, it is necessary— and not despite populism, but thanks to it. How? The first step consists in clearing the table from a classic misunderstanding: populism is not the opposite of democracy. That would be authoritarianism, or dictatorship, or fascism. Populism can actually be very helpful: it measures how much democracy is under pressure and offers a potential relief valve. When we witness Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Jair Bolsonaro, or Rodrigo Duterte tearing apart democratic principles we are not observing the effects of populism, but the effects of authoritarianism on its way to become fascism.

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AUR – The Golden Dawn of Romania?

Magdalena Ulceluse discusses a new far right, nationalist and populist force within Romanian politics: AUR, Alliance for the Unity of Romanians. How did AUR become the fourth party with over 9% of the vote share? And why this came, at least in the rest of Europe, as an unexpected surprise? Their use of social media, their offline presence, and controversial style attracted many young people, especially under 30, from poor and religious regions. AUR combines conservative and religious values with anti-establishment, populist discourses, and is exploiting grievances linked to the lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic to gather attention and attract voters.

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You Won’t Like This: A Populist Addresses Donald Trump

We received a “brief polemic” article that we we decided to publish. The author is Richard D. Parker, who has taught Constitutional Law at Harvard since 1974 and is the Williams Professor of Justice. He is the author of “Here the People Rule”: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto as well as essays on constitutional argument and theory. He is now writing an essay entitled “Constitutional Law Is In Our Imagination”.

He claims that this “brief polemic”, speaking to and for populists, “has been rejected by every significant news outlet in the United States whose anti-populism is remarkably deep”.

This unconventional article, as the title says, is addressed to Donald Trump and comes from a deeply populist point of view, against the establishment and in favor of the popular right to remove an elite “deaf to the voice of the people”.

It is hard to agree that, among all the things he has done in the last four years, Trump’s problem was his betrayal of a populist upsurge, but this is what makes this article thought-provoking and unsettling in equel measure.

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Interview #51 — Turkish populism and Meral Akşener’s Good Party

In this interview we focus on a populist party from Turkey: the İYİ Party, or the ‘Good Party‘. In just three years from its foundation it started shaping Turkish politics relying on a classic populist approach. Who is the party’s leader Meral Akşener? Why do they call her she-wolf, sister, and Hayme Ana? With Tuğçe Erçetin and Emre Erdoğan we talk about populism and nationalism in Turkey, the future of Turkish democracy under President Erdoğan, and analyse how the leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) modified their populist rhetoric in the last years.

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