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 #36 — The Far Right Today

The Far Right Today is Cas Mudde’s new book. It is extremely recommended for academics, but its clarity, scope, and tone make it a great read for everyone interested in knowing what form the far right takes in contemporary politics, its origins and causesleadership styles, and its links to issues such as religion and gender. Most importantly, this book is a great read for those who want to know what can be done to protect liberal democracy’s pluralism and minority rights.

The book brings you across neo-Nazi skin subcultures of Mongolia and Malaysia, the Japanese gaisensha (vans covered in propaganda slogans and fitted with loudspeakers), Eastern German football hooligans, Nemzeti rock, and femonationalism, with a particular emphasis on cases such as India, Hungary, Israel, Brazil, and the United States. The variety of cases examined, the clarity of the language, and the diversity of topics considered, contribute to offer a panoramic view of the contemporary far right with vivid colors and unsettling details, but it also offers an engaging and necessary pro-active section on how to respond to the challenges posed by the far right.

Enjoy the read.


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Interview #35 — Notes from the third nationalist wave

In this interview, Sivamohan Valluvan explores the current wave of nationalism. Valluvan argues that Trump, Bolsonaro and Orban capitalized on the mainstreaming of nationalist ideas that started with moderate predecessors declaring the ‘death of multiculturalism’ such as Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron. We then explore many topics and examine a variety of examples, including Brexit, authoritarian populism, Denmark, Thatcherism, and common misunderstandings about the links between working-class and nationalism.

His new book, “The Clamour of Nationalism” is an excellent read, and lately it has been mentioned in a very interesting article concerning the debate on how Europe intends  to “protect the European way of life”.

Enjoy the read.

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Trump and Brexit Vs working class – A double Interview

In this double interview, Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter look at Brexit and Trump as *white* phenomena rather than working class revolts. They argue that the ‘working class’ narrative grew in recent years and it has uncritically suggested that the far right has become predominantly supported by the working class, while this is not the case. The first step in the creation of this narrative has been to ignore the role of abstention in the working class. In turn, the working class has become increasingly represented as the white working class, ignoring its diversity. Therefore, Mondon and Winter claim, those pushing these agendas are not only legitimising racist ideas, but also encouraging classism in an extremely condescending manner. This also obscures that in both cases (Trump’s election and Brexit), the bulk of the reactionary vote comes from the wealthier parts of the population.

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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 #23: Populism and emotions

Populist actors use an emotional, dramatized and colloquial language, and for this reason their messages are more convincing. Or, at least, that is what many commentators have been arguing for quite some time. In her research, Dominique Wirz* found out that this is actually the case. In this interview she explains that populist messages are very likely to trigger emotions – negative emotions towards the bad people and positive emotions towards the good people. Moreover, since negative emotions are unpleasant, people feel a strong need for immediate solutions and this seems to makes populist appeals especially persuasive.

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Interview #20 – 150 years of populism and nativism with Hans-Georg Betz

POP finally interviewed Hans-Georg Betz, one of the major experts of populism. He has been professor of political science at various North American universities (Marquette University, Milwaukee; SAIS, Washington; York University, Toronto), and author of several books on radical right-wing populism and numerous articles and chapters on the radical right, populism, and nativism. Currently he teaches political science at the University of Zurich.

Since more than twenty years prof. Betz studies American and European populism in historical perspective. For this reason POP asked him to link the present situation of intolerance, racism, and new walls, with the roots of nativist and illiberal populism in the 19th century. This is particularly important because it allows to understand under which socio-economic situations populism and nativism become successful, which lessons we can learn from past populist outbursts, and what can be done to contrast them. Enjoy the read.

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Interview #19 Nadia Urbinati – The roots of #Charlottesville, techno-populism, and the end of World War II

The day after #Charlottesville, POP interviewed Nadia Urbinati. After one hour on the phone, it was clear that the quantity and quality of issues discussed, topics explored, and cases mentioned, came to form an extended and vivid portrait of modern populism in the US and its historical roots, the populistization of politics in Easter Europe, the advent of techno-populism, the future of Italian democracy, post-colonial populism in Latin America, and racism all over the world.

nadiaNadia Urbinati teaches Political Theory at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University.  She published extensively on democratic theory, representative government and the interpretations of democracy. Her most recent book is Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth and the People (Harvard University Press 2014).

Enjoy the read.

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Donald “the symptom” Trump: kakistocracy & coprolalia

One can fight the corrupt elites in the name of the people. One can oppose the caste, the establishment, the banksters. One can claim to be pure, innocent, clean, bio, and sell political enlightenment at the corner of the street. Burrito “Frederick the Great“, everybody. One can draw clear lines, divide us and them, black and white, build a wall, perch on top and indicate the mass of pariahs. One can hire a powerful computer and delegate decisions to its silicon democracy. One can open the book of answers and distribute plenty of certainties. One can set free the tiger of subconscious, and speak clear like the man in the street. Salt of the earth, hallelujah! Continue reading

Transnational Left-Wing Populism: A Response to Trump’s Victory (?)

In this article, Panos Panayotu* introduces the concept of transnational left-wing populism and explains why it is a necessary answer to Donald Trump’s victory. Following Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, he provides a brief overview about the advantages of a populist movement which goes beyond national boundaries and that provides an alternative approach to globalization.


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