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World Politics: A Populist Kind of Politician

Updated on October 7, 2015
Rob Ford quickly became a wave through Canada and the world.
Rob Ford quickly became a wave through Canada and the world. | Source

Populism and Popular Politicians

For decades now the Western World has been stuck in a kind of political malaise. Politicians have become parodies of their own talking points - highly polished by their political advisors to virtually have invisible teleprompters before their eyes at all times.

Debates have become something of a joke, new and fresh policy is almost nonexistent and the the political class has increasingly become more disconnected with the constituents they are supposed to represent in our modern democracies.

This has left a vacuum open for less than acceptable politics to be introduced. For the politically disillusioned what is new and flashy is better than what is old and dry - especially when the new appears better to represent them than the old.

Populism is a political tool in which a politician aggressively appeals to the base instinct of a wide portion of the electorate. Through playing to these base desires a figure can easily connect to a base and motivate a constituency towards them.

Rob Ford here in Canada is an interesting case study in this - far removed from the typical strategy of forcibly removing atypical personal quirks and squatting in the centrist middle zone. Mr. Ford’s political persona was full of life, liberty of spirit and rather odd and sometimes despicable policy.

Yet despite this disavowal of typical politics Rob became overnight one of the most talked about politicians in not only Canada but the world. Some may disregard this as notoriety rather than popularity but I am a firm believer in the old adage that there is no bad publicity.

This man who resembles more a celebrity than a politician became mayor of the largest city in Canada and still holds a seat in council.

This can be attributed to his introducing of incohesive and piecemeal Populist policies, such as refitting towards motorist focused transit by such measures as removing bike lanes, whilst reducing the city budget by three billion dollars.

Donald Trump is a similar figure to Ford in more ways than one.

How could the xenophobic Trump be so successful, even if only in the earlier stages, in the GOP campaign? He is vulgar, mean spirited, unqualified and particularly abhorrent in policy. The Donald Trump difference is one key element - Populism.

Donald Trump's campaign of xenophobia cannot win.
Donald Trump's campaign of xenophobia cannot win. | Source

The Dangers of Populism

Populism relies on politicians shaping their policy to the tune of their underlying base’s whim. This is as dangerous a proposition as it sounds.

When Trump attacks immigration as he does he preys on the xenophobia of a portion of the American public. When Rob Ford attacked biking as a form of transit in Toronto he preyed on the frustration of motorists in the inner city.

This method of politics is both unhealthy for the public and the overall status of politics in general if it is allowed to manifest itself properly.

For proof of this examine Populism at its worst, in such utilizers as Far Right parties in Europe like the Hungarian Jobbik Party and Greek Golden Dawn. Both use Populism to fit their purposes and manipulate the fear and frustration of their constituents to achieve their ends.

In policy substantive reasoning and rationality is required for sound judgement. Irrationality and instinct belong to the wayside in good governance. It should be made clear that the public’s interests are only served if the methods which achieve policy are well thought and removed from fear and anger - what a constituency wants is not always what the public needs.

Sanders shows us how to fight the root of Populism.
Sanders shows us how to fight the root of Populism. | Source

How To Fight Populism

How we can fight Populism is to reconnect the politically disillusioned back into the fold.

Many liken Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump and in some ways they are correct - both are varyingly against established order of things and both are attracting a base which are unhappy with the status quo.

However Bernie Sanders is a seasoned political figure and is a perfect example of how to achieve a reasonable fight against Populism. The poor and vulnerable are most susceptible to Populist politics and his cohesive, consistent and well thought out platform is primed to reconnect those who feel the establishment no longer works for them.

There is no replacement for good policy and being against the status quo isn’t a strike against this - in fact it is an important part of healing the wounds which allow Populism to fester.

No one can say that Populism is a viable tool to achieve anything politically but its attraction is strong and the only thing that can stop it is real concrete reasonable change.

As the saying goes the politics of fear must be replaced by the politics of hope and that is what we must look for in our leaders now and in the future.


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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      The current rise of populism in the world is concerning but not surprising with the massive income and wealth inequality. I absolutely agree with you that Bernie Sanders and his considered remedies are the antidote to clowns like Trump. Excellent Hub, Adam.


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