The Age of Populism is Troubling
The best definition of the populist movement that I have heard comes from former Ontario Premier Bob Rae. Oh, I know, he is a Leftie, and his political views and mine are often a mile apart. Even so, to the chagrin of many of my Conservative friends, he remains on my short list of politicians I admire. He is a Humanitarian and a Statesman, and he has an ability to rise above partisan politics when the occasion requires it. I am not sure if this explanation of populism originated with Bob Rae or that I just heard it from him, but here it is.
“Populism is a pathology of the left and the right. Its excesses lead not just to tyranny, but to an unhealthy adulation of the leader. It is now a global phenomenon and a threat to liberty, pluralism and the rule of law.”
Think about that. Populism is not a partisan ideology although there are some who would like to think so. It is a movement that affects and indeed infects, all sides of the political spectrum. It springs from a lack of confidence in Governments that have failed to inspire, and it unleashes people’s hidden and repressed feelings on issues they did not previously feel empowered to express.
The best example of this of course, is the United States of America. In reality, the Presidential election in 2016 did not so much elect a Republican or a Democrat as it elected a Populist. In my view, Donald Trump could have won on either ticket (remember he was once a Democrat) as long as he appealed to that part of the population that was completely fed up with the status quo. People wanted something very different, in spite of the consequences of electing an individual who was somewhat on the weird side, to put it as nicely as I can.
And what are those consequences? Well, for one thing, populism as an entity, had a spotty existence prior to Trump, but his election legitimized the movement that has spread like uninoculated measles, throughout the world. Our moral compass is all shot to hell. The rule of law used to be the underpinning of a democratic society. Today it is wobbly at best. Truth is not necessarily important and lying is often ignored. And we trash each other. We breed contempt for any one who does not think like we do, and we no longer fully defend what is right or equally important, condemn what is wrong. It is our way or the highway and little else matters.
The populist movement allows people who would undermine our society to believe they can get away with atrocious acts. The White Supremacy Movement is only one example, but it is a good one. It has reared its ugly head again and blame for that, can at least in part, be laid at the feet of Donald Trump. Intentionally, or otherwise, he has led these animals to believe he supports them. Oh, there are weasel words every now and then, calling them bad boys and girls, but he does not condemn them. In fact, he says there are good people on both sides. And when asked whether the terrorist attack in the name of white nationalists in New Zealand, slaughtering 50 Muslims at worship, was an indication of an escalating world-wide crisis, he shrugged it off as just a small group of dudes who have serious problems.
No, Mr. President it isn’t. It is becoming a world-wide crisis involving violent white supremacists. These are not isolated incidents; these are people who talk to each other over social media, who plan the attacks killing Muslims, Jews, and people of colour, like the Mosque in Christchurch, The Tree of Life Synagogue, Mother Emmanuel AME Church, Oak Creek Sikh Temple, Overland Park Jewish Centre and the Islamic centre of Quebec City, to name just a few in recent years. And do you know what many of them have in common sir? Your name in their manifestos; the latest one describing you as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” You could set them straight, but you don’t because you are more concerned with your populist base. These terrorists look up to you because you enable them. You must be proud.
Compare President Trump’s response to acts of white nationalist terrorism in the United States to those of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She didn’t just show up for the photo ops and praise both sides. She unilaterally and unconditionally condemned the slaughter. She referred to the victims as her fellow citizens and she donned a head scarf in deference to Muslim custom and got down on her knees and prayed with them. She also banned semi-automatic weapons within six days of the massacre. It paints a much different picture doesn’t it?
My guess is that we will see much more of Prime Minister Ardern. No doubt, her approach to the management of issues related to multiculturalism and diversity, which are now a reality in almost every country outside of the Middle East, will differ sharply from those of President Trump, as will her view of the rule of law or of gun control. He will not like the international contrast and it will really tear him up if she gets the Nobel Peace prize and he does not. Let’s see how long it takes for him to try to put her down.
After all, it’s his populist base that counts.
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