Along with “democratic socialism,” “protectionism,” and “Berning,” the word “populism” has become part of 2016 America’s vernacular thanks to the circus that is the presidential election. Like it sounds, “populism” deals with popularity, in this case among American voters. In a new op/ed for the Detroit News, Samuel Gregg explains why populism will absolutely not make America great again.
This isn’t the first time populism has appeared in American or world history. “It often manifests itself,” Gregg argues, “whenever enough people conclude — sometimes correctly — that the political system is rigged in favor of insider-elites who pursue their own interests rather than the common good.” An individual capitilizes on disgust with “insider-elites” and the “establishment” for his or her own benefits. This person sees the opportunity to utilize “frustration with the status quo” and he or she then promises the people real and serious change. Voters are lulled into trusting that once this charismatic leader is elected, he or she will fix everything and make the world a better place for the voters who felt overlooked by previous leaders.
Gregg explains some characteristics of the “populist leader:”
Over time, the actual content of the populist leader’s words starts to matter less and less. [Voters] ignore obvious contradictions in the leader’s statements and policy positions. These are never especially clear and regularly “evolve,” depending on the need or audience.