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Popular Populism: Making the World Great Again?

How unlikely was the presidential election victory for Donald Trump? With Hillary

Clinton favored at -300, its safe to say most people did not see it coming. What was more than

1,000 times (literally) less likely to happen than a Trump presidency? A victory for the so called

Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom. Anyone who wants to read about one of these

unique, once in a lifetime political events have more choices on the internet available to

them than a soccer mom buying groceriesyet the underlying theme and rhetoric of these

movements have been left unconnected to the larger scheme of things in the mainstream. I

believe the political uprisings in developed democracies are connected and could potentially be

dangerous if there is not some sort of course correction.

It was early spring, and a presidential hopeful stood in front of the cameras citing a

failure of leadership in Washington to drive him to run for President of the United States. This

candidate was thought by most to be a longshot, guaranteed to not make it out his partys

primary process. He was unconventional, unexperienced, but many say hes a very charismatic

speaker and despite his unconventional ideas; were drawn to him. Which candidate am I

speaking of? Why President Obama of course. In a weird way, President Obama lead the way

for future ideological movements and candidates similar to what has now been popularized by

President Trump. There are other parallels that can be made, (such as their fundraising tactics

to go outside their party system) but whats important is that right wing populism as we know it

right now started on the backs of a democratic outsider chanting: yes we can in 2007.
Fast forward a couple years. America has now elected its first black presidentand

many people arent a fan of his politics. Ratings for the talking heads like Sean Hannity, Glenn

Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are skyrocketing. These and others are gaining popularity by giving

daily diatribes on how the government is broken, the media is fake, and dealing out conspiracy

theories as fact (like say, the birther movement). Their voices would ultimately give way to a

new political movement on the right-wing: the Tea Party. In the 2010 midterm elections in the

United States; the Tea Party dominates and not only do they win back the House but they

lessen the democratic majority in the Senate.

Across the pond in Europe, an interesting shift is taking place. Mainstream parties are at

historically weak points they havent seen since the world wars. Insurgent policies are popping

up in The Netherlands, in France, and UK most notably. All of these parties have a leader who is

seen to be a charismatic politician on the rise. The mainstream incidentally aids the growth of

these parties across Europe as they begin to adopt watered-down versions of their rhetoric and

policies. A growing sense of legitimacy for these political outsiders and insurgents allows them

to not only hang around but gain momentum.

Now; the stage is set. Donald Trump, Marine le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders are

now front and center on the world stage and there are other candidates in several parties

starting to capitalize on the perceived populist rage of social and economic changes to western

society. A lot of these changes seem to be benefitting certain people enormously, while leaving

many to feel left behind, forgotten about, and ignored.

The first parallel to draw across these movements is in the underdog element. The

aspect of proving people wrong is more than a talking point for media coverage. There is a

common demographic across these countries that are receptive to this message being: working

class white. While cultures undoubtedly have many subtle and not so subtle differences, the

psychological makeup of a type of a person (in this case working class white) is always going to

have some similarities because of the environmental resemblance. This type of person (the

common person), is more likely to sub consciously or consciously gravitate towards the

David archetype from David and Goliath. Proving the elite, know-it-all, pundits wrong feeds

into that narrative. Whether knowingly or on purpose, the little guy standing up to

bureaucrats was a big part of the exploited rhetoric for these political movements. Across

national boundaries, the first shared theme can be identified as the underdog complex.

The next dot to connect between these movements is strongly shared bit of rhetoric:

getting control of the borders/tighter immigration. All of these political movements have made

it a point to bring immigration (or rather the lack of it) to the forefront. This brings in a lot of

baggagerisking scrutiny and opening up to be called racist, or xenophobic--but it is a

calculated risk as it is shown to strike a strong accord with the target base. In fact, research

done with focus groups by the Leave campaign in the UK showed that aversion to immigration

was their strongest weapon. This is one of the more dangerous messages from these political

movements. Geert Wilders the leader of the PVV in The Netherlands once said the Koran was a

fascist book while also calling Islam a totalitarian religion. Marine Le Pen once stated: I am
opposed to a multi-cultural France. The former Prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott said:

Jesus knew there was a place for everyone, and its not everyones place to be in Australia.

Boris Johnson one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign once said: Orientals have larger

brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole. President Trump said on the

campaign trail: The more economic difficulties increase; the more immigration will be seen as

a burden. Okay, actually I lied about that last one he didnt say that. However, that is a real

quote from a leader admonishing immigration, actually Adolf Hitler was the one who said that. I

know its super lame and disingenuous how people always compare politicians they dont like

to Hitler but all Im saying is there was a moment where you totally believed me and that

should count for a little something. History has shown that nativist, anti-immigration rhetoric

leads to tragic things and it has been said that those who do not know history are doomed to

repeat it.

The next similarity isnt as glaring, yet speaks to a pattern among these movements

nonetheless. The basis of right wing populism in the UK was built on leaving the EU, and a

constant bullet point Trump hit on in his campaign stump was to leave NAFTA. While leaders

like Le Pen and Wilders may not have had the same opportunity to leave the EU like in the UK,

it is certainly no secret where they stand. Marine Le Pen going as far to say that the British

people should be proud everyday for the referendum result. While this detail might not seem

as significant as say immigration, it speaks volumes in terms of learning about the rhetorical

pattern established. Its not about substance, but the feeling of these moves. When President

Trump backed out of the Paris climate agreement, it was to make a point--he wanted to put
America first no matter the perceived cost. Abandoning these things drives home the point that

bureaucrats and their fancy policies are bad, and that the people who set up these systems

werent doing it with the common people in mind.

Nationalism was a contributing factor that cant be ignored within these political

movements. To make ones country great again, returning to better times was no doubt a

sentiment pushed by many campaign leaders. This is an overlooked element by a lot of people

because, so what of course politicians from different countries think their country has a right to

be recognized as the best, whats wrong with that? I must again return to the pages of history

because, what else can we use to predict the future other than the past? History is clear;

nationalism is dangerous. Nationalism leads to genocide and racism and conflict and war.

Nationalism leads to Bosnia. Nationalism leads to World War I. I know its hyperbole to say

were on the brink of World War, but lets take a brief look. Before World War I countries across

Europe were taken over by propaganda from small, insurgent political parties that lead

governments to believe other countries in Europe werent as good. America was experiencing a

sudden wave of immigration that made it difficult for a lot of people to find workand many

people resented this fact blaming Jews, Irish, Italian, Polish, for a lack of work. Im not saying

Im just saying.

Now, to focus in more on Donald Trumps campaign for presidency, and the Leave

campaign. An alarming parallel between them is a surprising amount of alternative facts if

you willand their use on the campaign trail. A popular line from the Leave campthat was
even plastered to a buswas that Britain was sending 350 million pounds a week to Brussels it

could be spending on national health care. However, this number was widely criticized as

Britain gets back a substantial sum from the EU every week. Also, the difference in the money is

worth it because without being a part of the EU, Britain would have to establish its own

individual trade deals with each of its European neighbors which would end up being more

expensive. As John Oliverhost of HBOs Last Week Tonight--put it the bus should have read:

We actually send the EU a proportion of our GDP which makes fiscal sense. In fact, considering

the benefits we reap in return oh shit, were running out of bus! Okay bye! The Trump

campaigns affinity for twisting the facts was fairly well documented as well. To name a couple,

stating that the Mexican government wanted criminals to cross the border, the US corporate

tax rate is the highest in the world, and Poltifacts lie of the year: Muslims in New Jersey were

cheering when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Why were these and other lies deemed okay by

supporters? Statistical analysis shows Trump did amazing among voters whos education was

no higher than a high school diploma. Supporters of Trump overwhelmingly sighted emotion

over logic as to explain why they voted for him. Obviously, part of the appeal of Donald Trump,

Nigel Farage, or Boris Johnson wasnt that they were wordsmiths, but rather unafraid to speak

their mind and reject the politically correct mainstream. These politicians were popular

among voters who had a disconnect with the elites who were spewing the data, so it became

all too easy to simply go along with Trump, Farage, and Johnson in blissful ignorance or willing

A new era of politics has been ushered into developed democracies around the world,

and we are all in uncharted waters. This could be dangerous if we do not seek to understand

and question what has been presented to us in recent history. Lets make our world great


(Im not actually going to end here or like this/but Ive hit a wall and I want to sleep).