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World Association of International Studies

Post Trump as Populist
Created by John Eipper on 03/16/16 3:40 AM

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Trump as Populist (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 03/16/16 3:40 am)

Since I was in New York last year visiting my sister and brother-in-law, I have paid attention to Donald Trump's emerging popularity. I wondered, and still wonder following recent posts on WAIS, how such a character could be more than a "circus clown"--as Cameron Sawyer pointed out in his post of 15 March--or a reality TV star.

As foreigner, I am not the best person to make comments on the subject, but from an outsider point of view I feel tempted to make some honest reflections.

My question was, how it is possible that such a character has so much popularity in a deeply democratic, politically mature, country? Is the social and economic crisis so intense that it could produce an apparently irrational collective reaction in the population?.

My guess on these complex questions might be simplistic and unoriginal:  Trumpism is another expression of a rising, not new, phenomenon in politics: Populism. Is it not of the kind we have suffered in Venezuela with Chávez, the one emerging in Spain with Podemos, the AfD in Germany, Putininsm in Russia, or many others diverse political movements all over Europe and Latin America? Although they are all politically ideologically inspired, they might be from the right or the left because mainly they have some basic common elements.

Some shared traits:

--They emerge from a crisis and collective frustration:  economic, political or social.

--A charismatic leader with high communication and rhetorical skills and resources, with self-assuredness and confidence of success.

--Using demagogic language, irreverent--even politically incorrect--radical or "revolutionary" clichés with mostly unfeasible promises.

--Giving a fake empowerment role to the otherwise anonymous masses, appealing to very basic collective emotions, such as racism, patriotism or sectarianism of some kind, a great attraction to the many diverse uneducated sectors of the population.

--An old, or new, form of Chauvinism (neo-Chauvinism?) blaming of most of the problems on external enemies forces, foreigners, immigrants, other countries or commercial treaties.

--A tendency to isolate the country--ethnocentrism?--as a response to those real or imaginary "enemies"

One of my conclusions is that a great sector of the American population--Republicans and others--is not irrational, but basically coherently responding to this unfortunately attractive "siren call." On the Democratic side, I would not be sure whether Sanders is another expression of Populism.

It is hard to fight this kind of political phenomenon. From my experience, maybe to be well informed and with a good doses of common sense-- sometimes the least common of the senses--is an antidote. Most likely every country must sometime go through it to get vaccination, such as Germany with Hitler, one of the most unfortunately popular populists in history.

I must apologize for my comments if someone find them intrusive for a foreigner.

JE comments:  No apologies necessary, José Ignacio!  Often the outsider's perspective is more accurate.  The common thread that unites Trump and Sanders is indeed the populist message.  But after yesterday's poor showing in the primaries, the Sanders phenomenon appears to be waning.  The Trump Train, on the other hand, continues to gather steam.

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  • On Isle of Wight, Trump is Feared (John Heelan, UK 03/17/16 12:39 PM)
    As another outsider often critical of the US, I see the Trump candidacy as the epitome of what is wrong with US politics today. It reminds me of the 1958 book The Ugly American (Burdick and Lederer), which depicts how the then alleged failures of the US Diplomatic Corps, with its fictional insensitivity to local language, culture, customs and refusal to integrate, fared badly with its opposite numbers. (JFK distributed copies to his diplomats.)

    By the way, if ever Trump comes to the UK again, he should avoid visiting the Isle of Wight following a tongue-in-cheek column in the right-wing Daily Mail that depicted Trump's first 100 days as President as including bombing our island.

    "Day 7: President Trump declares war on the Isle of Wight. ‘The best way to deal with bullies is to hit them before they get a chance to hit you. And you know what? There's something about the Isle of Wight I don't like. It's too peaceful, too quiet. You and I know that means only one thing: something's up.'"


    JE comments:  Goodness!  And what's more, I thought Trump was fond of Wight people...

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  • A PowerPoint on Populism (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 03/19/16 4:35 PM)
    As usual, I very much enjoyed Ignacio Soler's posting (16 March), with the list of common "virtues" of populism that explains how it functions with the collaboration of the uneducated parts of the population.

    In Latin America and elsewhere, there have been and they currently are sad examples of this destructive disease that it is usually associated with rampant corruption. The recent events in Brazil with the return of Lula to the government in order to provide him immunity for his multiple wrongdoings is another gloomy example. Fortunately, the Federal Police seems to be not affected by the general corruption. Still, the parliament may be a barrier to deal with the Dilma-Lula couple.

    I made a slide out of Ignacio's thoughts, which starts making a good use of the principle of causality that it is often forgotten.

    JE comments: See below. I'll agree here with Rodolfo. José Ignacio Soler has masterfully summed up the main points of Populism.

    I hope this won't be the last WAIS post on the current troubles in Brazil.

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    • Populism vs. Laissez-Faire; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 03/20/16 8:32 AM)
      Ric Mauricio writes:

      Bravo to Rodolfo Neirotti (19 March) for an excellent slide presentation. By the way, did anyone hear the latest Trumpism? He says he loves undereducated people. Oh, sorry, WAISers, Trump won't be sending you his love.

      Regarding Tor Guimaraes's latest response to my posting, let me clarify that I am not advocating laissez-faire capitalism either. I do recognize that there is indeed an income gap that can lead to upheaval and issues. It is just that we must take great care in how we address these issues and not swing from one extreme to another.

      In China, the wealthy classes' treatment of other economic classes led to its downfall and the Mao revolution. We must be careful not to swing too far from one side to another. We must recognize that either extreme is not beneficial to any nation and its peoples. But as empires succumb to corruption and arrogance, we must recognize this human frailty and throttle its ill effect on our civilization and way of life.

      Just as with exercise and eating, everything in moderation.

      JE comments:  One point that the "One Percenters" often overlook: it's in their own interest to eliminate egregious social inequality. Upheaval is not only bad for business, it can put your own person at risk.

      This is a point raised by Paul Levine (next).

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