In the United States some people may feel that having elected Donald Trump as president has contributed to the increase of populism. Citizens gravitate towards populism in hopes of electing a candidate that will meet their social and economic needs, which previous governments have not been able to accomplish. The lack of trust for the government and the search of promising leadership are both fueling populism.
For instance, most of all Trump populist supporters voted for him because of his social and economic views. Most importantly, Trump stood for “America First” and promised to be the president that provided the most job opportunities to the American people.
However, is Trump just using populism as a tool to appeal to the populists during his campaign or is he indeed a populist?
First, I would like to say congratulations to those who voted for Trump this past presidential election. Next, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to anyone that voted for Trump on the basis of populistic ideals because those individuals have simply been conned.
Donald Trump purposely used populists’ deepest concerns, without any intentions to support ordinary people, to win the election. Trump was only securing votes. Since Donald Trump has been elected he has provided inaccurate and fallacious information about ‘new’ American jobs.
For instance, on May 26th Trump took to Twitter and explained the results of the Group of Seven (G7) Summit. He concluded that the United States had made and saved billions of dollars and millions of jobs. However, it was later confirmed that a deal signed by Trump, which still needed Congress’ approval, would only provide thousands of jobs both within and outside of the U.S. but not millions. Donald Trump fully supports Brett Kavanaugh, despite Kavanaugh’s perspective on workers’ protection. Kavanaugh tends to side with businesses and often concluded that injuries and deaths are foreseeable risks by laborers in a workplace. If indeed, Kavanaugh is elected, how will his disregard for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials and his lack of workers’ rights support, aid Americans? The answer is simple…it will not.
After all, how can Donald Trump be a populist, meaning to favor the common good over the elite, when he himself is a white, billionaire elite who supports other wealthy elites? In order for Trump to truthfully be a populist he would have to alter his actions. He would have to connect more with the common people than elites.
So now that it is clear that the United States does not and has never had a populist president, the threat of populism can be addressed.
The United States is dominated by a two-party system which includes the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Since 1852, the United States has only hosted a Democrat or Republican president. There are other third parties in the U.S. such as the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and the Constitution Party. Although these parties exist along with many others, it is safe to reckon that these groups will never have a true opportunity for one of their members to possess the executive position.
In the United States most citizens identify as Democratic, Republican, or Independent. According to the party affiliation research done by Gallup, Independents have the highest percentage of members amongst the three, dating back to 2004. When Independents were asked what party between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party they prefer the most, almost always the Democratic Party was chosen more (also dating back to 2004). Today, 28% of individuals in the United States register as Republican, 31% Democrat, and 39% Independent.
Once the voting history and party affiliations are examined it is hard to say that populism strongly jeopardizes the democracy of the United States. While populism does seem to be entering and influencing the Republican Party, there has yet to be a true populist president in the United States. Ultimately, America’s two-party system appears to be winning the fight against populism at this time. Granting this, let’s just suppose one day populism does become a primary contender in the U.S. What would be the best way to deal with the populist movement?
Well, we already have two very different approaches provided to us by Jan-Werner Müller and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat. Müller’s proposal on Populism, despite his negative outlook on authoritarians, suggest including populists more in political affairs. He believes that associating with a populist does not convert someone into a populist, instead, it provides the opportunity to understand populistic notions. On the other hand, Levitsky and Ziblatt advise addressing authoritarians and extremists differently. These political scientists presume that non democracy individuals participate unfairly and as a result they should be excluded. Ultimately, Levitsky and Ziblatt recommend that pro democrats treat populists the exact way populist treat democrats. This includes excluding them from all political affairs and even ballots.
When considering the preservation of democracy, Levitsky and Ziblatt’s approach seems more practical. This is because history has proven that populist leaders diminish democracy. Examples of populist leaders who have done just that are Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, Tayyip Erdogan, and also Adolf Hitler. According to Hendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, “Post–Cold War populists such as Chávez, Putin, and Erdogan took a slow and steady approach to dismantling democracy.
These leaders first come to power through democratic elections and subsequently harness widespread discontent to gradually undermine institutional constraints on their rule, marginalize the opposition, and erode civil society.” (Kendall-Taylor & Frantz, para 3). America has these instances to refer to when deciding if relations and connections with the populist party are beneficial.
On the day when the United States comes face-to-face with a major threat of populism, the elected officials can choose what they believe is the best approach for America.