Only 4 days after Election Day, with Joe Biden as the projected winner, Trump supporters took to the streets and social media in opposition. Despite Bidens’ win, Trump and his supporters have left their mark on the Republican Party, resulting in the continued rise of populism. In the article, “What is Populism? and is Donald Trump one?” the author describes the concept of populism as two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people on the one end and the corrupt elite on the other. Then, based on his definition of populism he argues that President Donald Trump is not a populist leader. In the last paragraph, Uri Friedman debates that if Trump would be considered as a populist, how would we perceive it – as a threat to democracy or rather a harmless state? https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/02/what-is-populist-trump/516525/
First of all, I agree with the author’s statement that populism is an ideology associated with a statement that society is divided into two antagonistic groups: the pure common man versus the corrupt elite. However, we should keep in mind that populism lacks a concrete definition and can take different forms. The definitions of “the common man” or “the people” have yet to be identified. With each rising populist movement, it can seem to change. I believe that in the first paragraph the author overlooked the open definition of populism while claiming that Trump is not a populist leader. Uri Friedman argues that Trump shouldn’t be perceived as one because he doesn’t represent the voice of people. For example, during his presidential-announcement speech, he used versions of the word “I” 256 times. What is more, the author states that Trump as a businessman can’t be a representation of common people. However, as I mentioned before, the unspecified definition of populism allows Trump’s populism to still be qualified as this ideology. There are many examples that show how Trump became the voice of people and represented the pattern “us versus them’’. The perfect example of becoming a voice of people may be based on the ’’deep story’’ described in the book ‘’ Strangers in their own land’’ (summary: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/strangers-in-their-own-land/summary). The residence of Louisiana were hard workers, going towards upward economic mobility. However, they realized that other people such as women, black and Latino Americans, immigrants, and refugees, LGBT people, were living off others’ tax dollars. As a consequence, they became Trump’s supporters and followers of red party policies. The residence were attracted to Trump’s persuasive style because it was focused on emotion instead of argument. According to the author, Trump pleased people by appeal to their emotional self-interest and showing emotional connection with them, as “their voice’’.
The author of the Atlantic article doesn’t agree that populism should be seen as a threat to democracy. He presents a more neutral point of view by, for example, bringing the opinion of Pipa Norris, “Populists are problematic for free societies, but they’re also responding to profound problems in those societies; they succeed when they tap into people’s genuine grievances about the policies pursued by their leaders’’. However, I believe that populism should be seen as an ideology that puts democracy in danger. For example, Miller describes populism as a “nightmare state of democracy, where a fool, a criminal, or both” is elected. A populist tends to hijack the state apparatus as it was and can be associated with systematically suppressing civil society. It is a purely exclusionary form of political identification. It is a problem plaguing not just the United States, but almost all modern democracies can identify signs of populism, from Poland to England, from Greece to Italy. Many twentieth-century writers referred to the rise of populism under the guises of “the Big Lie” e.g Hitler and his scapegoating of all German sociopolitical issues on the Jewish people. I understand that Americans may be particularly blinded to the warning signs of populism because of the perceived resiliency in the strength of the American institution, but this is even more reason to not be complacent. Populism can be the biggest threat to the true definition of democracy. It can violate rights, deny inclusivity, and restrict contestation. It often manipulates the under-educated masses through emotional appeals of “us” versus “them” mentalities.
A populist, like President Donald Trump, claims to be the spokesperson for the silent majority, but this spokesperson will undeniably reduce the legitimacy of the minority groups (which may, actually, be the majority groups now). They lash out against the courts because of their “independence” from the legislative process, and the press for their ability to contest. Mobilized by the worldwide Great Recession of 2008, the failure to handle international immigrant crises, and massive changes in technology, populist tendencies are rooting themselves deep into the political environment of the twenty-first century.