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  • Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump are both described as populist candidates.

  • But the two are so radically different, how can they share the label of populism?

  • What does it mean to be populist?

  • Well, populism is the political belief that the underdog, hard working majority is undermined

  • and exploited by a small, elite minority. Populist politicians claim to represent the

  • interest of average or working class citizens, and work to unite the population against a common enemy.

  • For right-leaning politicians like Trump, that’s immigrants and the Republican establishment.

  • For leftist politicians like Sanders, it’s Wall Street, billionaires

  • and campaign finance laws.

  • Throughout history, populist ideas have often coincided with charismatic demagogues, as

  • these personality types are often successful at galvanizing the masses. In fact, one of

  • the earliest populists was Julius Caesar, who undermined Rome’s ruling aristocrats

  • by appealing to the underrepresented working class. But populism isn’t necessarily good or bad.

  • Both FDR and Adolph Hitler were decisively populist politicians, by appealing to the

  • frustrations of their respective countries.

  • Today, populist rhetoric is pervasive throughout the world. In Europe, it is generally more

  • popular on the ideological right, which believes that socialist or left-leaning policies negate the collective will of the people.

  • This was the idea behind the 2016 Brexit referendum,

  • as many working class Brits felt that globalization provided by EU membership was not to their benefit.

  • Similar populist sentiments have gained momentum throughout Europe in recent

  • years, leading some experts to predict a string of other similar referendums and, perhaps, the gradual disintegration of the EU.

  • In the US, however, populism is widespread. Liberal voters tend to resonate with issues

  • that affect the poor and working class, like income inequality. In fact, one of the most

  • recent notable American populist movements was 2011’s Occupy Wall Street,

  • which blamed corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans for creating economic instability for the rest of the country.

  • Conservatives like Trump, on the other hand, have used populist sentiments

  • to tap into votersfrustrations with bureaucrats and general distrust of the federal government.

  • For instance, the Tea Party Movement formed in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis as a protest against government overreach.

  • So whether it be in the US or abroad, populist politicians tend to operate the same way.

  • That is, they choose a popular enemy, like the establishment, immigration or criminals,

  • and rally voters to get behind that cause. Oftentimes this has led to popular movements

  • and legal reforms. Other times it has cultivated in widespread ultra-nationalism and nativism.

  • Either way, populism is an extremely effective political tool.

Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump are both described as populist candidates.

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B2 H-INT US populist populism working class class working trump

What Is Populism?

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    Anita Lin   posted on 2016/12/12
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