donald trump and viktor orban DANNY GYS/AFP/Getty Images

Drain the EU Swamp

It is no surprise that populists who campaign against corrupt elites end up being corrupt elites once in power. At the heart of the populist project is not a genuine desire for reform, but a hunger for power and personal enrichment at the public's expense.

STRASBOURG – Populist leaders have long made gains by posing as the alternative to a “corrupt elite” that enriches itself at the expense of “the people.” According to the populists, only they can restore decency to governance. Or, as Donald Trump put it during the 2016 US presidential campaign, “I alone can fix it.”

Trump made full use of the populist playbook, from labeling his opponent “Crooked Hillary” to promising that he would “drain the swamp.” But it has now been almost two years since Trump’s election, his administration is oozing scandals, and the swamp is deeper and murkier than ever.

Populists rarely deliver on their promises to clean up government, for a simple reason: Their real priority is to exploit the system for their own gain. This is clear in Central and Eastern Europe, where the region’s mini-Trumps are presiding over their own bogs of corruption.

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