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Populism Versus the Media

Donald Trump has launched a war on the media, which his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has labeled the “opposition party.” But many US journalists, unlike their British counterparts, are fighting back, working to protect civil society from the worst excesses of populism.

LONDON – I am old enough to remember when the best thing about populism was that it was not popular. Nativism, in any form, did not hit many political bull’s-eyes. Economic protectionists didn’t win elections. Voters, even those concerned about immigration, based their choices on economic and welfare issues, which the media reported on with relative accuracy.

Today, however, we seem to be moving toward a different sort of politics. The most frequently cited examples are the United Kingdom’s vote last year to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in the United States. Both Poland and Hungary also provide worrying examples of politicians using nationalist and populist rhetoric to advance goals that reek of incipient authoritarianism.

Of course, there is a difference between the use of crude nationalism within actual authoritarian regimes and within democracies. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin use nationalism to consolidate support, just like Western politicians might, but they lack democratic constraints and can all but ignore the rule of law.

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