protest movement NurPhoto/Getty Images

Long Reads

The Resistible Rise of Populism

Populism has historically been a slippery phenomenon, sometimes focused squarely on economic grievances, but often exploiting such grievances to advance a chauvinist political agenda. That is also true today, when populist movements are gaining ground in Europe and the US, even as they and their leaders are being forced from power in Latin America.

What’s behind the swelling tide of populism-cum-nationalism seen in almost every corner of the globe? Why do so many yearn for rule by strongmen (or, in the case of France’s Marine Le Pen and Peru’s Keiko Fujimori, strong women)? For Project Syndicate commentators, the question is not only what’s driving the phenomenon, but also what can and should be done to confront it.

What’s Popular About Populism?

Some people, says former Chilean finance minister Andrés Velasco, “blame runaway globalization; others blame income inequality; still others blame out-of-touch elites who simply don’t get it.” But the truth seems to be that all three have played a part.

That underscores a basic point made by Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye: The catalyst for populism lies as much in those being led as in the ideas and characters of the populist leaders. “A Russian public anxious about its status; a Chinese people concerned about rampant corruption; a Turkish population divided over ethnicity and religion: All create enabling environments for leaders who feel a psychological need for power.” Similarly, in the United States, “[Donald] Trump magnifies the discontent of a part of the population through clever manipulation of television news programs and social media.”

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point, subscribe now.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/mU1aApn;
  1. Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and Donald Trump Getty Images

    Red Scares, Then and Now

    • Russia’s interference in American and European elections constitutes a serious offense. 

    • But by treating Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies as an existential threat, Western leaders are playing directly into the Kremlin’s hands, and validating its false narrative about Russia’s place in the world.
  2. Trump visits China Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

    China’s New World Order?

    • Now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has solidified his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, he will be able to pursue his vision of a China-led international order.

    • But if China wants to enjoy the benefits of regional or even global hegemony in the twenty-first century, it will have to prove itself ready to accept the responsibilities of leadership.
  3. Paul Manafort Alex Wong/Getty Images

    The Fall of the President’s Men

    • There can no longer be any doubt that Donald Trump is the ultimate target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

    • But even if Mueller doesn’t catch Donald Trump in a crime, the president will leave much human and political wreckage behind.
  4. Painted portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and late communist leader Mao Zedong Greg Baker/Getty Images

    When China Leads

    For the last 40 years, China has implemented a national strategy that, despite its many twists and turns, has produced the economic and political juggernaut we see today. It would be reckless to assume, as many still do in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, that China’s transition to global preeminence will somehow simply implode, under the weight of the political and economic contradictions they believe to be inherent to the Chinese model.