Getty Images

The Year Ahead 2018

Stealing the Populists’ Clothes

The populist wave that gained momentum in Poland in 2015, and spread to the United Kingdom and the United States in 2016, will still be with us in the coming year. Populism is an age-old problem for democracies, and only by recognizing what drives can we understand how to combat its appeal.

WARSAW – Two cheers for US President Donald Trump. Without him, the West would still regard populism as a problem unique to Central and Eastern Europe. Yet Trump’s presidency is as clear a demonstration as there could be of the fact that populism is not merely a product of the alleged “immaturity” of post-communist countries.

Leo Tolstoy supposedly said that the further one is from events, the more inevitable those events seem. So it is with today’s populist surge. It wasn’t inevitable that Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) would come to power with 38% of the vote in 2015; nor was it inevitable that Trump would win the US presidency, despite having received almost three million fewer votes than his opponent. In both cases, luck and the competition’s incompetence played a role, just as they did in bringing decidedly liberal forces to power in France in 2017.

Still, as we head into 2018, we should recognize that another year of populist turbulence beckons. After all, there is nothing new about populist politics in democracies, whether young or old. In the nineteenth century, the “free silver” movement divided the United States in much the same way that Brexit divides Britain today.

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/zLh7EGL;

Handpicked to read next

  1. Donald Trump delivers his address to a joint session of Congress  Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

    Trump’s Abominable Snow Job

    • In the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump presented himself as a populist who would protect America’s “forgotten” workers from the disruptions of trade and immigration and the nefarious designs of unnamed elites.

    • But, a year after assuming office, it has become abundantly clear that “America first” means workers come last.
  2. Project Syndicate

    PS Commentators’ Best Reads in 2017

    • For the first time, Project Syndicate has asked its contributors what they’ve been reading, and why. 

    • Their choices may surprise, but surely will not disappoint, readers seeking the most important books on history, politics, economics, as well as more than one novel.