In their recent book, “National Populism—The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy,” British authors Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin chronicle the rise of populism throughout the world. They use it to explain the divide which led to Brexit and Mr. Trump’s 2016 election, among others, signaling also the disgust that many voters, mainly those without college degrees or high incomes, have with office-holders in general. The public and the text assert that populism will be with us for a long time.
Populism is defined as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.” The book speaks of broad support for democracy worldwide, but not for politicians, whom the text and the voters argue are out for “special interests,” or those who have a voice in government.
Populism may explain why Boris Johnson was recently elected as Great Britain’s Prime Minister, why Brexit occurred, why Mr. Trump was elected in the U.S. and why other populist leaders are being elected worldwide or coming close to winning. The book emphasizes that populism is a fact of electoral life and should be adhered to by all. While that could change for Mr. Trump in 2020, as some voters replicate the 2018 House elections, populism remains a potent force for all who seek public office—that is, paying attention to the voiceless and seeking to represent those with little power in today’s political world. In the elections of 2018, Democrats offered the electorate-quality candidates with advanced education, a quality revered by voters, in spite of other populist views. Democrats obsessed with Mr. Trump’s impeachment ignore other, basic policy matters at their peril in 2020, though Mr. Trump will be difficult to defeat, given his base of support. Even a potential challenger, former Ohio Governor John Kasich, has said, “I’ve never seen so many people ignore it...(sic) (Trump misstatements or other outrageous declarations).”
As electorates reject traditional Party politics, that leaves room for populism, or perhaps a new Populist Party, in 2020. President Trump has seemed to realize that populism is important to him, and his reelection chances, but seems uncaring about non-populism constituencies, not seeking to expand his base of support, instead insisting in “draining the swamp” and using other cliches that attract populists.
Surprising to me is the fact that many millennials are attracted to populism. One would think they’d be anti-Trump or anti-Brexit, but the facts and polls prove otherwise. Non-college- educated voters, largely from rural states, seem to support Brexit, Trump, women’s rights and other populist figures around the world, thereby rejecting candidates who speak only to and of established interests. While they support democracy, such voters also support populist candidates, sympathizing with ethnic minorities, attaching to the nation/state and opposing high immigration, though immigration remains a difficult issue with which the public will grapple.
Germans and Irish dominated immigration to the U.S. in 1900. By 1950, the Italians and Russians dominated and beyond 1980, Mexicans were an immigration force. Today, Chinese, Indians and Mexicans predominate in the U.S. These immigrants, using American law, brought their families into the U.S., something to which Mr. Trump objects and brands as “chain migration.” While the population of minorities has grown in Amsterdam and London, foreign born population remains under five percent in Poland and Hungary, two countries that have strong nationalistic populations. They look with horror at immigrant populations in other countries.
Secularism is also a significant trait of populism. Poland has churches filled while religious affiliation in the U.S. and elsewhere has waned, meaning that populism and secularism are connected with each other. While the Catholic Churches in Hungary and Poland are prolific, as they seek to preserve religious and traditional beliefs, there are many churches in Germany and
Italy that are losing political influence because of immigration policies. German populists therefore talk of a “society without God.” In America, though, the connection ‘between national populism and religion is weaker.”
Eurabia is a term fashioned by U.S. writer Daniel Pipes who believes that the immigration of large populations of Muslims into Europe created, with many Muslim children, a change in civilizations as Muslim populations have overwhelmed non-Muslim populations, thereby possibly creating a new Europe and a threat to populists.
National populism has been around since the 1960s fueled by distrust of politicians and disconnections of many Americans, thereby securing populism’s place in elective politics.
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George Nethercutt was the 5th District Congressman for 10 years and serves as Chairman of the nonprofit George Nethercutt Civics Foundation. He has written two books, numerous articles and was a civics professor at the University of Denver.