Populist politics can be a force for good

26 Feb 2017

It won’t have escaped your notice what the President of the United States is doing – and indeed what he has already done.


His most recent controversial (and utterly ludicrous) decision was to block journalists from The New York Times, CNN and Politico from a White House press briefing. They have been a weekly custom for all presidents since Franklin D Roosevelt’s election in 1932.


This action follows the comments the Trump made about the media being “the enemy of the people”. His language here is clearly polarising: he is creating a divide between the media, who are simply covering the news, and the people – the consumers of the news.


The President doesn’t only think of the media as an enemy of the American public, but politicians too. In his inauguration speech back in January, he said: “The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories.”


He went on to add: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”


What we see once again is polarising language. He creates a divide between Americans and their politicians – even though he is one now.


The creation of this divide is populist politics. Simple. The definition of populism is “the policies or principles of any of various political parties which seek to represent the interests of ordinary people” which, on the surface, sounds brilliant. Not to mention vague.
America and Europe is going through a phase of populist politics. We may not like it (especially if we are liberal) but we must look at it closely. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that populist politics is pitting the people against the establishment – something that many liberals actually agree with.
In December last year, homelessness charity Shelter said a quarter of a million people in the UK are without a home. Ironically, Westminster topped their further analysis of which cities are the worst for homelessness. Shelter found that one in twenty-five people were living without a home in the heart of our democracy.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will make Britain a tax haven for companies in a desperate attempt to keep our economy afloat when we leave the EU. It’ll make Britain the economy with the lowest corporation tax of the world’s top twenty economies. Potentially, her tax cut will be less than the 15% her fellow leader Mr Trump promised.
So, while the rich are getting a tax break, there are 250,000 homeless people on our streets. A similar thing happened under David Cameron’s leadership, too. MPs in 2015 received a pay rise of £7,000, taking their wages to almost £75,000. And this April, their salary will rise again by 1.3% according to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). This is all while public sector workers have had their pay rises capped at 1% until 2019 while their workload only increases (see the junior doctors strike and teaching workloads).
Looking at populist politics, then, you can see why it has a point. The government seems to be a totally different entity to the rest of us. They turn up to vote for their own pay rise and once again to prevent millions of public sector workers – who do the real graft – from receiving theirs. They give an easy ride to those who help them stay rich and in power, disregarding the powerless at the bottom.
Populism isn’t entirely evil. It can go two ways: left or right. It just so happens that the people who have been able to sense a growing distaste for the establishment among the people are the right-wing elitists. They decide to use the populist rhetoric but do harm rather than good.
Perhaps Trump’s presidency (although horrifying for minorities and women) is spreading awareness of the fact that we need a change. We need a change in who runs the country and who they run it for. While Trump won’t truly run the country for the people, his rhetoric will stay in their minds – the rhetoric of them being wronged by those in power.
And when he doesn’t change that, an opportunity for a better populist politics will arise. Populism can be a great thing when used for good.
We’ll just have to hold tight for now.

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