You know its bad news for America but you do not really know what a Trump presidency means for the rest of the world. This is because nobody really does. He did not focus on presenting a clear and concise platform. Instead he focused on rhetoric, his platform constantly shifting and changing.
Trumps tax plan alone changed significantly between 3 forms during his campaign and economics is one of the areas he claimed to be well versed in. Nobody can be certain what will happen with a billionaire that also claims he will be better at negotiating with Iran than John Kerry, a man with decades of experience in political negotiation. This is what we can be certain of, there is uncertainty coming January 20th, 2017. There is one other thing we can take away from this though: Trump’s victory has validated populism and the alt-right in the Western world to a scale not yet seen.
Let’s start with populism, what is it? By most definitions it is a political belief in favor of the ‘virtuous’ public in a struggle versus privileged elites. This is not so sinister by itself and simply invoking the word populism should not make you angry or elated but should merely be descriptive. The 5 star movement in Italy, Bernie Sanders in America, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philipines, Podemos in Spain, Donald Trump, and of course Hollands very own Geert Wilders are all examples of populist parties and leaders. Whatever you may feel about these groups and people it is clear there is no consensus between them as to what is causing societies ills. Populism has been used as a way to demonize opponents and make them seem less legitimate, even in America where a populist revolution founded the country. It is important to not get bogged down in these terms but good to know what they are describing.
If it is not so sinister, why is populism used in a pejorative manner? Populism is meant to point fingers at elites for doing something wrong against the virtuous public. Since people disagree as to what is actually the cause of the virtuous public suffering, many label movements as populist to discredit them, it has become a bit of a buzzword. Populism is therefore very tricky to discuss as it is hard to say for anybody that they are just “a populist.” They may support populist candidates or parties but unlike saying one is a liberal, populism is not a clear ideology with clear objectives and instead varies based on region, political climate and history, and hundreds of other factors. Consider that a Rodrigo Duterte populist will have almost no beliefs shared with a Bernie Sanders populist.
Populism isn’t ‘left’ or ‘right’
It is not a word that denotes left-right political affiliation or really anything else besides being against the bad guys at the top wherever that may be and however that may be considered.
Well if populism is not inherently good or bad then why talk about it so much? Well because it is here to stay it seems. Donald Trump winning this election gives momentum around the world to other populist parties and leaders as they now see that it is possible to win against all the odds.
Many even within Trump’s campaign were not sure or even very confident they would win but they were confident that simply by being the republican nominee, his alt-right populist message would be heard. They were right. It was heard. And it may fuel the fire for other populists and alt-right leaders across the world.
Populism again may not be bad by itself, but it is now being mixed in with the anti-democratic alt-right. Due to the structure of populism being most of us (virtuous public) versus some of them (elites), it is easy to garner support in democratic elections even with wildly unpopular ideas as long as a change from the norm is promised.
The case of Duterte
When Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency of the Philippines it marked a somber moment for democracy. People considered him worse than Trump, an alt-right populist bent on vigilante justice who before and after taking office announced his support for extrajudicial killings. Populism may not be a horrible concept in and of itself but populist leaders and parties can be very dangerous with their rhetoric and the “us versus them” mentality they inspire. The virtuous public is the only ‘us’, and however that is defined almost always means that everybody else is the ‘them’ and is therefore worthy of blame, guilt, or retaliation.
In Duterte’s short time in office he has already begun defining the us and them. To him, “you wont be harmed if you don’t do anything wrong.” This is the beginning of a descent away from democracy and it is rhetoric like this that often makes populism a pejorative. When political parties or leaders are willing to redefine laws and make radical change, it is always best to be skeptical. Existing governments and democracies in particular are not perfect. But in fairness to them, at least we have not had an all out nuclear war, yet.
This isn’t a test-run
Populism can clearly be bad, but we know it was also good in the past. Many revolutions across the world were staged against elites (often aristocracy or simply the British) and resulted in the freedom and democratic values of many countries today. The problem with Duterte and Trump is their alt-right wing stance which seeks to change democracy as we know it. I know this because they tell me themselves through my screen. Duterte has literally changed what democracy means in the Philippines in under 5 full months. Trump has said he wants a ban on all Muslims entering America and wants to deport 11 million people. It is time to stop joking about these oppresive tyrants and it is time to get serious and stop this wave of isolationism and xenophobia that is taking the world by storm.
Liberal Democracy has been the staple of western governments for centuries now and this new isolationist and xenophobic trend only serves to send us back to a protectionist and fearful society that only cares about what is within our own borders and to only care about people who look like us. You may whole heartedly disagree with me but I believe an inclusive and tolerant world is far nicer to live within than a world based on fear and only serving ones own interests.
PLEASE!!! HEED AMERICAS WARNING. Trump was not leading in almost all polls for most of the election and he showed how inaccurate polls can be and how much a demos can be underestimated. This is not funny. For me, Trump stopped being funny when I saw what Duterte was doing with the Philippines, changing the countries foreign and domestic policies almost overnight. We still do not know what Trump will do exactly but we all know what he wants to do. We also know that Wilders wants “fewer Moroccans.” Do not let him enter coalition. Do not let him make your country a joke or sad reminder of the backwards ways of many people as Trump has just done for America.
I much prefer writing funny, biting critiques, but since early this morning nothing has been remotely funny. This is not funny. I am genuinely concerned for the future of democracy not just in America but in the world as we see anti-establishment movements rise up everywhere without clear motives. Do not let this beautiful corner of Europe be next, please.
You may think, surely the Netherlands would never vote for Wilders. But now people know that if you turn out to vote and are strong enough in your stance, these fringe candidates can be elected. We never thought Trump would win. Do not repeat our mistake, let liberal democracy live. We cannot let fear and outdated moral systems control our lives, rebel, rebel. Please, let inclusion, tolerance, and understanding trump fear.