IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 December 2019
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Populism is mass hysteria
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Britain’s 2016 vote for Brexit foreshadowed Donald Trump’s election later that year, confirming a poisonous populism in both British and American politics.
Populism is mass hysteria fueled by propaganda and ignorance, and the vote in the U.K. to leave Europe and go it alone was based on a fear that Muslims were taking over Britain and its culture.
Surveys after the initial Brexit vote confirmed that many who cast ballots did so out of the belief that their country would be shielded from immigrants, and that the money saved would be put into the British health system.
Boris Johnson, who just won a huge victory on the slogan he would “get Brexit done,” personifies to them the promise of populism. Like Trump, he opportunistically saw a populist parade and got in front of it.
As the mayor of London, he was a more conventionally liberal figure though he reveled in his ability to shock the Establishment and amuse his followers with clown-like behavior.
Sound familiar? He and Trump are cut from the same cloth down to their checkered personal lives. And the hair – Johnson is said to tousle his blond hair to achieve that flyaway look much like Trump spends time with elaborate bouffant comb-overs, as reported by his daughter, Ivanka.
Johnson can claim a mandate now that millions of his countrymen who had always voted for the Labor Party cast their ballots for him and his conservative Tory Party. What brought them over was the clarity and simplicity of Johnson’s slogan to “get Brexit done” while his Labor Party challenger inarticulately sought to appeal to both pro-Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers.
It was President Clinton who said, “When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody that's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right” – the definition of a populist demagogue.
There are implications once again for U.S. politics in the outcome we just saw in the U.K. Clarity is important. Trump’s “Build the wall,” is just as potent in 2020 as it was in 2016, and it speaks to more than the concrete wall he envisions along the southwest border.
It is a powerful message to Americans who have felt neglected by the political system, and they remain unconvinced that Trump has anything but their best interests in mind. He may not deliver on his promises, but he delivers on the rhetoric every day insulting, bullying, and belittling his enemies, all the while convincing his supporters that his enemies are their enemies.
The United States was not founded on government by the common man. The Founding Fathers didn’t really trust the masses, which is why they built in so many checks on democracy. George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson that the framers saw the Senate as the saucer that cools the hot tea that comes over from the House.
Much of politics is theater, and Trump understands this better than anyone. He is president because he was first a reality TV star, a quicker route to the Oval Office for him than holding electoral office.
He is not a populist. He is a possibly wealthy real estate mogul who conned his way to the top and is now hiding his tax returns and any witnesses who might be able to confirm the findings of the House impeachment inquiry.
The country is in great need of decent, experienced leaders at all levels of government, men and women who supplant populism with patriotism and principles above populism.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
© 2019 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 December 2019