Pop­ulism arises from fail­ures of po­lit­i­cal class

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

What­ever the out­come of Novem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, one par­tic­u­lar note should be ap­par­ent to po­lit­i­cal lead­ers go­ing for­ward: Pop­ulism is alive and strong in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

But it’s not unique to the United States this year; pop­ulism is trend­ing glob­ally.

There is an ev­i­dent global frus­tra­tion with those in the po­lit­i­cal class who are viewed to be out of touch with the av­er­age per­son. Th­ese folks are vot­ing for what they be­lieve will dis­rupt the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and dis­place the es­tab­lish­ment.

To that aim, 2016 has nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples: In the United King­dom vot­ers sur­pris­ingly voted to exit the Euro­pean Union in June. In May, the Philip­pines elected Ro­drigo Duterte, a brash politi­cian known for mak­ing cringe­wor­thy state­ments that of­ten rightly in­spire global con­dem­na­tion. In the coun­try of Ge­or­gia, a fa­mous opera singer and po­lit­i­cal out­sider, Paata Burchu­ladze, is one of the fron­trun­ners to be elected prime min­ster on Oct. 8.

And closer to home, Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has been built on tap­ping into pop­ulist frus­tra­tions of Amer­i­cans who feel as though they are un­rep­re­sented, dis­en­fran­chised, left be­hind and poorly served by the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. It was a sim­i­lar pop­ulist sen­ti­ment that car­ried the Bernie San­ders cam­paign. And now, even Hil­lary Clin­ton has rec­og­nized that some of the pop­ulist poli­cies San­ders and Trump have floated are gain­ing trac­tion and she has as­sumed sim­i­lar po­si­tions, specif­i­cally talk­ing about trade and the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

“The peo­ple are tired of the politi­cians be­cause they are not telling the truth,” Ge­or­gian con­tender Burchu­ladze told us in a re­cent phone con­ver­sa­tion. “Vot­ers are calling for al­ter­na­tive voices who want to chal­lenge cur­rent po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties.”

Burchu­ladze’s re­marks were spe­cific to Ge­or­gia and his cam­paign, but they most cer­tainly ap­ply to much of the rest of the world.

Pop­ulism has gone global this year and is due in no small part to global eco­nom­ics — and the eco­nomic choices many politi­cians have in­sti­tuted since the on­set of the global re­ces­sion. As was ar­gued by Martin Wolf in the Fi­nan­cial Times: “Real in­come stag­na­tion over a far longer pe­riod than any since the sec­ond world war is a fun­da­men­tal po­lit­i­cal fact.”

Wolf drew data from the McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute’s re­port, “Poorer than their Par­ents?” which de­tailed the num­ber of house­holds suf­fer­ing from real in­comes that are ei­ther stag­nant or fall­ing: “On av­er­age be­tween 65 and 70 per cent of house­holds in 25 high­in­come economies ex­pe­ri­enced this be­tween 2005 and 2014. In the pe­riod be­tween 1993 and 2005, how­ever, only 2 per cent of house­holds suf­fered stag­nant or de­clin­ing real in­comes.” This stag­ger­ing data alone is enough to ex­plain why vot­ers are an­gry, scared and rightly frus­trated with the po­lit­i­cal class.

It’s easy for politi­cians and gov­ern­ment lead­ers to dis­miss th­ese pop­ulist winds but that’s a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion. Vot­ers are frus­trated be­cause the per­ceive that gov­ern­ment has be­come in­ef­fec­tive, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are out of touch and un­ac­count­able, and the for­tunes of the elite seem to im­prove while the many stag­nate or get worse.

Per­haps the great­est les­son of the 2016 elec­tion is that pop­ulism is bred when the po­lit­i­cal class fails to lis­ten and act.

It’s easy for politi­cians and gov­ern­ment lead­ers to dis­miss th­ese pop­ulist winds but that’s a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion. Vot­ers are frus­trated be­cause the per­ceive that gov­ern­ment has be­come in­ef­fec­tive and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are out of touch and un­ac­count­able.

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