Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A populist: "I am not a populist"

Minutes after conceding defeat against his progressive rival in Austria, the person that everybody else calls a far right populist leader, Norbert Hofer, was trying to distance himself from the wave of populism that is sweeping democracies the world over. By populism I understand an appeal to the popular classes proposing simplistic solutions to complex problems using demagoguery and making an opportunistic use of democracy. Using a very polite style, he was claiming that he was a very respectful politician. The same day, the dethroned (but not retired) leader of the Catalan secessionists, Artur Mas, wrote an article in the main newspaper of the Catalan bourgeoisie claiming that his sovereignism was not populist, but based on objective grievances. Of course, all these leaders have differences among themselves. Not all of them are open xenophobes or sexual predators like Donald Trump. Not all of them are openly europhobic like Marine Le Pen. But all of them administer a clever recipe of scapegoating (against Muslim people, immigrants, or bureaucrats in a supposedly distant capital) and disdain for the restraint and social norms that used to accompany good democratic practices and the respect for the letter and the spirit of the law. It is social conventions, which are different from place to place, that mostly constrain them to still respect some written and non-written rules. I have been reading a report in The New Yorker  about the Philippino leader, Rodrigo Duterte, about his apparent changes of opinion, his contradictions, his constant playing with legality, his permanent postponement of all his plans blaming his delays on the scapegoats and extending the times that become permanently extraordinary (similarly to Mr. Mas, whose political party holds regional political power since 2010 with a very poor record beyond the secessionist rhetoric). In all these places, these leaders are supported by some decent people, and their rise is also the responsibility of many in the left that have not been wise enough at channelling the frustations of many people. But they pose a threat to democracy and fraternity by making identities salient and undermining cooperative efforts at finding solutions. I've heard Le Pen, Farage, Wilders, the Northern League in Italy and many others distancing themselves from each other. This is just another thing they have in common.

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