POPULISM, POLITICS, AND REVOLUTION
Politics is about people. More specifically, it’s about conning people. If we’ve learned anything from the 2016 election, it’s that messaging wins elections when it resonates with people. That doesn’t mean that the message can’t be corrupt, arrogant, lies, or hypocrisy: if people buy it, it wins. It’s not about gullibility, not at all. It’s about vile schemers and wordsmiths who, like a fine violinist, knows exactly what strings to play. Even though 25% of Trump’s supporters are now having “buyer’s remorse,” he’s still President.
The media went crazy, hyping the primaries and general election as “populism.” Trump and Bernie Sanders appealed to broad swaths of the electorate. The media largely elected Trump by giving him more air time than any other candidate; it continues to do so. Trump plays the media like a fiddle because they are the very ones, liberal, moderate, or conservative, who spread his message. They apparently want to ride the same “populism” to ratings success. They are not a “free press.”
Both major political parties are now in major disarray. Throughout the election, Republicans were wringing their hands over Trump. A mere seven years ago, when TEA Party fever was sweeping the party, nearly all Congressional Republicans signed “the pledge.” The saw fiscal conservatism as a fundamental value and a way to defeat the Obama agenda. Before the election, they were highly disturbed with Trump, unsure that he was conservative and troubled by his bully campaign. Even Paul Ryan delayed endorsing him. Now that he’s President, and continuing with his campaign, they are seeing disaster down the road. But they’re imprisoned, and they’re seeing revolt in the eyes of their own constituents. How’s that populism working out now for you?
Democrats are faring worse, having selected the non-populist candidate and lost the election. In rejecting the moderate progress offered by Sanders, the Democratic establishment selected a candidate with so much baggage, she couldn’t get on the plane. Even though facing an opposition “populist” message, they chose to ignore Trump and go with “Slick Willy 2.0.” They totally misread the populist revolt and, in so doing, secured Trump’s election. Now the Democrats, too, are deeply split.
Politics is about people. Populism is about people, too. The difference is that politics is about getting candidates elected by getting people to vote for them. Populism, on the other hand, is about the grass roots, about engaging people where they are, appealing to them not based on politics, but on their needs and aspirations. The Republicans succeeded by getting to believe their message even if it was based on lies and appealed to base human instincts. Democrats were incapable of formulating a message of truth, transparency, and accountability, a message which would have shown the lie in Trump and drawn people to higher ground.
The new vanguard, those who seek to revolutionize systemic oppression and bring a new dawn to humanity, will do well to heed these lessons. First, we must eschew all politics in its current form(s). Second, we must fashion a human message that calls upon our better angels. Third, we must attract allies in the fight that lies ahead. Fourth, we must live within our truth (Vaclav Havel) as integral human beings. If we can accomplish these things, with transparency and nonviolence, the victory for the common person cannot but be won.