The world is awash with populist propaganda now. The populist politics gained ground steadily almost all over the world, particularly in America and some of the western European countries. Its phenomenal circulation, comparable only to the greenback, is unprecedented in modern era and is giving many political analysts extreme headache. It’s hard to find an easy answer to this recent phenomenon.
The present predicament is a culmination of two conflicting streaks of events. Failure of progressives to efficiently anchor the national economies worldwide and the disenchantment of the grassroots in their economic policies are perhaps responsible in a large measure. In addition, many progressives around the world chose to follow a mid-path that was neither progressive nor conservative. They appear rather meek in manifesting their policy preferences to grassroots. It at times puts in doubt their firm commitment to the progressive policy agenda they are pledge-bound to pursue. This ambiguity of the progressives didn’t go well with the middle and the working-class population.
Contrasting this, the populists took advantages of dithering and inconsistent narratives of the progressives. They grabbed the opportunity to fill the vacuum by floating populist political agendas. No doubt, some of their economic policies were successful in fostering short-term economic growth. Though their long-term impact on the economy is questionable, it further strengthened the populist’ foothold in global political scene. Many of their policies stem from the raw sentiments of a large swath of not-so-politically erudite people mostly living in rural areas. They apparently are frustrated with the performance of the progressive forces and their policies. Many are deeply concerned about the economic, racial and security problems indiscriminate influx of illegal immigration is causing. They are fearful about losing their cultural heritage since most of these immigrants belong to races other than theirs. Fear of terrorism and expansion of Islam in certain territories further amplified their worries.
In contrast to the progressives, the populists appear smart and well prepared in their discourse on various policy issues of national interest. They are rarely found hesitant in propagating their views boldly no matter how substantive or rational they are in the prevailing social or economic context. They care little about whether their radically transformed policies fit in with the prevailing world order. The populists are rather hell-bound to change the world order to fit their policy stance.
Though many of the populist politicians lack political mettle, they were smart enough to read the sentiments of the people correctly. They made it a point to reflect the overwhelming people sentiments in their political agenda. Not only they religiously captured the popular sentiments in their agenda but also validated them in a way that surpassed their constituents’ expectation. Many of these provisions though are merely a travesty of the truth. Knowingly or unknowingly, the populists ignored the long-term social and economic consequences of these policies at the national and international level.
The whole world is watching this recent phenomenon with bated breath. People haven’t lost sight of the catastrophes brought about in the past by unbridled proliferation of populist politics. The two world wars are stark reminders of it. There is though not much reason to feel alarmed as yet. It, however, has the potency to engender devastating consequences in the long run if allowed to continue unabated. To nip in the bud such consequences, progressive forces worldwide should double up their efforts in organizing the saner segment of the population and use their energy effectively in containing the arbitrary popular sentiments and their exploitation by sly politicians.
ASM Jahangir is a semi-retired international development practitioner in Texas, USA.