Populism is powerful and growing — but it’s not everywhere

Your life is storybook-perfect. Contentment nourishes your soul and permeates the world around you. You love your job. You earn more money than you ever imagined possible and have accumulated more wealth than you’ll ever need. You have the perfect family, too. The ties that bind you and your spouse are as romantically strong as when you first met. And your children are special; in fact, they are amazing. Not only are they perfect students, they take your advice and obey your every command.

You live in a nation that is a picture-perfect example of a true democracy. Your elected officials possess advanced intellectual skills and are of the highest moral standing. Beyond reproach, these men and women pledge allegiance to “We the people” and not to special interests. In practice, they are the dedicated public servants they said they would be when they campaigned and ultimately got your vote. The policy decisions they make on behalf of the citizenry have created freedom, peace, prosperity, liberté, egalité and fraternité.

Congratulations. Dreamland is everything you expected.

But suppose you don’t live in dreamland. Suppose you hate your job, despise your boss and can’t stand your coworkers. You’re doing the work of two or three people because of all the layoffs. And the pay stinks. You can’t save a dime or even make ends meet. You stay in the job primarily for medical coverage and other safeguards, but thanks to new government laws, mergers/acquisitions and benefit cuts, you’ve lost those too. Not only that, your marriage is on the rocks. Your kids — victims of a troubled, dysfunctional household and a long-failing educational system — don’t listen to a word you say, think you’re a loser. They’re heading for certain failure.

Suppose you live in a country that is a democracy in name only. Your elected officials are consistently and overwhelmingly incompetent. Some are even sociopaths or psychopaths. Though they are shrewd operators and masterful manipulators, they are petty, small-minded intellectual lightweights and morally corrupt. Their primary interests are the special interests and money powers that paid and paved their way into office. They lie, cheat, steal and kill in the name of justice and national security to further personal aims and enrich those who enrich them at the expense of the public and the future of the nation.

You lost the job you had for 20 years. Your pension was stolen. You have no benefits and no savings. Your closest family members are deep in debt: Unable to compete with predatory multinationals, they lost the business that had been in the family for three generations. When the Panic of ’08 hit and the banks that caused the crisis were in trouble, the government said they were “too big to fail” and stole your money to bail them out. As economic conditions deteriorated and tax bases shrank as a result of lost jobs and declining commerce, the government raised your taxes, cut services, closed hospitals, raised the retirement age, eliminated social safety nets and redirected public funds to favor financial sector interests. They even sold off valuable public assets under the guise of “privatization.”

Searching for a way out

Realizing that continuing on this path without taking steps to dramatically alter prevailing conditions will only lead to greater personal loss and societal degradation, you, and millions like you, young and old, take to the streets to protest the endemic corruption and government oppression. The police, rather than serve and protect the public, beat up protestors and, in the process, serve and protect politicians, government institutions and multinational interests. Governments, bent on restraining your voice (such as in Spain and elsewhere), pass new laws restricting public demonstrations and impose police-state measures to stamp out dissent.

What term or definition should we use to refer to citizens taking decisive measures to resist being corralled in a globalized and multinational country whose laws and regulations are conceived, imposed and enforced by outside powers? How should we label a movement meant to preserve autonomy, national identity, cultural heritage, monetary sovereignty, peace and prosperity?

The media and politicians call it “Populism” and, for the most part, they mean the term to be pejorative. “The rise of populism is today the main European social and political issue,” cried Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.” “To fight against populism, in my view, is a mission today — in Italy and in the other countries.”

Many forms, one purpose

Derided by the press as a eurosceptic, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, has promised a “massive breakthrough” by a surge of national parties spreading across the continent that “will block by all means, to the maximum, anything that contributes to the transfer of powers from our people to the European Union.” Le Pen’s mission? “I am only looking for one thing from the European Union, and that is that it explode.”

The movements, too numerous fully list here, include the Dutch Party for Freedom, Hungary’s Jobbi, Great Britain’s UKIP, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Danish People’s Party, the Finns Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, the Flemish Vlaams Belang, the Italian Lega Nord, the Sweden Democrats, the Slovak National Party, and secessionists movements in Scotland and Catalonia. In terms of political or social ideology, the movements include right-wing, left-wing, anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, neo-Nazi, and neo-Fascist positions. Yet all have been built on the same foundation: The principles of populism.

Populism is a megatrend that is now only in its early growth stage. To those in power, populism is a wrecking ball aimed at destroying ruling parties and the ruling class. For those who are out of work or underpaid; over-taxed or deep in debt; seeing their homes in foreclosure or living in a community with boarded up factories, populism is regarded as a great salvation. They face a bleak future. They are tired of being oppressed by police and forced to follow the letter of the law while banking bandits and political wiseguys literally and figuratively get away with pillage and plunder. “All go home!,” (the entire government must resign!) is the chant of Italy’s Pitchfork protestors, a chant that started with the struggling farmers of Sicily and can now be heard throughout the country.

These populist movements have not only swept across Europe, they are spreading across the globe. Though taking various forms, they are all committed to bringing down those in power. In India, for example, the recently formed Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, has scored a stunning victory in state assembly elections in New Delhi. In Thailand, a self-styled “people’s uprising” against the ruling government, which protestors say has subverted democracy, has pushed southeast Asia’s second largest economy into turmoil.

U.S. sits by idle

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., where political dissent is muted — and massive street protests, though permitted in theory are essentially forbidden in practice — populism has been watered down to reflect the passive state of the nation.

There is no real emergence here of the powerful collective movements we see developing in other parts of the world. For now, a few meaningless political bonbons thrown at the suffering working class appear to be enough to cushion the establishment sectors from the ire of the masses. Political babel acknowledging the fast-expanding gap between the haves and have-nots, leads many to think the issue is gaining traction. And legislative proposals to raise the minimum wage further reinforce that illusory comfort zone.

Democrats Turn to Minimum Wage as 2014 Strategy
WASHINGTON — Democratic Party leaders, bruised by months of attacks on the
new health care program, have found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014: an increase in the minimum wage.

The effort to take advantage of growing populism among voters in both parties is being coordinated by officials from the White House, labor unions and liberal advocacy groups.

In a series of strategy meetings and conference calls among them in recent weeks, they have focused on two levels: an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, which will be pushed by President Obama and congressional leaders, and a campaign to place state-level minimum wage proposals on the ballot in states with hotly contested congressional races.

After being battered for nearly two months on the problems with Mr. Obama’s signature health law, Democrats see the minimum-wage increase as a way to shift the political conversation back to their preferred terms.
The New York Times, 29 December 2013

Thus, playing to populism has become a mere political ploy to distract voters from the calamitous Obamacare health law, while implying that an increase of the minimum wage will lead to economic salvation.

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