Populism is simply a method to appeal to the lowest common denominator with something you never really intend to produce. Donald Trump is a case in point. The reason populism is so ‘popular’ is because it is designed to appeal to the gullible, and gullibility is a danger to democracy. How do you make people less gullible? By educating them. That is why populists always try to denigrate educated people by calling them ‘elites’. You should also note that populists never apply the term to the very wealthy, just to those who are educated and actually know what they are talking about. Contrary to what some of the right wing nut jobs will tell you, populism will commonly lead to the death or serious impairment of democracy.
The worst case of populism is perhaps that of Adolf Hitler. You will often hear that Hitler was elected democratically, but that is not quite true. What happened in the 1932 national parliamentary elections, was that the Nazis did not get a majority, but neither did anyone else. However, the Nazis did get the largest minority. This was the basis on which President Hindenburg1 offered Hitler the Chancellorship in a coalition government. This was the beginning of Hitler’s rise to dictator.
Upon the death of Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler held a plebiscite requesting the merging of the offices of President and Chancellor3. This he won fairly convincingly. This effectively made him dictator of Germany or, the title he granted himself, Führer (leader, guide)4.
Like many populists, Hitler was disparaging of the media who were unsupportive of the Nazi Party, calling them the ‘lügenpresse’ (lying press). This is not unlike the ‘fake news’ epithet used by Trump and his supporters. In fact, the German term has occasionally been heard at Trump rallies5.
Now Trump has tweeted: “with all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country”. This goes against the oath of office he took in which he pledged to defend the constitution, and that includes the 1st amendment which states in part: “Congress shall make no law…. abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”.
Over to you, Republicans.