Is the priority of a politician to get policies right or to get reelected? There can only be one.
Every populist has a gift by definition: He can make everyone believe that he stands for exactly whatever the hell they want.
I have always admired the confidence of people who thought that the populist works for them. But as a rule, when you find your cosmopolitan, free trade, economic liberal ass on the same side with ten thousand angry nationalists, one of you will not get what they want.
Apropos of the Brexit-referendum here are 10 types of people who vote for populism, but for the right reasons. (This post was drafted in preparation to the Europhobic referendum in Hungary on the hysteria around non-existent immigrants.)
1. The Middle Finger Crowd
Democracy is imperfect, the EU is imperfect, so let’s give them the middle finger so that everything finally becomes perfect. It totally works in kindergarten – and in populist rhetoric.
Emotional terms are applicable only to individuals – only a populist or a kindergartner looks at public affairs and sees it in terms of rage quits, revenge, and middle fingers. But when they do, it totally makes sense. Like this:
I disagreed with him but when he quit the negotiating table and gave me the middle finger, I finally saw the light
– said no one ever.
2. The First-World-Problem
The First World Problem crowd correctly points out imperfections in democracy. Majority opinion is not right opinion, majority vote doesn’t constitute fact or even the right path to take. Some questions should not even be asked in simplistic, binary terms – but representative democracy was invented to deal with those. Except when it is overridden by referenda that could only ever serve a populist or a demagogue.
Hating on democracy (or EU) is a first world problem. If you vote against it, you will lose your first world problems indeed, but the problem is, it will be replaced by Cold War problems.
Hating on non-nationalist institutions is not a very brave thing to do either. Try hating its Russian-inspired alternatives, when the repercussion for your opinion is not deleting your FB-posts but getting a retaliatory tax audit, going to jail, or causing your friends and family to lose their jobs. Dare to criticize that before it arrives to your home country too?
3. The Hobby Horse
It is not just the left-behind and anti-globalisation crowd that votes for populistic and protectionist candidates. Some liberals, who have totally nuanced, complex, sophisticated views also want to believe that their goal can be achieved on the back of an angry, xenophobic majority, flamed by anti-immigration rhetoric that is explicitly against globalisation. But voting with them could still work for reducing red tape and renegotiating the terms of steel tariffs, right?
The Hobby-Horse found his long-time obsession among the references of the footnotes of the fine print of a 3000-page election manifesto of a turbo-nationalist party – and totally found his soulmate. Just like that girl in elementary school who was in love with me for a week because she found me listening to Depeche Mode and didn’t listen to me when I tried to explain that it was just the radio, I didn’t even know what Depeche Mode was.
4. The Just-Between-Us
“Don’t listen to what I say on TV. The mainstream media is a biased international conspiracy snatching away your precious, state-supplied, ethnic identity. That is why I came to your town hall meeting, and I’m telling you that I want exactly what you want – not what I say elsewhere.”
You may call the Just-Between-Us stupid, but wait until you hear his more educated cousin, the That’s-Just-Campaigning.
5. The That’s-Just-Campaigning
Viktor Orbán’s infamous “we are building an illiberal nation state” speech is usually dismissed by his apologists as “he was just testing the media“. And it sounds like it actually means something. I have even had Western European conservatives parroting this excuse back at me.
On closer inspection, however, that sentence doesn’t mean anything (unless Orbán was testing the microphones or something). Or maybe he was testing whether the state of the free world is bleak enough already to let such a statement pass – or he has to wait a few more years before illiberal states become the new normal. In which case it is equally concerning.
The That’s-Just-Campaigning folks are very meta. They know that politicians need to lie. But they are so smart that they are ready to dismiss anything a politician or populist ever says for popularity – which is essentially every single word on and off campaigning.
6. The Spurned-Lover
The Spurned-Lover starts out as Facebook friends with the populist. They are besties during the campaign. Their love escalates as the populist likes each and every friendly post by the Spurned-Lover – resulting in even more such posts. The Spurned-Lover becomes an unpaid campaign volunteer (and nasty pro-populist troll) because they have this special bond.
The populist is not unlike an abusive boyfriend though. He is anyone and anything the Spurned-Lover wants to see him – in order to get to bed. But after sex, the populist is no longer interested in Spurned-Lover (i.e. the social media team is let go or gets government jobs). But it’s OK, the Spurned-Lover understands. The populist is busy. It’s a tough job, no time to text her back.
7. The In-The-Know
They are the sophisticated subset of the That’s-Just-Campaigning crowd. They don’t fall for cheap campaigning or a populist reassuring them at local forums, but they know someone on the inside, who reassured them after the second beer that all that rubbish the candidate spouts is Just-Campaigning. A means to an end.
When they get into power they will do exactly what you think they should be doing (and readily disappoint their angry mob supporters). Cheers to that!
8. The Self-Empowerer
Feel helpless in the face of immigration? Feel helpless reforming the EU? Vote yourself out of that uncomfortable sensation! Vote for the Way Out Of Helplessness – only ever brought to you by populists – and only in the form of themselves. Who would anyone ever vote for a complex, can’t-promise-quick-results solution? Make helplessness go away immediately.
It feels good to support populists – in the same way it feels good to take drugs. You feel good, but you have to pay – and nothing in real life gets better.
And now to those who will actually get what they want…
9. The I’m-Just…
I’m not xenophobic, I’m just afraid of those aliens.
I’m not prejudiced, I’m just profiling for my own safety (and cannot stop also spreading my non-prejudices so others stay safe out of the way of nasties as well).
I’m not anti-immigration, I’m just scared of terrorism.
I’m not xenophobic, I just want to keep my country clean.
It always pays to repackage your cause as pro-something-innocent. This is how the protection of the family becomes the rallying cry of homophobes and wife beaters, order is code for oppression and purity of the culture is hint for ethnic purge. You won’t kill them, it just can’t be helped.
10. The Let’s-Face-It
I’m not anti-Semitic, but let’s face it… nobody likes them.
In 1933, a religious minority was persecuted in Europe. (Both the inborn population and those who fled to Europe from pogroms and certain death.) No one really liked them so when populists of the day offered that this is an immigration issue, the Let’s-Face-It crowd readily grabbed that straw. Roosevelt was in two minds about the Jewish problem too. Many in his cabinet hated Jews as a matter of course, and the idea that (let’s face it) the Jews had had it coming was pervasive. There wouldn’t be so many blood libel cases if there weren’t a grain of truth to it…
So when it came to letting Jews into safety, Roosevelt refused to increase immigration quotas. But they made sure it looked like administrative measures. The US demanded from Jews a character certificate issued by the Nazi regime for a visa. Not surprisingly, there weren’t many valid visa applications with this condition – and they cited it as proof that there is no need for increasing quotas.
I don’t want them to die but if someone else happens to do it, well… They had it coming.
11. The I’m-Not-Nationalist-But
I miss the good old days when racists were at least ashamed of their name. They called themselves I’m-Not-Racist-But. Today, it is the nationalists. Depending on how out of the closet they are, nationalists range from the I’m-Not-Nationalist-Buts, through “patriots”, who just want sovereignty to their leaders – to the
Yes, I Am A Nationalist, You Have Something To Say To Me?
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