Skip to site content

What’s the Cure for Political Populism Eroding Our Nations?

image_pdfimage_print

Is it just me or are some politicians getting more extreme in order to gain popular support?

In the United Kingdom and United States, there are politicians who are seeking (or hold) the highest office in the land, and they are making statements designed to attract attention and appear to be on the side of “ordinary people.”

Or am I being paranoid?

I consider myself to be “ordinary,” and I can conclusively say that these “populist politicians” are not on my side when they make comments that fuel racism, stoke the fires of the irrational fear of the foreigner and pander to a right-wing agenda.

Part of making a nation great again seems to be about denigrating other nations so that a nation feels superior to it.

In the U.S., the president regularly tweets in a critical manner about other people, nations and situations.

Another tactic I see at work is the ability to make statements with no basis in fact, or at best are half-truths.

And when that is pointed out, the critics are the ones branded as peddling “fake news.”

Or am I being paranoid?

Truth is the first casualty in this campaign of contradictory communication because once a statement has been made and publicized, no amount of subsequent “fact checking” can remove it from the public consciousness.

If truth becomes defined by the loudest voice, it ceases to have value; politics has become a pantomime of populist personality propaganda.

The politicians who seem to be the most popular are those with the most apparent flaws in character and frequently seem to put their feet in it when they open their mouths.

I don’t believe they are as daft as this appears. It’s portrayed as them being a “character” or laughed off while truth lies trampled and unnoticed in the dirt.

Or am I being paranoid?

It seems to me that much of this “populist” politics is led by business and financial interests.

The politicians at the head of these movements are wealthy, privileged and are not affected in any way by the impact of their actions.

They can cope if markets crash because they have investments in many different places.

They don’t need to queue for a foodbank, live without money when their benefits are stopped while an assessment takes place or make a choice about whether to buy food or clothes for their children.

Yet their policies condemn more and more people to this existence while they celebrate tax cuts for the rich and get excited about how business will save the world.

These politicians are mostly isolated from the real world – ironically the “ordinary” people from whom they are seeking to win support – and seek to blame someone else (immigrants, the European Union, other countries) for the negative impact of their policies on the most vulnerable in their countries.

Have we seen this sort of thing in the 20th century after World War I when there was a rise of nationalistic fervor and national ills were blamed on others that began innocently enough and culminated in the most hideous acts in human history?

Or am I being paranoid?

And how does the prevailing economic system make sense? Almost all of the governments in the world have borrowed money in order to carry out their policies. But that has to be paid back, doesn’t it?

And where will the wealth come from in order to pay it back? Taxation? Maybe, but there’s only so much money available from the taxpayers.

So, the cycle begins again as more money is borrowed to repay the initial loans.

The debts rise inexorably while the ability to repay them diminishes, with government responses (such as “austerity” measures in the U.K.) most often negatively impacting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society while the wealthy have carried on relatively unaffected.

Or am I being paranoid?

Personality seems to be more important than substance in our political system, and the media seem keener on promoting their own preferences or prejudices in the way they report the activities and words of their favorite puppets than in proclaiming truth.

Meanwhile, people seem to have lost the ability to discern when they are being sold a lie and take on board what they are told in the “news” as being the truth.

The public is an unwitting accomplice in these trends; they forget (or choose to ignore) they have chosen the media outlet they prefer, which reinforces their own preferences and prejudices, rather than listening to the voice that proclaims the emperor has no clothes.

In addition, it seems many people fail to recognize that they see on many news outlets is commentary on the news, not straight reporting of facts.

Or am I being paranoid?

Now, for some good news. I believe there is a different way, and not all politicians are like this.

I am not advocating communism or socialism, certainly not in their current national incarnations that lead to oppressive regimes founded on a flawed atheistic view of life, where there is the same inequality between those in power and the poor as there is in capitalist countries.

I am advocating a new politics based on love and justice.

What if society existed to benefit all, not just the rich, and there was a model in which justice and love were the main motivators for policies?

What if we really did what Jesus encouraged and “love our neighbor” and seek the best for everyone else?

If everyone did that, what sort of society would we live in? Or am I being idealistic?

Editor’s note: A extended version of this article first appeared on Lear’s blog, Nukelear Fishing. It is used with permission.

Nick Lear

Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.