The Populist Explosion

populist-explosionThis book comes highly regarded for understanding the age of Trump. In my opinion the book does a good job defining populism and in giving an account of the recent rise of populism in Europe and America. Populism, according to a definition quoted in this book, is “a language that pits ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class; view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic; and seek to mobilize the former against he latter.” I also found useful the distinction between right wing populism. Left wing populism pits the people against the “elite.” Right wing populism pits the people against the elite and a third group—immigrants, foreigners, minorities, which is is seen as being coddled by the elite.”


But I found the book’s explanation for the rise of populism to be less satisfactory. As this book tell it, a major cause of the disaffection that is fueling the populist movements in the West is the rise in income inequality resulting from the neo-liberal economic policies adopted since in the 1980s. Another cause is the liberalization of immigration since the 1960s, particularly from non-European nations, and the proliferation of an immigrant underclass that is source of crime and terrorism.


But if trade-induced unemployment and income inequality is what were fueling popular discontent, then it is unlikely that Trump, of all people, would have emerged as the popular champion. After all, it is widely known that Trump has regularly stiffed his contractors, bankrupted companies, gamed the tax system, and sourced his products from abroad.