It's been said many times in the media both by those who like Trump and those who hate him that he is a "populist". To those who hate him, this form or populism is said to be a dangerous form of collective manipulation that many have compared to the style that Hitler used, especially when whipping up his nationalistic base at rallies. Those who love Trump, see his "appeal to the people" as no different from the popularity among the democratic socialists for Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
However, I think there is a serious distinction between the two and it came to me like an epiphany while watching Rob Kall's interview with George Hawley on the topic of the Alt-Right, which aired on September 18, 2017. (If you missed it I highly recommend it--https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/rob-kall-bottomup-radio-show/e/51522493.)
Being fairly new to OpEdNews, I have started to go back and watch Rob's podcasts and in this episode, Rob Asks Hawley a question (30:02) about why Trump is so careful of the manner in which he criticizes the Alt-Right/Neo Nazis who seem to back him and why he panders to them if they are in fact a small movement. Given their relatively small numbers, why would Trump be concerned about maintaining their support, especially considering how much criticism it would bring which could affect his larger plan/voting base (who already struggles to justify their support for a president who they say is not a racist).
Hawley said he wasn't sure what Trump's strategy was in doing this as it didn't really seem to make much political sense other than that Trump has bigger adversaries and wants to focus his energy in other areas like demonizing the press. Although that may be true, and I wouldn't disagree with that perspective, I have another theory to offer that might add to the picture.
Globally speaking there is a drive towards so called populist movements, many of them which are right-wing in nature, but some are social democratic or socialist in nature. Our political divisions here in the US parallel the political situation around the world. In many countries the right and the left have gone farther to the extremes and the "middle of the road" parties are shrinking.
In a May 27, 2019 article "European Election 2019: Results in maps and charts", BBC reports that the two biggest voting blocks in the European Parliament have lost seats. Far right and populist parties gained seats, while the far left lost seats to the center left and the center lost seats to the center left. Looking at the chart, which shows the difference in turnout since 2014, the countries which had less turnout than 2014 had a very minor change, decreasing to just slightly less than 2014 levels, but countries where there were huge differences from 2014 there were giant increases in voter participation. In several countries right-wing "populism" gained ground.
These right-wing movements seem to be organic in the sense that they are direct appeals to the emotions of the audience. Much in the same way Trump's rants about immigrants and the "Make America Great Again" appeal to look to a former time of glory for the state, sometimes couched in a racist, ethno majority nostalgia. The socialist movements seem to be a secondary surge in response to the increase in supposed right-wing populism.
Although Trump uses many tactics that bear some resemblance to Hitler's propaganda and his popularity among right-wing groups has furthered this comparison, it was only in the question posed by Rob that something occurred to me. A true populist movement comes about when the populace begins to have a common feeling, a cohesive mind-set brought about usually through shared suffering and empathy for each others in their group.
For example many of the right-wing movements in Europe currently have their origin and find their momentum in the flood of immigrants. Right-wing movements prey on a nativist tendency to fall victim to fear-mongering of "invaders" under these circumstances and a collective scapegoating is encouraged. In fact, Trump and Fox News both borrowed from the "crisis" in Europe. Many videos that appeared on my since-deleted facebook focused on "No-Go Zones" in Britain, whole towns run by Muslims implementing Sharia Law.
Playing on this one particular human tendency, is terribly powerful and if people construct an ideology around this and blame immigrants for everything, if all media joins in to repress all evidence to the contrary and a megaphone is given to people like Steve Bannon, the movement can take on a "populist" appearance..
But at the core of humanity if the movement is not organic it can't be maintained over time because it eventually is broken down by their own first-hand experiences.
When I think about true populist movements in history, I think of slavery. Slavery was an institution that made money for a particular elite group, a select minority who wanted to continue it. But the larger population saw it for what it was. They could look into the eyes of slaves and see them as fellow humans, children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers and as their empathy with slaves as fellow human beings began to rise up, the coalition of people who wanted to see an end to slavery was larger and more powerful than the minority who wanted to maintain it.
More notably, the abolitionists, in spite of not having the money and power of the pro-slavery group, were driven by a deep conviction of the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery. And eventually the elite knew they could not hold onto the system.
Another example night be in post WWI Germany when the German people were feeling, as a group, the disdain of the world and a horrible economy while at the same time being made to pay reparations for WWI. Many historians point to these conditions as breeding ground for Hitler's brand of populism.