In the wake of the ISIS bombings in Brussels, it did not take long for mainstream media to start an attack on anti-immigration, eurosceptic politicians.
For example, and as expected, the Financial Times blasted “populists” including Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Nigel Farage.
With that, I have an interesting question: Who’s the greater populist, Donald Trump or Angela Merkel?
Let’s kick off the discussion with a review of the Financial Times article Populist Politicians Seize on Brussels Attacks.
Populist politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to seize on the Brussels attacks.
“Time and time again I have been right about terrorism. It’s time to get tough!” said Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He swiftly juxtaposed the attacks with a plea for support in Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Utah.
In Europe, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National, blamed the attack on “Islamist barbarism” and called for the immediate closure of the French-Belgian border. The British anti-EU UK Independence party linked the attacks to migration policy, saying the killings were “a result of Schengen free movement and lax border controls”.
For populist parties, the Brussels attacks fit a narrative about the need for stricter border control, and a more aggressive approach to Islamic communities.
More than 30 people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide attack at Brussels’ Zaventem airport and an explosion at the city’s Maalbeek metro station — which were claimed by Isis.
Ukip is particularly sensitive on the issue ahead of a June referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, where its opponents have invoked security as a reason for voting for the status quo.
For Mr Trump, whose campaign has been propelled by an anti-immigrant mood in the US, the attacks enabled a return to one of his most emotive themes.
“I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on,” he told Fox News. “We are taking in people without real documentation. We don’t know where they’re coming from … they could be Isis related.”
The Brussels attack came a day after Mr Trump said in an interview that the US should play a lesser role in Nato — a view that underscores his stance as one of the most isolationist Republican frontrunners in decades. Mr Trump on Tuesday called on the US to cancel the visa-waiver programme that allows millions of people to enter the country every year without obtaining a visa.
Attack On the “Populists”
The Financial Times did not offer its solution. It merely labeled anti-immigration proponents as “populists”.
Definition of Populism
Before we can say who is or who isn’t a populist, we need to define the term.
Please consider some snips Encyclopedia Britannica on the term Populism.
In its most democratic form, populism seeks to defend the interest and maximize the power of ordinary citizens, through reform rather than revolution. In the United States the term was applied to the program of the Populist Movement, which gave rise to the Populist, or People’s, Party in 1892. Many of the party’s demands were later adopted as laws or constitutional amendments (e.g., a progressive tax system). The populist demand for direct democracy through popular initiatives and referenda also become a reality in a number of U.S. states.
In its contemporary understanding, however, populism is most often associated with an authoritarian form of politics. Populist politics, following this definition, revolves around a charismatic leader who appeals to and claims to embody the will of the people in order to consolidate his own power.
In this personalized form of politics, political parties lose their importance, and elections serve to confirm the leader’s authority rather than to reflect the different allegiances of the people.
In contemporary understanding, it’s easy to make a case Merkel is a far greater populist than Trump.
Merkel’s open arms welcome of Syrian refugees merely reflected what she believed the majority of the population wanted at the time. Recall that Germans cheered the initial arrival of refugees.
But politicians don’t admit mistakes. Since then, Merkel’s own political party has lost all its meaning to her. Instead, everything she says and does “serves to confirm [her] authority rather than to reflect the different allegiances of the people.”
Britannica also notes “Populist is often used pejoratively to criticize a politician for pandering to a people’s fear and enthusiasm.”
Indeed. That phrase certainly applies to Trump. However, the phrase applies even more to the Republican party itself!
The biggest fearmongering campaign in history is against anti-war candidate Donald Trump by the Republican demagogues who would rather see Hillary Clinton in office than Donald Trump.
So, who’s the greater populist?
- Donald Trump
- Angela Merkel
- Bonus choice number three: the anti-Trump Republican fearmongering establishment
Mike “Mish” Shedlock