I have probably heard this question at least thirty times since I arrived in London almost two months ago. In that time, I have talked to many British locals about politics, and all have pounced on the opportunity to mention how the American political climate is simply unbelievable. The very mention of President Trump (yes, he is my President after all) induces a slight chuckle out of them before our conversation continues. You could ask 100 people about how he or she predicts the state of the US will be in 3 years, and each person will have a slightly different answer than the next. So, the message of this article will not be about President Trump’s benefit or demise to society. This article is here to emphasize how Trump’s election is just one example of the rise of populism in global politics.
For those that do not know, populism is the political ideology that serves to appeal to the common people and oppose the privileged elite. Americans were privileged to see this manifested in two opposite forms during the 2016 election: on the furthest of left we had Bernie Sanders, the socialist Democrat from Vermont, and on the most surprising of right we had Donald Trump, the eccentric billionaire businessman. Both were keen on tapping into the demands of the lower-class workers who wanted to fill Washington D.C. with representatives that served their best interests. As we all know, it worked more in Trump’s favour in the end. However, the overall election proved that people had an increased sense of political efficacy and were ready to use that to their personal benefit.
Similar events have transpired in other forms across the world as well. In those same British political conversations, if we aren’t talking about Trump, it is safe to assume we are talking about the effects of Brexit. Countless people in the UK were dumbfounded by the groundbreaking referendum result from last summer, and many are still coming to grips with how it will change the United Kingdom’s stature in the global economy. Those who did support Brexit, though, were eager to take back control of the pound and secure domestic jobs from immigrants. Comparably in France, Marine Le Pen nearly won the French presidential election a couple months ago representing the French National Front, one of the most successful populist parties in the world. While she narrowly lost, she still has a tremendous following that has significant influence over the French political landscape.
What is it, though, that has caused this populistic uprising? Leaders like Trump and Le Pen have influenced people by desiring more autonomy on a global scale. They have nationalistic ideals geared towards improving their country economically, and, in some way, militarily. Direct marketing slogans like “Make America Great Again” and “Take Back Control of Our Country” allowed these populist movements to gain more of a following during their campaigns. These tactics are not groundbreaking, but they are tapping into how many people today are feeling.
I am a Political Science major at the University of Florida and I have incorporated as many international relations courses into my curriculum as possible. If there is one thing I have taken away from those courses, it is that global political trends are cyclical. The 2016 US election was not the beginning of a revolution, but a signal of evolution. Populistic governments are something to look out for in the next few decades, but as history has shown, nothing is indefinite.
Jonathan Frish – Political Science Major, University of Florida – FIE Intern for Jon Cruddas MP