After Trump’s win, let’s do away with “Populism”


The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

Pierre Rousselin is a former deputy managing editor in charge of international affairs with French daily Le Figaro and the author of Les démocraties en danger (Democracies in danger) edited in November 2014 by First Editions.

Like Brexit, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s election to the White House came as a huge surprise for European media and political “elites.” Trump’s win is now being rejected in many ways by those who just saw it as the voice of a simplistic, narrow-minded even racist populism.

Far from at least searching for some reasons behind such an upheaval, forces at the top are continuing business as usual taking the risk of encouraging what they’re deploring. By denouncing the “silly” vote for Trump and by celebrating the “smart” vote for Clinton, “elites” couldn’t imagine a better way to send what they labeled as “populism” to the very political summit of the United States today and perhaps Europe tomorrow.

Observing such developments, Pierre Rousselin, a former deputy managing editor in charge of international affairs with French daily Le Figaro published on Cyceon the following text:

Let’s do away with “Populism”

It is high time, after Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, to seriously rethink the way we view the strong popular mouvement of anger that is sweeping our democracies and that we have taken to despise as “populism”.

The same thing happens over and over again. Opinion polls and pundits get it completely wrong. It is easy to understand why. Our elites are incapable of seing reality as it is and prefer to dream up a world where nothing would have changed since those happy days of the 90’s when our western democracies had come out triumphantly from the Cold war. They believe, those elites, that every one lives and thinks as they do, or should think and live the same way.

A huge number of our fellow citizens, especially among desinfranchised people, understand perfectly well that policies which were justified not so long ago do not answer today’s problems. The international system was put into place after World War two. It has deteriorated in the last few years and no longer serves to protect the interests of a large parts of the population. This explains the worries of public opinion and the huge abyss that has been digged between rulers and governed.

In Great Britain, “populism” took root with the demagogical attempt by David Cameron to solve his problem with the eurosceptics among this own party by holding a referendum on Brexit. Voters where trapped with this foolish alternative. The same can be said in Spain of Catalan leaders who promise a rosy future with independance or of the National Front in France, when it advocates giving up the euro.

Donald Trump is the best example of a “populist” politician one can dream of. But beside his outrageous slunders on women, muslims, hispanics… he expresses a real feeling : the frustration a lot of people feel listening to the dominant politically correct view of society. This rejection explains why he will be the next president of the USA, not a sudden massive conversion of his followers to fascism, white suprematism or outright racism.

« Populism » is a trap: uttering insults brings one’s rival to respond to the provocation with other insanities. I hope I’m not wrong but I sincerly don’t believe Donald Trum is a new Hitler, as has been said so often during the campaign. I also don’t think one can put his followers in a “basket of deplorables” and hope to convince those who were trying to make up their minds.

« Populism » surely does’nt have the right answers but it does throw out legitimate questions. One should be able to have social change without questioning family values; immigration, when it is illegal, is not something to be promoted; inequalities should not be allowed to grow for ever; international trade does’nt have to destroy so many jobs; the rules we observe should apply to all citizens, whatever their religion including islam, etc… These few principles are not “populists”. They are just common sense.

They are just as true in the US as in Europe where the political discourse is even more conventional.

If we let the “populists” take charge of all these issues we can be sure they will win, whether they are called Marine Le Pen in France, Bebe Grillo in Italy, Geert Wilders in Holland or Alternative for Germany. After the US election result, we are going to see a lot of european politicans racing to be the Donald Trump of their own country.

We don’t know whether the next US president will be as “populist” in the White house as he has been as candidate. I have a feeling he will not be, allthough at this stage he hardly has any credible answer to the issues he plants. My opinion is conforted by the fact that all those who got the election so wrong are now predicting the apocalypsis. I am also reasured by my memories of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 when a bad movie actor was going to drive us directly into a nuclear war. As today, the liberal establishment was furious to see someone emerge from outside it’s own turf and was saying all kinds of terrible things about a man who has turned out to be one of the most popular presidents in history.

Given the considerable impact on Europe of all that goes on in the US what is happening in Washington D.C. is crucial for us. The political equation and the diplomatic one are being upset well away from the shores of America.

From now one, and more so as of inauguration day on January 20, Donald Trump is going to be an actor of our own political life. There is a striking paradox : The most « populist », and therefore anti-establishment, politician on earth is reaching the absolute summit of our global world’s establishment.

With Donald Trump as the most powerful man on earth, it is going to be very difficult for our leaders to keep dispising those “populists” and ignoring what they are telling us about the malaise in our societies. If after the Brexit choc, Trump’s election does at last bring such an awakening, then it might not be the harbinger of a “populist” tidal wave, as the right-wing parties in Europe are hoping.

Rousselin published in July 2016 on Cyceon a previous editorial titled France against Terrorism, is it Total War?

This article was first published in spanish in the Madrid paper La Razón, on November 9, 2016.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and are independent of Cyceon.