We’re supposed to think it is.
Just look at the havoc populism has wrought on our once stable, orderly and deeply contented Western societies. The seismic shock of Brexit, the Trumpocalypse, the rise of Front National and Germany’s current coalition woes are just a few examples of populism’s pernicious and harmful effects.
At every turn we see populism on the rise, more often than not defined as an entirely negative cultural and political force. We can be certain in our analysis because our moral, intellectual and social betters inside the commentariat bubble have declared it to be so. You know the people I’m talking about; those highly educated, highly paid and infallible analysts who told us Britain would sink into the ocean the day after a Brexit vote. The ones who were certain Donald Trump had a less than 2% chance of becoming president. The ones who wrote off Jeremy Corbyn as a joke.
Whilst it’s abundantly clear that the populist appeal of Corbyn’s Labour Party is very different from that of Germany’s AFD, the measureable rise of both groups is clear, present and tangible evidence that the populists are firmly in the ascendancy and the establishment doesn’t really know what to do. This lack of political, cultural and economic imagination shouldn’t really be a huge surprise when we consider how the Oxford English Dictionary defines populism as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”
In other words, ordinary voters from across the political spectrum are united by an underlying belief that their societies have been usurped by a self-serving, narrow clique of political, media and business interests who actually despise the very people upon whom they rely for either money or votes…and often both at the same time. Whether the prescribed cure is civic nationalism or Soviet style socialism, the diagnosis of a self-serving and sneering elite is pretty much uniform across the Western world at this point.
Millions of elite media words have been expended in the examination of populism’s rise, offering both explanation and solution to this dangerous and unpredictable social force. Naturally most of them are completely wrong because they’re looking out from within the very same media bubble which has fuelled populism’s rebirth and inexorable rise. From their vantage point, they cannot see the simplest and neatest explanation for this mystifying and troubling trend.
The populists are right.
For more than three decades now, the ruling political, financial and media class has controlled Western societies very successfully through their complete domination of the Overton window. For those who don’t know, the Overton window is the range of views that any society considers to be within acceptable political discourse. Any idea outside the Overton window is considered extreme or fringe, and therefore not worthy of serious discussion.
Here in the UK, the most obvious example of Overton control has been a pathological reluctance to seriously question the benefits of continued EU membership. For decades, that subject was summarily declared off-limits by all mainstream political parties, and ruthlessly suppressed by their media enablers.
The result? Growing frustration, anger, and eventually Brexit.
Naturally this political, social, and cultural strategy of Overton control is dependent upon the policies inside the acceptable space being largely successful. However the Iraq war, terrorism, the banking crisis, growing inequality and borderless nations have exposed a con trick by a cynical cartel rather than ushering in the comfortable, centrist utopia we were implicitly promised. As the number and magnitude of problems has grown, the establishment’s response has been to shrink the Overton window still further, allowing fewer and fewer possible remedies to be discussed within polite society. This has naturally and inevitably led to an unsustainable tension between an increasingly embattled elite and an increasingly alienated population.
Something had to snap, and those once unthinkable ideas like enforcing immigration law and famous people paying the same tax as everyone else have poured into the public consciousness and gained significant mass appeal. After all, that’s all we ever really wanted in the first place. If only they’d asked us.
So, is populism really a problem? No…it’s the only civilised solution.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net