Is populism a blessing or a curse?
If a single trait is defining modern culture, art, and politics, it’s populism. Politicians are falling all over themselves to portray themselves as “the champion of the people,” at the same time protest groups like the Teabaggers and the Occupiers claim to represent “the 99%.”
On the other hand, over the span of my lifetime, I have seen small niches and specialty markets vanish as businesses fight for a small share of a huge popular market rather than a large share of a tiny, minority market. For example, in the city where I live, there used to be radio stations which played classical, stations which played country & western, stations which played metal, and stations which played religious music. Now, every station – literally every station – has changed its format to “soft rock hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.”
I’ve spent my entire adult life as an activist fighting a largely fruitless battle to keep the middle class from turning the streets of my city into an inoffensive, cultureless, bland, grey, concrete-and-chrome wasteland of upscale boutiques and fake, overpriced Irish/Scottish/English pubs while, at the same time, city hall has removed every public drinking fountain, bathroom, bench, planter, and bus shelter which could provide assistance to a poor person. The last two police chiefs have endorsed the “broken windows” model of policing where huge amounts of money and resources are spent harassing anyone who, by their appearance, would make a suburban soccer mom feel uneasy. All done in the name of populism.
Civil liberties in the Western world were originally established for the explicit purpose of protecting people from the tyranny of the majority. In Amerika, for example, the electoral college was created to keep power out of direct control by the people, and George Washington kept a private military force to the day he died, loyal and answerable only to him, in case he ever needed to overthrow a democratically-elected king. It seems odd that populism, which was once seen as being so dangerous and antithetical to freedom that the machinery of politics had to be rigged to subvert it, has now become so powerful and accepted so utterly without question, that to make an appeal to anything but populism is political suicide.
Yet the world is ruled by an increasingly small number of ruthless billionaire robber barons. It is only populism – collectivist struggle by people whose only strength is numbers – which has the power to change this.
Is populism the cause or the solution to our multiplying problems?