… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

"He tells it like it is."

“He tells it like it is.”

Concept description

The Cambridge Dictionary defines populism as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.”

The BusinessDictionary entry for populism reads:

“In general, ideology or political movement that mobilizes the population (often, but not always, the lower classes) against an institution or government, usually in the defense of the underdog or the wronged. Whether of left, right, or middle political persuasion, it seeks to unite the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated (the ‘little man’) against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the orthodox politicians) and their camp followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses.”

“Although it comes into being where mainstream political institutions fail to deliver, there is no identifiable economic or social set of conditions that give rise to it, and it is not confined to any particular social class.”

How is this possible?

Populism is thought to explain the level of support for Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Roger Cohen (second reference below) tries to answer the question, “How is this possible?”:

“It is possible because spectacle and politics have merged and people no longer know fact from fiction or care about the distinction. It is possible because fear has entered people’s lives and that fear is easily manipulated. It is possible because technology has created anxiety-multipliers such as have never been known before. It is possible because America is a country living with the dim dissatisfaction of two wars without victory and the untold trillions spent on them. It is possible because a very large number of people want to give the finger to the elites who brought the crash of 2008 and rigged the global system and granted themselves impunity. It is possible because of growing inequality and existential dread, especially among the white losers from globalization who know minorities will be the majority in the United States by midcentury. It is possible because both major parties have abandoned the working class. It is possible because a lot of Americans feel the incumbent in the White House has undersold the United States, diminished its distinctive and exceptional nature, talked down its power, and so diluted its greatness and abdicated its responsibility for the well-being of the free world. It is possible because the identity politics embraced by urban, cosmopolitan liberals have provoked an inevitable backlash among those who think white lives matter, too. It is possible because Trump speaks to the basest but also some of the most ineradicable traits of human beings – their capacity for mob anger, their racist resentments, their cruelty, their lust, their search for scapegoats, their insecurities – and promises a miraculous makeover. It is possible because the Clinton family has been in the White House and cozy with the rich and close to the summit of a discredited political establishment for a quarter-century now and, to people who want change or bridle at dynastic privilege, that makes Hillary Clinton an unattractive candidate. It is possible because history demonstrates there is no limit to human folly or the dimensions of the disasters humanity can bring on itself.”

See also Political Correctness, Populism, and Freedom of Speech.


Ngaire Woods (2017), The New Xenophobia, Social Europe, 16 January 2017, at https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/01/47460/, accessed 16 January 2017.

Rolf Reber (2016), How Political Correctness Propelled Trump to Presidency – Here’s why, Psychology Today, 4 December 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/critical-feeling/201612/how-political-correctness-propelled-trump-presidency, accessed 18 December 2016.

Mark Lilla (2016), The End of Identity Liberalism, New York Times, 18 November, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html, accessed 20 December 2016.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz (2016), How Democracies Fall Apart – Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy, Foreign Affairs, 5 December, at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-05/how-democracies-fall-apart, accessed 9 December 2016.

Roger Cohen (2016), The Trump-Farage Road Show, New York Times, 29 August 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/opinion/the-trump-farage-road-show.html, accessed 30 August 2016.

Roger Cohen (2016), The Trump Possibility, New York Times, 3 October 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/opinion/the-trump-possibility.html, accessed 4 October 2016.

J.D. Vance (2016), When It Comes to Baskets, We’re All Deplorable, New York Times, 22 September 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/when-it-comes-to-baskets-were-all-deplorable.html, accessed 22 September 2016.

David Freedman (2016), The War on Stupid People – American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth, The Atlantic, July/August, at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-war-on-stupid-people/485618/.

Charles Murray and Sean Collins (2016), America Against Itself – Charles Murray talks to Sean Collins about the new class war, Spiked Review, August 2016, at http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/a-nation-divided, accessed 20 September 2016.

Joel Kotkin (2016), The New Culture War Dividing America – Underpinning the progressive elite’s snobbery is a vicious class antagonism, Spiked Review, August 2016, at http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/the-new-culture-war-dividing-america, accessed 20 September 2016.

David Brooks (2016), The Age of Reaction, New York Times, 27 September 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/opinion/the-age-of-reaction.html, accessed 28 September 2016.

David Brooks (2016), Donald Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life, New York Times, 11 October 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/opinion/donald-trumps-sad-lonely-life.html, accessed 12 October 2016.

See Narcissistic Alexithymia – A Psychological Diagnosis of Donald Trump.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.


Cambridge Dictionary, populism, at http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/populism, accessed 15 August 2016.

BusinessDictionary, populism, at http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/populism.html, accessed 15 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 14 March 2017.

Image: The New Yorker (2016), Cartoon Bank at http://www.newyorker.com/cartoons/a20072, accessed 28 September 2016.