Populism…you sly fox 😉

Looking at how Populism is failing global leaders

Populists are seen as dividers, splitting society into two overly polarizing and generalized groups: the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite”. Populist leaders fight for the rights of these “pure, good, hardworking folks who have been exploited by the system”. Populist leaders create a powerful illusion of war; a battle pitching ‘us against them’, thereby separating rather than uniting their people. There isn’t one characteristic that describes all Populists leaders, but here are a few characteristics to look out for:

· Self-Victimization

· Authoritarianism

· Breaking Protocol

· Manipulation of Crises for own gains

· Dismissing Critiques

· Nativism

· Rude Behavior

· Direct Language

· Stubbornness

· (Appears to be) against Governing Bodies and Associations

Although the term ‘Populism’ has been part of social science discourse since the 1960s, not until the 20th century did it become integrated into political parties. And, it was not until the 45th President of the Free World was elected did the leadership style around the world become more Populist.

Slightly over two years since Donald Trump (the 45th President of the United States) took office, the world has become more and more Populist among countries such as Mexico, the United Kingdom, Italy, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, to name a few.

One of the main reasons Populist leaders are gaining traction all over the world can be attributed to Generation Z — those born between 1996 and 2010.

This demographic cohort was born and raised during wars, violence, economic meltdowns, globalization, hypocrisy, nepotism, climate change, social media, and the internet. As such, they are generally loud, bold and unapologetic, calling out injustice and the broken system their predecessors left behind. Unlike previous generations, they are ready to create change and work for the rights of those who truly deserve it; i.e. the “pure, good, hardworking folks who have been exploited by the system”. They are looking for leaders who are not focused on political decorum but rather who are looking to make drastic changes for the “pure” people.

Members of Gen Z generally embrace leaders with Populist views; those who are fighting against their common enemy: the corrupt elites.

Political Analysts argue that Populism is a thin ideology, and I can argue that it is a feeble ideology that will not stand the test of time in the face of real National danger.

The basic premise of Populism is to divide a Nation into two separate groups however when National crises occur that requires unity within the Nation to be resolved, what happens to Populist leaders? They fail!

History shows this in Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, President Donald Trump of the US, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK are all being blamed within their nations for the mismanagement of COVID-19 which led to the uncontrolled rapid spread and a high death rate. These leaders, in turn, laid the blame at the feet of their political opponents, China, Europe, the World Health Organization and the European Union.

In Mexico, the President has been blamed for not taking seriously the advice from public health officials, as he did not issue a firm order against large gatherings and travelling, and did not enforce social distancing. As a consequence, Mexico has over 8,000 cases of COVID-19, 600 deaths and a forecasted 6.6% decrease in its GDP for this year.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, also took a more relaxed approach and failed to partake of the European Union’s bulk-buying scheme. This led to challenges sourcing protective gear for their National Health Service. As well as over 120,000 cases and over 16,000 deaths, with a GDP that is forecasted to shrink by 13% by the end of 2020.

The country with the highest number of cases (over 750,000 cases and 40,500 deaths so far) is expected to experience economic shrinkage of 5.5%. President Donald Trump has been widely criticized for showing a lack of leadership and clear communication. Even though the Trump administration enacted a travel ban against China in mid-January, no preparations were made to guard against widespread infection and organize sufficient care for a surge of ill citizens.

COVID-19 can be seen as a National crisis that requires all citizens to take the advice of public health officials, with the “pure and good” uniting with the “corrupt elite” to flatten the curve. Will Populist leaders be able to reunite their already divided countries to prevent more cases, deaths and greater shrinking to their economies? Only time will tell.

*COVID-19 numbers are as of April 20th 2020.

Want to understand how the perception of COVID-19 in Nigeria has changed over its timeline, contact Versa Research!