One of the trends of recent years is a rise in populist power. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it can lead to a cycle of trouble.
Populism is essentially a movement by regular people to obtain power from others to live through their own policies, not the others, who are often seen as elites or establishmentarians. This group of others has taken many identities in the past from monarchs to parliaments to dictators, and now it seems to be our own government. Throughout time, the others are the ruling class.
I will ultimately criticize populism, but before I do, let me say that populism is sometimes needed and can be a good thing. Populism is a mechanism, and I think it is a mechanism, not a philosophy, by which the people can keep its rulers in check. But the manner in which it keeps leaders in check varies so much it is impossible to classify it as a philosophy itself. The Soviet Movement was largely populist, as is the Trump phenomenon going on now, and they are worlds apart.
We do need populism on some level. I think without its existence, the whole concept of a government by and for the people is meaningless.
However, I find populism dangerous in that it can go too far, and often, it does. We get results we will not like from an unfettered populist regime. This is not to say the people cannot govern themselves, but rather that populism inevitably leads to the exact opposite of a government led by the people.
Someone must take the reigns and lead, and it cannot be done by millions of people acting together. There must be a single force or a small group of people to actually lead and govern. Even if they swear to the will of the people, the leaders must be small in number. And given the small in number against the huge numbers of people, it is impossible to meet the needs of everyone.
We have seen this time and again in history, which is why we must be aware of it and recognize that riding too much a populist wave is negative. I am not sure that we are riding our current wave too far, and it is not all on Trump. Interestingly, Trump is the current leader, (Obama was before him) so we see it in history now.
I tend to agree with Trump’s policy successes, but I am not sure his approach and the populism that is supporting him is wise long term. Populist changes can be undone quite easily, and if those of us on the right don’t work hard to ensure the changes Trump has brought in become established, they will be undone as soon as the left returns to power.
I would like to see a more responsive group of leaders and a less aggressive set of populist agitators. Most people just want to live, so let’s let them live. At some point, we need to trust our leaders while we hold them to the fire, otherwise we risk putting worse people into leadership. While it is possible to improve that leadership, the history tends to support the former possibility.
What we have in our nation, the United States, is a wonderful system where these two groups can work together: the people and the leaders. The system was designed to be led by the people, and we should always remember that they are people and do not hold titles or get special treatment. We need to hold them to the fire just like the rest of us. But our system is a good system, and we ought not to take that for granted. We elect people to do their job and trust that they will represent us in the way they see fit. We do not elect them to do everything we want.
This perhaps subtle distinction is important, because letting them act for all of their constituency is different than making them act for us individually. This is not to say that if someone rarely votes in ways that we see as positive, we shouldn’t vote for someone else. Quite the contrary, but we need to give them some leeway just the same.
But being afforded this choice is precisely the genius of our system, and we need to trust it. Populist movements can cloud that genius, and I fear we are nearing that point where the wisdom of the system is being discounted because of the populist apprehension that exists out there.
Sometimes, the best way to effect positive change is not change the world, but ourselves. And we, the people, maybe at a point where we need to seriously consider how we are addressing the problems before us today. Remember, the crowd is not always right.