By Lauren Herber, Co-Editor
A couple of weeks ago, Thunderbird had the pleasure of hosting Mr. John Salinger for a roundtable discussion on the topic of populism, a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elites. A handful of students were selected, including myself, and met with Mr. Salinger for an hour to analyze the recent increase in the rise of populism both in the US and around the world. We identified the US, Europe, and Latin America as the regions that currently have the most active populist parties.
There are a series of factors involved in the rise of populism, such as the increasing disparity in income and the fear of the loss of jobs that often accompanies globalization. We grouped all of the factors we identified into three categories: anti-globalization, an erosion of public trust, and technology. Globalization is causing unease as many feel they are losing control of their own fate. This unease is compounded by government failure to address a number of global situations, which has led to the erosion of confidence in government. Also causing a major shift is technology, which has fundamentally affected the way we approach business, policy, and social scenarios. We noticed that the one element linking these three impetuses is fear: fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of the misunderstood. It is a dangerous thing when political parties and their front runners use fear to gain advantage.
The implications of populism are enormous. This is because, in our globalized, interdependent world, consequences of populism (economic or otherwise) in one region will heavily affect other regions all around the world. Furthermore, market movement is not compatible with populist movements, and eventually either economic or political structure in a populist country will give out. One current example of a populist movement gaining power is in Britain, who is contemplating the Brexit (British exit from the European Union). For clarification, the “elites” (a group or class of persons considered to be superior to others because of their intelligence, education, social standing, or wealth) want to stay in the EU, while independents would like to exit. The Brexit would potentially have huge implications for the entirety of the EU because, for example, London is the region’s financial center. It could also be the final push to ignite a Scottish independence movement, which has been brewing for some time, essentially disintegrating the UK. The Brexit could also have serious implications for the recent immigration crisis going on in the EU. The Brexit is an example of how volatile and dangerous populist movements can be; the effects are widespread, rippling through many countries all over the world and affecting millions of people.
The United States currently has two populist political candidates fighting for office: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. These candidates are advocating to raise barriers, increase tariffs, and restrict immigration, measures which could eventually lead to a trade war. Populist candidates often fuel their momentum by playing on the American people’s lack of trust in the US government, which is why Trump and Sanders emphasize that their campaign is largely funded by the people and not by super elites (which is antidemocratic).
The most frightening thing about populist movements is that they are often motivated by fear. We have grown stagnant, paralyzed by our fear of the unknown and of what we don’t understand. We fear globalization, we fear the government, we fear technology, we fear “the Other.” We need to figure out a way to continue building and creating with globalization and technology, rather than resisting them and letting our fear blind us. The more that we let fear continue to guide us, the more momentum political extremism will gain, a fact which couldn’t be more obvious in today’s world. It is up to us, as Thunderbird students and global citizens, to embrace what we don’t yet understand and not let ignorance and fear dictate our futures and the futures of others.