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December 26th 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

Populist and Proud

Have you noticed how elections that produce results counter to the Left's wishes --  Trump and Brexit, to name but two examples -- are sneeringly dismissed as manifestations of the hoi polloi's ignorance, stupidity and bigotry? Those progressives, they don't like democracy

pitchforks IINo doubt many readers have recognise and deplore the debasement, over the past 40 or so years, of the English language under the influence of Left wing academics and special interest groups.  The word ‘racist’ is the most obvious example. Others are ‘homophobia’, ‘xenophobia’, ‘hate speech’ and, well the list of words hijacked by the left and freighted with contempt for all who disagree goes on on on.

But there’s also another example, one that has come very much to the fore of late: “populist”. At the moment it is the slur du jour for the shell-shocked left, stunned that so many recent votes and plebiscites have gone against them.

Merriam-Webster defines a populist as “a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.” Under the first definition, the ALP qualifies as ‘populist’.  What politician in his right mind would abjure a description of himself as a believer in the rights, wisdom or virtues of the common people? Yet we routinely hear ‘populist’ used in the pejorative against any politician who so far forgets his status as a member of the establishment elite as to tap into the mood of those  he has been elected to represent.

The supreme and most recent example, of course, is Donald Trump. You could not find a better example of this phenomenon than a piece headlined “Moderates Can Be a Force for Change in 2017”, originally published in The Times and reproduced in The Australian, by one Rachel Sylvester.

Sylvester’s Wikipedia entry tells us “she was named 2015′s Political Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards. Iain Martin has described her and Thomson’s work as ‘highly skilled interviewers [with] a gift for getting people to burble on until they say something highly revealing’.” Judging by the article in question it’s clear Rachel knows a thing or two about burbling. She begins thus:

In this, the year of the political strongman, Vladimir Putin has surely been the biggest winner. He has extended Russia’s sphere of influence to the Middle East, propping up his ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria by slaughtering civilians and bombing aid convoys, while launching cyber attacks and propaganda campaigns that destabilised the West.

She then goes on to mention Turkey’s President Erdogan and Philippines President Duterte as other examples of the rise of ‘hard men’ and, not to be thought of as jingoistic or biased, she takes a swipe closer to home:

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s eulogy to Fidel Castro was a reminder that the Left has its own favourite oppressors.

Since she led off with Vladimir Putin one wonders why she needed to remind us, per the example of Corbyn, that the Left has its own dubious characters, albeit fairly tame ones, who confine themselves to simple expressions of  admiration for dictators, rather than actually emulating them by executing or imprisoning their opponents.  I wonder if Xi Jinping might be a bit miffed at not making the cut, given his sabre-rattling in the South China Sea.

But let’s not carp.  It was this next paragraph that initially caught my attention:

In this year of the demagogue, Donald Trump tweeted his way to victory in the US while his mini-me, Nigel Farage, shaped events in Europe and then became the face of Britain abroad. The photograph of the US president-elect and the former UK Independence Party leader smiling in the gold and diamond-studded Trump Tower lift was the image that defined the past 12 months. Marine Le Pen is waiting in the wings in France, hoping to capitalise on the anti-establishment mood. Emotion has trumped intellect, and prejudice overwhelmed truth, as populism goes mainstream.

No prize for guessing where Rachel stood on Brexit, which brings me back to my initial point about the corruption of the word ‘populist’.  There are a number of issues that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and they were certainly populist in the sense that they represented issues that resonated strongly with the ‘common people’. They were, in just a few words, control of national borders, loss and restoration of sovereignty, rising income inequality, law and order and Islamic extremism.

No rational person could doubt that these are genuine problems, ones exerting their adverse impacts on millions of ‘common people’.  The only debate is the best way in which to tackle them.  ‘Populists’ such as Donald Trump say it is time to throw out what clearly hasn’t worked and try something new. What Trump is proposing in regard to most of these issues is by no means anathema to conservatives.  The only contentious area is protectionism.  I’m not an economist, but perhaps globalized markets could do with some tweaking around the edges to ensure a level playing field.  In any case, much could be achieved by cutting company tax, reducing the cost of energy and eliminating green tape – all measures proposed by Trump and hardly out of left field.

Let’s accept that ‘progressives’ have captured the word populism and redefined it to mean someone who latches onto a popular sentiment, regardless of its merits, not out of commitment but out of pure self-interest.  If you’re looking for this kind of populist you need look no further than our very own Opposition Leader, Mr Shorten, who can make all the requisite noises in favout of multiculturalism until he finds himself standing before an audience of naval construction workers. That was, as readers will recall, the moment he found it convenient to denounce Japan and the Japanese.

By the way, according to Merriam Webster, a demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices, rather than by using rational argument.” So it’s another of those darts, like ‘racist’, that you can whip out and hurl at your opponent whenever you lack a rational counter-argument.

Farage and Trump were appealing to popular desires, no doubt about it, but it cannot be said that Farage avoided rational argument.  And, while admittedly some of Trump’s antics and pronouncements seemed unhinged, most of his proposed solutions are based on rational argument, even if you don’t agree with them. Even his proposal to build a wall between the US and Mexico, while it might prove both costly and difficult, is an entirely rational response to the daily waves of illegal immigration.

Here’s another gem:

In the new age of unreason the liberal, rule-based international institutions on which the world order has been based for decades — the EU, the IMF, NATO and the UN — have been challenged as bureaucratic anachronisms run by experts.

Words almost fail me!  The sheer gall of these unwashed masses to prefer their own sovereignty and national interests to the dictatorial rule of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels and the totally ineffective self-serving machinations of UN’s mandarins. Sylvester’s main point is that, thankfully, there are enough adults left at Westminster to save these pro-Brexit cretins from themselves.

After the emotional spasm of the last few months, reality is kicking in. British Brexit Secretary David Davis is starting to talk the language of compromise. Even Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary who has always been the cabinet’s most ideological free marketeer, has floated the possibility that Britain might stay in the European customs union.

Leave supporters, who have always been deeply mistrustful of the Whitehall establishment, now declare themselves relieved that Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood is overseeing the EU negotiations because, as one Tory peer puts it, “at least there’s a sensible grown-up in charge”.

Well, no harm in trying to get the best of both worlds. I expect that Brexiteers would be happy to keep the good bits as long as they regain their nation’s sovereignty and control of its borders.  I wouldn’t hold my breath though, Rachel, given that Brussels’ position prior to the Brexit referendum was that it’s either all in or all out.  It’s hard to see them retreating from that position and granting special concessions, given that other EU states are getting restless and contemplating their own exits.

Even Dennis Shanahan, writing in The Weekend Australian, buys into this narrative (emphasis added):

The general disillusion is not just with the Coalition but is part of the wider feeling of frustration with the political processes and parliamentary gridlock, an alarming decline in support for our democratic system that is being felt in jurisdictions where voters feel their views and ballot box choices are not being recognised or implemented.

It’s not the system that’s at fault, Dennis, it’s the way in which the game is played by the current crop of trough-snouters.The Australian also opines that Senator Cory Bernardi, routinely branded as a ‘populist’ and rumoured to be contemplating his own party, should just ‘suck it up’ in the interests of keeping Labor off the Treasury benches. This manifests the conventional wisdom that governments should govern from the centre, which means that both sides must be prepared to compromise.  Trouble is that the centre is not a fixed point of political geography; rather, it is a nebulous entity that keeps ‘slip-sliding away’ to the Left, not under the influence of a general drift in people’s attitudes but rather as a result of the ideological blitzkrieg that has seen the left take charge of the institutions — media, universities, government departments etc — through more than half a century of infiltration and cronyism.

So, if a substantial portion of the electorate sees the centre moving from sensible and practical ideals of governance towards progressive and feel-good trumpery, is it any wonder they feel abandoned?

We often hear politicians referred to as ‘our leaders’.  That might be a convenient term but it sends them exactly the wrong message.  We don’t actually want our politicians to lead us anywhere, particularly on social issues. We want them to devise and implement policies that reflect our needs and desires.

And if they are branded populists for doing so, so be it.

Comments [27]

  1. padraic says:

    Sums it up nicely, Peter. Isn’t it incongruous – the Left are now the born-to-rule “toffs”. What a turn around. It is so satisfying to see them “cop it in the neck” with Brexit and Trump. It could not have happened to nicer people. Throughout history the various political and religious self-styled elites fear the power of the general citizen through democracy. They see the citizenry as some sort of brainless wild beast that needs to be tamed and kept in a cage. The upheaval in the Muslim world is mainly a manifestation of this process as the mullahs fear their flocks are being contaminated by modernity with its concept of personal freedom and secular majority rule and desperately try and control them through some camel driver’s bletherings. We live in interesting times. I just hope that all the struggles of our “populist” ancestors and their successes do not go down the drain of leftist ratbaggery.

    • Tony Thomas says:

      When free elections throw up non-Left winners, the Leftists suggest we need a different, ‘fairer’ system that won’t do that. Example below.
      Geraldine Doogue called her September 4 ABC Compass program, “The Moral Compass – Capitalism Under Pressure”. The website summary opens with this crushing non-sequitur:

      “Are the Brexit vote, the Trump phenomenon and the resurgence of One Nation all signs that democracy and capitalism are under pressure and failing to deliver? If so, what can we do to build a fairer more equitable system?”

      She quizzed her panel,

      “Tonight, are our democratic values falling short of our current needs? And if so, how can we redeem our system? … Now, I’d like to ask you all, is the democracy and the capitalism that we have known failing us, really?” (By “we” and “us”, I assume Doogue means “my kind”.)

      To paraphrase, she’s saying that if Leftists don’t win a democratic vote, it’s a failure of democracy and democracy should be replaced by a “fairer” political system where only Leftists can win.

      • Peter OBrien says:

        And this view is exemplified by ABC’ 7.30 Report host Leigh Sales the other night interviewing none other than our former PM Kevin Rudd.

        At one point she notes that she has always been told by politicians of both sides that the US alliance is stronger than the personalities involved but she then goes on to implore Kevin to reassure her that we would, surely, draw the line at Donald Trump:

        “There’s got to be a limit to that at some point, don’t you think?”

        Later she asks:

        “A recent ANU study shows that Australian satisfaction with democracy has collapsed to its lowest level since the Whitlam dismissal. There has been a lot of discussion about this in relation to the mainstream parties, the rise of Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson. People have put this in the context of Brexit, the rise of Donald and Bernie Sanders in the US. What do you think is going on?”

        So there you have it. In Sales’ view Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of Pauline Hanson represent a rejection of democracy, notwithstanding the fact that millions of people voted for these outcomes. Just a minor glitch to this theory that can be glossed over in typical Leftist fashion.

        What can’t be glossed over is that the study she refers to did not ask Australians to give their verdict on democracy as a system but were asked if they were satisfied with the way democracy is working in Australia.
        http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-20/2016-australian-election-disaffected-study/8134508
        Check out the second graph at the link.

        In fact, the glossy report issued by the ANU contains nothing more than series of graphs with meaningless headings such as ‘satisfaction with democracy’ but it does not detail the precise questions that were asked.

        In fact, the question is really about satisfaction with government and that is how respondents would have interpreted it.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Agreed. Given how often the Coalition is referred to as ‘Tories’, maybe it’s time to refer to Labor/Greens as the “Whigs” given their shared hatred of ordinary people.

  2. Dallas Beaufort says:

    The lefts public sector Green snobs repelled against Tony Abbott’s ‘whole of community’ PPL, What a bunch of self serving creeps.

  3. Jody says:

    The bien pensant Jon Stewart hates Fox News and will do anything to defend poor decisions about who visits the white house and the Obamas. I can’t stand Stewart because he becomes nasty when the argument turns against him. I saw one recently with Tucker Carlson where Stewart asked, “how old are you” and Carlson replied, “35″. Stewart answered, “and you’re wearing a bow tie!”. Enough said. Nasty little Democrats like Stewart are being called out!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YO_om3iK9kE

  4. en passant says:

    Peter,
    Your analysis of the trend to Orwellian language is accurate. The only two insults I find offensive are “Paedophile” & “Racist”.
    I was accused on QoL by Ian MacDougall, the catastrophist, cultist blogger of being “racist”, despite being married to an Asian lady for 41 years. That did offend me, but for the Orwellian language means whatever the Leftoid numpties want it to be.

    As a general rule I try to embrace their insults by adopting whatever they say. I call this the “Rats of Tobruk” approach where a Nazi insult was turned into a boast of pride. I therefore have one climate change signature block that declares I am a “7th Dan Black Belt Denier”. In fact, I am a believer in the realist Popper scientific method, so I can recognise a pseudo-scientific rent-seeking scam when I see it. Green numpties cannot.

    I seriously hope that when the MAGA Team takes office that Trump announces his Cabinet as the brightest and best Deplorables he could find. Every night, for the rest of her life, as the HillBillary loser cries herself to sleep in her cell, that the term “Trump’s Basket of Deplorables” rings in her ears. I wish her a long life.
    I have to admit I have enjoyed reviewing the many internet compilations of the Leftoids crying their eyes out. Yet another positive from Trump’s great election.

  5. Peter says:

    Peter, obviously agree with most of your stuff but why say this: “And, while admittedly some of Trump’s antics and pronouncements seemed unhinged…” If you are going to say it – even as a throwaway line – give examples. “Unhinged” (mentally unbalanced) is quite a word to use and should always be backed up with examples. I can’t think of any “unhinged” antics or pronouncements but then I’m a fan of Trump so might be biased. To illustrate, I thought Julia Gillard too often strayed from telling the truth but in saying this I always felt an obligation to give numbers of examples.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Attacking John McCain’s war record because he was captured, describing a female journalist as having ‘blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever’,his apparently casual attitude to the use of nuclear weapons.

      • Warty says:

        One has sympathy for someone who has been captured, particularly if they are Viet Cong or N. Vietnamese captors, but it does not testify to a man’s war record. How well a man stands up to what was probably brutal imprisonment, often remains a secret closely protected by the victim, and so it should be, because of the degradation he may have been through; but again, being captured doesn’t make a man a war hero and implying as much doesn’t prove a man unhinged. It’s a sensitive area, and of course the MSM jumped on that one.
        The particular journalist Trump was referring to, was a screech merchant of the first order, and though his comments were unnecessarily crude, if one applies the MSM interpretation, they were not necessarily unhinged. I have said numerous things I’ve regretted saying, in hindsight. But I hope none of those on the receiving end ever felt I was unhinged.
        Perhaps you might think of some genuine examples Peter.

        • Peter OBrien says:

          Warty, I am a Vietnam veteran and although I have no connection with McCain I was extremely offended by Trump’s comment about him. Read McCain’s record. I don’t know whether McCain considers himself a war hero but I would. What Trump did was the equivalent of calling 8th Division veterans a bunch of losers. I would call that unhinged.

          • Warty says:

            Dear Peter,
            One man is not the 8th Division. This is a man who yapped his opposition to Trump right from the start, a Republican, yes, but an equivalent of our LINOS. So for Trump to hit back at a LINO is one thing. To attack the ‘legend’ of his military prowess is another, and it seems to have worked: a flurry of fury in the MSM and then no more.
            I did my military service in another country, at the same time (as did both my brothers), where similar tactics were used to those of the Australians. We were not fly in fly out troopies, but would stay in the field, some times weeks at a time. I took a great interest in what was going on in Vietnam, and as a whole, the Americans did not acquit themselves particularly well vis a vis the fighting capacity of the Australians, and the likes of Delta Coy, for instance. I have not read of any American Lon Tans, though I’ve heard of the odd Mai Lai.
            So what’s the point of all this? Well I personally wouldn’t get my nickers in a knot about McCain, and all too many who voted for Trump and served in Vietnam, didn’t either.

    • Anthony Cox says:

      I agree; Trump has not done anything “unhinged”; in fact by comparison with what Hillary and her MSM supporters said and did Trump is a paragon of common sense, virtue and maturity.

  6. Warty says:

    As suggested, the Left has, in the past, been able to dominate media output by excoriating those of whom they disagree, even more so if they happen to hate them. Brexit was hateful and deserved both barrels-full of invective; Trump was even worse, so a concerted year-long campaign was called for to cleanse the American mind of the impurities of conservatism-fueled delusion. It did not work in either case, but the name-calling continued after the campaign and still gets air-space today, empowering shows of unity by the snowflakes who refuse to accept Trump as their president.
    Even Trump’s well timed forays into foreign policy have attracted MSM attention, including the reputedly more conservative Wall Street Journal, which in more polite terms, nevertheless still managed to talk of Trump’s break with protocol, that America ought to ‘speak with one voice’ on matters of foreign policy.
    America’s allies (all alt-Right of course) were allegedly bewildered, concerned, indeed anxious about Trump’s attempted influence to prevent the passing of the UN Resolution 2334, which deemed all settlements on the West Bank to be illegal, thus cutting the ground from beneath Netanyahu’s feet, with his position that the Palestinians ought not to approach any one-to-one peace talks with any preconditions. How can they not have preconditions with all the West Bank settlements deemed to be illegal. Through Samantha Powell, Obama has clamped a limpet mine on Trump and his administration.

  7. padraic says:

    I think Trump is in for a rugged 4 years not only from the spiteful and venomous Leftist media but also from their legal counterparts. I saw recently that they are sniffing around one of his Foundations and trying to create some sort of mischief. I hope at the end of his 4 years he has silenced his critics and made America a better place.

  8. Keith Kennelly says:

    He had already made America a better place.

    The media have lost all credibility and are largely silenced. We’ll hear a few echoes of their derision for a while. Fewer and fewer people will employ political correctness as it is expunged from the bureaucracy. Eventually as the elite control of Government and its bureaucracy is replaced by our traditions, by Trump appointments, the media will lose its their usual easy access of their usual elitist sources and their causes

  9. Keith Kennelly says:

    Here’s a question. As the climate alarmists, LBGTidiots and other leftie elitists lose their taxpayer funding just how many will put up their own cash or spend unpaid time organising their dearest causes?

    Trumps a business man he understands not only his own motivations are essentially lead by self interest h also understands the leftie elites have the same motivations.

    My son said to me he is losing interest in most of his cohort because most are leftie and all of them are hypocrites. He said they are all so greedy and self interested, and can’t see that, but claim to be interested in the welfare of everybody else.

  10. Don A. Veitch says:

    I suspect Trump will triumph in foreign policy (new deals with Russia, especially oil; defense contracts for Boeing when sanctions are lifted: opportunities in Iran; fun with the China card. Foreign policy action, as I understand is a Presidential prerogative. If he builds a rational sensible relationship with Russia, then he is a hero,
    HOWEVER,
    the Trump Political Party will run up against entrenched GOP reactionary oligarchs in the states governorships (and he will give in), and Tea Party ideologues in Congress (and he will give in).
    Trump is not an ECONOMIC populist, he has one or two economic populist cliches (eg ‘bring the jobs back’). He plays the SOCIAL populist card from the other side, just like the brain dead lefties. No show without Punch!

    • Warty says:

      First paragraph? I agree whole-heartedly. Second paragraph? Hmm, some work needed there. For a start, the sharp ‘about turn’ is not dependent on Trump alone, any more than the Reagan policy changes were dependent on Reagan alone. Just peruse his proposed administration and the heavy hitters he has accumulated around him. What comes to mind when you do? ‘He will give in’? I think not. Once I read up on them all, I began to think ‘you know, this just might work’.