Contemporary Populism

Prof. Fukuyama began his analysis of populism with the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the UK’s Brexit vote in 2016. “We all found ourselves in the midst of a global populist uprising … trying to figure out what was happening”. He observed, however, that the term populism “has been used so broadly that it in a certain way it has become meaningless … Everything has been called populism”. Fukuyama argued that it is helpful to distinguish between three broad aspects of populism and to recognize the differences between them. Importantly, individual populist leaders combine these three strands in different ways. One variant of populism relates to economic policies. An economic populist, he argues, is a leader who promotes social or economic policies that are popular in the short run but which are bound to be unsustainable in the long run. A second strand of populism relates more to a style of leadership than to policy substance. This could be described as charismatic populism. The third form of populism could be described as “racial or ethnic populism”. Here, the populist leader claims a special relationship not with the population as a whole, but with a certain segment of “the people”. Frequently, this segment consists of people of a certain race or ethnicity.