Populism Is Not What It Seems

The crowd at the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times



I attended the inauguration as a citizen and a rhetoric scholar. Donald J. Trump’s speech stood out to me for its populism, its nationalism and its lack of connection with American history.

There wasn’t much linkage with the founders or the founding texts, or with other great leaders of the past. References to a “new decree” and a “new vision” highlight the intention to break with the past, without a clear grounding in long-term traditions.

This is very unusual. It is also concerning — elections tend to be about change, but continuity and historical context are important to anchor that change.

Populism is also not what it seems. While populist rhetoric refers to the power of the people, it doesn’t really invite them to be active citizens. Mr. Trump promised to return power to the people, but he didn’t talk much about their role in the process. Instead, it indicates that the government will be the vehicle of popular sentiment — placing power with the people.

But I leave the event with some hope about American democracy. In the section I was in, many people clapped when Mr. Trump talked about the Obamas and the transition. The protests I saw this morning were peaceful and substantive. This doesn’t mean that democracy is always easy or always feels good. In fact, the truth is probably the opposite: Democracy is hard work and filled with conflict.

Julia Azari is a professor of political science at Marquette and the author of “Delivering the People’s Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate.”



About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
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