With the election of Trump, conceivably spurred on by the Brexit referendum in the UK, notions of a ‘populist invasion’ infiltrated the mainstream media in 2016. Despite Trump nor Brexit having inherent appeal, they shared a common pull factor, a dramatic shift away from the distrusted establishment that cut across traditional economic, social and cultural parameters. People actively chose political insecurity over the status quo, and those previously silenced seized the opportunity to authenticate their overwhelming discontent. Politically, the events of 2016 were nothing short of thrilling, yet a subtler more vexing matter was also illuminated: a refusal to engage with the ‘other’ side.


On the eve of Donald Trump’s election, political commentator Jonathan Pie put it plainly asking his viewers “What is everyone so f***ing shocked about? His words although uncouth, were particularly stirring. Why? Because there was actually no reason to be shocked at all. While the mainstream media was preoccupied fruitlessly analyzing ‘how’ Trump won, and where it all went ‘wrong’, the answer was actually there all along.


People were fed up with having insults hurled at them by those ‘culturally enlightened’. People were fed up with being told their opinions didn’t align with the ‘shared values’ of the new globalized world. People were fed up of an ever increasing obsession with fringe issues in mainstream politics that had no relevance to them. The cultural left abandoned their responsibility of putting up any valid argument at all, disengaging from political discussion about people’s genuine concerns. This created the perfect conditions for populist sentiments to thrive, and at the polls, previously silenced individuals now had an opportunity to settle the score.   


In Europe, things aren’t looking any better. Lessons aren’t being learned, and the EU recently introduced rules outlawing political dissent aimed at parties acting against “Shared European values”. Rather than engaging the opposite side in political dialogue, these actions are part of a more widespread phenomenon attempted at quashing ‘populist’ uprisings across Europe. This scramble to remedy the ‘situation’ via a series of draconian measures is not the answer. In fact, it actually serves to validate the ideology of populist movements; that the establishment cannot be trusted and must be dismantled.


Whether it be shame tactics, defunding of Eurosceptic parties or media censorship, we need to wake up to the reality that these approaches aren’t working. Instead, they will only serve to make these movements stronger. It is fair to fear populism, because as evidenced by history; what is popular is not always good. It is not fair, however, to ignore the questions populism asks us. In 2017, we need to get back to real politics, dealing with the matters presented to us instead of pushing them aside. The issues populism raises are of serious concern to many people, and they aren’t going away. In 2017, it is now time to take these concerns seriously.


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