As Trust in Government Erodes, Populism Is Rising – Is that a Bad Thing?

As Trust in Government Erodes, Populism Is Rising - Is that a Bad Thing?

( – Over the last decade, populism in America grew at a feverish rate. In conservative circles, it became more mainstream under the Tea Party umbrella. Many joined together to express their concerns over the growing national debt and the Obamacare mandate that all Americans must purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty. By 2016, Donald Trump spoke about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of everyday Americans left behind by the political elite in Washington, DC.

What is populism? If one listens, the media often uses the term to create negative caricatures of the everyday person. But is it harmful? Merriam-Webster defines a populist as one who is a “believer in the rights, wisdom, and virtues of the common people.” Populism has been part of America back to before the Revolutionary War. It was the embodiment of independence from England, and throughout US history, it created movements of change. In some instances, it was very positive. In others, not so much.

As trust in politicians, government, media, and corporations erode, it’s worth asking, is populism today a good or a bad thing, and will it help propel America forward or set it back?

Is Populism Good or Bad?

The harsh draconian responses in 2020 to COVID-19 and the atmosphere after the 2020 election are creating ongoing tensions throughout America. In and of itself, populism is a positive force to remind the institutions that make society work that they ultimately exist to serve the people, not enrich themselves or gain power at their expense. The people serve as the ultimate check on bad behavior. However, there are a few catches.

First, the public must be informed about current events and discern the difference between what’s said and what’s meant. That’s important. Often, politicians of all political persuasions use the same language but mean very different things.

Second, strong populist movements, acting as a backlash, can elect a leadership that isn’t informed about how sound economics, or the institutions themselves, work. As a result, populist leaders with good intentions might enact policies that hurt instead of help. They may fail to reform the negative influences of institutions into positive ones. Populist movements that serve good causes can also lose credibility quickly. Instead of positive long-term reforms, it can install new leadership who return to the old way of doing business that caused the backlash, creating cycles that intensify when there’s little resolution to populist concerns.

As the far left and their business cronies overreach, populism is likely to grow and spread beyond politics and big business to medicine, financial markets, and culture. Everyday Americans need true public servants and institutional leaders who embrace the Constitution and the good of America. We also need business leaders who care about their customers as well as their profits. Finally, we need the media to abandon partisanship and seek the truth regardless of partisan consequences.

The outlook doesn’t seem hopeful right now.

Populism is just getting started and can be an incredibly good thing to put bad behavior in check, restoring the public trust in politicians, government institutions, media, and business! However, it’s also appropriate to warn of the dangers that it might present as well. In all things, balance brings positive results.

Right now, things don’t seem to favor the “little guys,” forcing them, once again, to look out for their own interests.

Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst

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