The Danger with Populism

When what you want is popular, populism is wonderful. When what you want isn’t so popular, a populist leader can become your worst enemy. 

When Trump won, a wall on the Southern Border was popular. A ban on Muslims entering the United States was popular—following the San Bernardino and Paris and Nice massacres and with ISIS releasing new beheading videos every week. Restoring law and order was very popular. Bringing an end to the opioid epidemic by getting tough on drug dealers was popular. Getting tough on trade with China was popular. 

The trouble with populism, and with putting a populist leader in charge is that the winds of what’s popular can change very, very quickly. And if your leader is truly a populist, and Donald Trump was certainly a populist—you could end up in very big trouble. 

And it’s especially dangerous to have a populist in charge when that leader, for all of his rebukes of the “fake news”, is actually one of the most avid consumers of it and holds it in high regard. 

Donald Trump had endless lunches with Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt. Instead of depriving these New York Times reporters of the oxygen they needed for their fake news, he poured fuel on their fire. In essence, he signed their paychecks.

Donald Trump read the New York Times and the Washington Post every day. He avidly watched CNN and MSNBC, sometimes for hours per day. He gave people like Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff unfettered access to the White House, even as they went on to write books filled with egregious lies about him. Donald Trump really, really wanted the mainstream media to like him. 

Donald Trump was a person who was in the mainstream. He knew the feeling of having mainstream wind in your sails. He was paid hundreds of millions of dollars by NBC for his reality show, The Apprentice. Of the hundreds of media interviews that Trump ever did, the vast majority were puff segments aimed at promoting his television show or his latest book. He kept the company of Hollywood Actors and popular musicians. He was invited to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who he called a friend. 

Popularity was the world that Donald Trump lived in and he made the most of it. Hundreds of millions of dollars for his highly rated TV show. Best selling books without even trying. He could release licensed products as seemingly trivial as Trump Vodka or Trump Steaks and people bought them—and in big numbers. His Chinese-made dress shirts and ties were some of the most popular in the country. He opened up Trump University, and sure enough, thousands enrolled. He raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from people who were willing to cut him massive checks just for the privilege of putting the name “Trump” on their hotel or condo building. 

Trump was, and is, a man who knows what it’s like to be popular. Perhaps he knows better than anyone. 

So when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West came calling, telling him that it would be “popular” for him to release thousands of career drug dealers from federal prison in the midst of the worst drug epidemic America’s ever seen, that’s exactly what he did. 

When the mainstream media told Trump that it would be unpopular for him to fire Robert Mueller, a man who was tearing apart the country by promoting the spurious conspiracy theory that the President was a Russian spy, Trump let him keep his job. 

When Trump thought that banning bump-stocks would be slightly more popular than not after the Las Vegas shooting, he quickly did so by executive fiat. 

Trump kicked off 2020 with a jam packed rally in New Hampshire, boisterously debuting the slogan “America Will Never Be a Socialist Country.” But when the pandemic hit and it was clear that making America a socialist country was politically expedient, Trump began sending out so-called “stimulus checks”, contributing to a total spend of $8.2 Trillion for the fiscal year. 

When states began to change their voting procedures in ways that would make it next-to-impossible for Trump to secure victory in the 2020 election, he could have done something about it. But doing so would not have been as popular as courting support from the rapper known as “Lil Pump” and telling Americans to wear masks. 

Trump’s penchant for doing what was most popular, whatever the consequences didn’t stop after it was clear that he would not be residing in the White House come January 21st. Instead of pardoning supporters who he told to go to the Capitol on January 6th and “be tough”, President Trump left them to be victims of the most vicious political persecution in American history. 

Next time you consider supporting a populist, think twice.

About The Author: Jacob Wohl is a registered lobbyist and the host of Man Up with Jacob Wohl on Censored.TV.