Why is Populism Seen as such a Bad thing?

In many European countries, so-called “populist” political parties are on the rise, disrupting the established political order and upstaging mainstream parties. Their opponents see them as rebels who ignore the realities of power and the necessity of political compromise, while their supporters view them as plain-speaking underdogs who are willing to stand up for regular people against the lazy, the incompetent, and the powerful.

Cambridge Dictionary declared populism its 2017 word of the year. In many ways, that makes perfect sense. Since Brexit and Trump, virtually every political event has been couched in terms of populism, from the Dutch parliamentary elections to the French presidential elections in 2017. New media catchwords such as “fake news” are linked to populism.

However, it has become the buzzword of the year mostly because it is very often poorly defined and wrongly used. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition perfectly illustrates this. It describes populism as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want”.

Oddly enough, this is almost identical to the interpretation used by many populists themselves. However, rather than populism, it describes responsive politics, as exists in idealistic models of democracy. The only part of that description that has some overlap with more common academic definitions of populism is the reference to “ordinary people”.

What is your idea of “populism”?

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