THE AGE OF POPULISM

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by Emanuele Barrasso

On the apt stage of the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey received a well-deserved standing ovation from the star-studded audience for having just made a mesmerising, pitch-perfect speech that sounded to many like a true presidential bid. In an evening of black dresses, catchy hashtags, and dominated by the far cries of the victims of sexual ‘predatorism’, Oprah’s passionate and heart-felt words on women and equality struck a chord not only with the guests in the room but also with the millions of spectators worldwide, and automatically catapulted her onto the stage of Democratic hopefuls among which one will be selected who will ch allenge the controversial Donald Trump in 2020.

I have no quarrel with Oprah as a person: a benevolent human being whose personal story has made her a true American icon. Oprah revolutionised the talk show genre, the book-publishing world and more. With her grand personality, her multi-platform business and her relentless messages of acceptance, positivity and self-improvement, she managed to infiltrate American life from all angles. But I do have problems in accepting her as a politician, simply because, in spite of her many talents and amazing qualities, she is not a politician. Politics is a vocation yes, but also a profession, and, like all professions, it presents a set of notions whose mastery is required. Politics (the presidential nomination being the ultimate expression) also requires of candidates the thread of a reasoned political project that has lived through their career in public service.

In our contemporary era, where digitally networked communication has forcefully broken into the political debate and modified its dynamics, emotionality seems to prevail over rationality. Notwithstanding the immense benefits that the Internet has offered the world, its emphasis lies on the actual more than the contingent, on the factual rather than the conceptual. Principles find themselves shaped by consensus rather than introspection. Because information has (thankfully) become so accessible, paradoxically there seems to be an increasingly bigger diminution of focus on its significance, and even on the definition of what is significant; information is slowly getting detached from knowledge. Populism in its pejorative form, intended as the historical triumph of emotivity, has become the political protagonist of the last decade or so.

We – the voters and vigilant participants in the political debate – should strike a balance between facts and theory, between reason and emotions. Politics (especially in the case of such an oiled democracy as the United States) should be able to select its candidates – by following the harmonious functioning of democracy – from a pool of bright, knowledgeable individuals with a (sensible) history in public service, who are used to handle and safeguard the common good. Let’s be wary of populism and all the alluring and shiny packages it gets presented to us in.

 

 

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