In the simplest terms, populism is collective opinion given a public voice through political parties, operatives and/or movements – in other words, what the people want. The Tea Party is a good example. And for the most part, it is fueled by emotion, relatively uninformed and off the mark. Populism can grow to be very powerful in times of distress. It is these times when populist movements emerge and influence the election of representatives who pander to their beliefs. Think of how Republican hopefuls contort themselves to pander to the extremes of their party.
Populism is a lot like the contrarian trading strategy in the stock market; when the masses are selling it’s a good time to buy and vice versa. This strategy is based on the belief that when it comes to complex issues, you can depend on popular opinion to be consistently wrong. Our current political environment is aflame in populist fervor. But why is populism so dangerous and damaging?
It’s because when we add the second factor, unreflecting egotism, we have a movement that is based on a failure to grasp the full reality of the situation that it wants to change. This happens when people think they already know everything and don’t care to know more. Unreflecting egotism is like a malfunctioning fuel gauge in an automobile. The “fuel gauges” of their minds always read full.
I know there are those who are now saying, “That’s not true. I can admit that I don’t know everything.” Yes, you can, rhetorically speaking. If that were true in reality, we’d have a lot more listening and far less arguing. That’s the not the reality I live in.
So how do these two factors combine to create even more damage? At an elementary level, they create chaos in the political process by robbing time from an incumbent administration. The results we want take much longer to achieve than we are willing to wait. Populism damages all of us when people who don’t know what they don’t know, want to “change the deck”, so to speak, before the old deck can yield the results they want.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. This is not the same old rant, blaming Bush for Obama’s mistakes. This is simply an acknowledgment of the complexities that every president inherits.
Fortunately for us, the founding fathers gave us a representative democracy. In a true democracy we would vote on every issue. I can’t even imagine the chaos that would create.
I’ve always found that what seems simple on the surface becomes far more complex when studied rigorously. The one thing that populist movements and unreflecting egotism have in common is lack of rigorous study.
In this complex interconnected world, when one country sneezes, we all catch a cold. We cannot make that complexity go away with simplistic thinking. That reason alone makes populism and unreflecting egotism fail. While we play this game, we need to know that it is not free. It’s costing us standing in a competitive global economy.
Yes, this is America where everyone has a right to an opinion. But all opinions are not created equal. The opinions that shape populist movements are powered by emotion. We can’t resolve the complexities we face with emotion either. They take study, consideration and time to fix. Give this thought some rigorous study.