Good morning! This week we’re exploring the shifting character of populist politics in Poland, Catalonia, Africa in the aftermath of colonialism, and the US, examining common threads and the series of events that tips nations over into nationalism. What can we learn as we follow political rise and falls, and where are the choke points where we could effectively intervene?
‘Trump, Twitter and the Art of His Deal‘ (Amanda Hess for The New York Times)
The president-elect’s Twitter fixation is a matter of much discussion and snarky commentary, but Hess turns the lens on the journalists who feed his ego, as well.
For the guy who’s all about appearances, Twitter provides the veneer of populist connection without the hassle of accountability. Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s incoming press secretary, has suggested that Twitter town halls and Reddit forums may replace some typical presidential press interactions, where he can easily make himself available to anonymous fans instead of the scrutiny of the press. The social media platforms that were once heralded as democratic tools could also be used to undermine democratic norms.
‘President Obama’s Farewell Address‘ (The White House)
If you didn’t have an opportunity to watch the president’s farewell address, or you’re more of a verbal person, the White House has made the transcript available. It’s a long read, but also a great one, looking back over the legacies of a contentious, complicated presidency.
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
‘In their search for independence, Catalans can resemble Brexiteers‘ (The Economist)
While Brexit may be the most high-profile instance of isolationism in Europe, it’s not the only one. Find out how Catalonian nationalists are fighting ties with Spain and trying to institute a new order in a troubled region.
“Is being part of Spain a problem in the daily life of Catalans?” asks Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos, an anti-nationalist party that leads the opposition in the Catalan parliament. “For us the problems of Catalonia are unemployment, poverty and corruption.” The longer the deadlock lasts, the harder Mr Puigdemont may find it to persuade Catalans otherwise.
‘The Five Lessons of Populist Rule‘ (Sławomir Sierakowski for Project Syndicate)
Those wondering what may happen to the US under Trump may want to look to Poland, which has endured a year under the thumb of a populist leader. Sierakowski paints five distinct lessons from the nation’s experiences, and American liberals should take note.
Nationalism is not dead. Unfortunately, what won’t lose, in Poland and elsewhere, is nationalism – the only ideology that has survived in the post-ideological era. By appealing to nationalist sentiment, populists have gained support everywhere, regardless of the economic system or situation, because it is being fueled externally, namely by the influx of migrants and refugees.
‘Africa’s Former Liberators Offer Lessons in Political Populism‘ (Henning Melber for The Wire)
Political shifts are at work in Africa, where the rise and fall of people like Jacob Zuma proves instructive to understanding the systemic social patterns that enable the rise — and fall – of nationalism.
They are the system, and the system is considered to be rotten. Their appeals to populist reminiscences of a bygone era of the ‘struggle days’ sound increasingly hollow. Being driven in the latest makes of European luxury cars, escorted by motor cavalcades and flying in presidential jets to wine and dine with other leaders in the world are a mismatch with the liberation gospel.
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Photo: David Blackwell/Creative Commons