Let’s take back ‘Populism’

For some time now I’ve been troubled by how conventional news media and our political leaders have co-opted the term ‘populist’ .  The term is now used to describe mass movements with ultra conservative or extreme right-wing qualities.  The term is often a pejorative label for how extreme authoritarian leaders have been empowered.

At one time, I thought populism was a positive progressive term referring to how working class or average citizens thought. I have read where Tommy Douglas and Joey Smallwood were popular and populist leaders who championed the interests of average citizens (the fundamentals of society).

To be clearer, I think we should avoid using ‘populist’ to describe conservative mass movements and instead call them ‘elitist’ for convenience. Using the term elitist will shift owness of the phenomena to where political power is generated, controlled and exhibited. Emphasizing the elitism in these movements also more correctly defines them, as I think they do not reflect the interest of the masses, the majority populations. And second, the default to elitist leaders and authoritarian government underlies the anti-democratic nature of these movements.

Dictionary definitions;

Populism: a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.

Elitism: the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society.

About Dennis Lewycky

Communications professional with work experience on three continents and in the fields of public consultations, mass communications and social marketing.
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