Pixel Tracker

Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 5:59 pm | A Few Clouds 57º


Lee Rosenberg: Donald Trump and Populism, and the Perils of Both

Donald Trump’s followers tell us how angry they are and how Trump is telling it as it is. They are “excited by (Trump’s) candidacy,” and full of praise for the bombastic and outspoken Trump. They tell us that Trump, “stands for capitalism,” “is rude” and “says whatever he wants” — and he says some cringe-worthy things that go too far.

Lee Rosenberg
Lee Rosenberg

They obviously resent the richest 1 percent but, curiously, Trump is a capitalist and part of the 1 percent. 

However, I want to concentrate on the issue of the Trump populism and a loose definition of it.

Populism is a political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.

Defined more broadly and in the real world, however, it has a poor and many times destructive history. Those leaders who have espoused the doctrine are historically losers and worse. They have appealed to a population segment that has a beef about something or even an aggregation of complaints.

Usually, it demonizes intellectualism, attacks the wealthy, big business and is virulently anti-government.

In this country, the most recent collection of would-be populist presidents includes Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, John Edwards (a paragon of family values), George Wallace and a few others in the past, all of whom were either marginalized or disgraced.

Elsewhere in the world, think of Pol Pot (the disastrous leader of ethnic cleansing in Cambodia), the Khmer Rouge, Lenin, Mao, Hugo Chávez and many others.

Perhaps the most egregious product of populism was Adolf Hitler.

Let’s take a closer look at this leader. After World War I, distressed middle-class populists focused their anger at government and large businesses.

Hitler and the Nazi Party rode the back of this discontent and moved their constituencies to the far right using demagoguery, scapegoats and presumed conspiracies. Thus was born the National Socialist Party (an odd name for the Nazi Party).

They described themselves as defenders of their commonwealth, and of what they presupposed was a betrayed and marginalized middle class. Anyone who has heard Hitler’s public speeches to huge crowds will remember his crude, demonizing, cringe-worthy outspoken shouting. The result was catastrophic for the German people and the world.

Trump is a populist. Perhaps not as bad as the others I have mentioned, but one who mesmerizes a discontented segment of our country with good-old out West American outspokenness against perceived enemies. If he were of the middle or lower class and not a multibillionaire, he might be more credible.

Has Trump proposed any constructive solutions to today’s problems? No, he simply shouts out his supposed anger and pretends that he represents the discontent of the aggrieved. He is an exquisite example of a demagogue trying to gain power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions and prejudices of the people.

This is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Anger on one side; anger on another. No negotiations, no middle ground, nothing but poorly communicated ideologies defended so vigorously that responsibility to the electorate is forgotten in the halls and meeting rooms of the parties.

In the end, people like Trump grind their teeth and allow themselves to be drawn like sheep following populist demagoguery over the cliff of history.

— Lee Rosenberg is a Santa Ynez resident, founder and president of the Vineyard Valley Theatre Company and a retired entertainment industry executive. The opinions expressed are his own.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >