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

 
 
 
 
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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.

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