Is your president “populist”? Calling a politician or an official “populist” is a quick and safe way to disqualify him. But what makes these characters “populist”? The recent, much more extended reading of this decalogue inspired by the short essay by Jan-Werner Müller (What is populism), caused many of those attending my talk in Mexico, in the delivery of “Caminos de la Libertad Award”, to think that talked about López Obrador. It was not my intention, but if the word is useful, put it on. In my opinion, the interesting thing about the term is that it applies to the right and left of the term.
1- The Caudillismo (The Chieftain). Generally, populism begins with the admission of a leader or chieftain who is attributed to all the virtues and is assigned, in fact, to be the great interpreter of the popular will. Someone who transcends institutions and whose word becomes the sacred dogma of the country. Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Perón, Fidel Castro, Juan Velasco Alvarado, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, each in their own way, are examples of Chieftains.
2- The exclusivism. Only “we” are the true representatives of the people. The “others” are the enemies of the people. The “others”, therefore, are marginal beings who are not subjects of law and deserve our greatest contempt. Chavez called his opponents “majunches,” a Venezuelanism that means “dumb or useless.”
3- The Adamism. The story begins with them. Hence the name Adamism, by Adam, the first man. The past is a succession of failures, disagreements and pure betrayals. The history of the homeland begins with the populist movement that has come to power to vindicate the poor and dispossessed after centuries of surrendering governments, sometimes sold to the local bourgeoisie and sometimes to foreign imperialists.
4- Nationalism. Nationalism is a belief generally linked to the supposed national identity. It is usually exclusive and leads to racism or other forms of social exclusion. In the economic field, it leads to protectionism or two seemingly contrary reactions. Isolationism not to mix with the impure, or interventionism to spread our superior system of organizing. In our day, that nationalism is transformed into “anti-globalism.”
5- The statism Populists are almost always statists. They believe that the action planned by the state will meet the needs of the “beloved people.” They tend not to believe in the spontaneous and free growth of society. Populist rulers expect the total submission of wealth creators. They try to convert them, and many times they succeed, in “rent seekers.”
6- Clientelism Populist rulers have no supporters, but clients who owe them things. They love “subsidy hunters.” They understand that the policy is to generate millions of grateful stomachs that owe everything to the ruler who feeds them and they end up constituting their support base.
7- The centralization of all powers. The leader controls the judicial and legislative system or tries to do so. The separation of powers and the so-called checks and balances are ignored. In Venezuela, when “the enemies of the people” win elections, the populist rulers create a parallel body and transfer the budgets and functions.
8- The officials are not at the service of society, but of the populists. They control and manipulate the economic agents, starting with the national or issuing bank, that it becomes a machine for printing bills at the presidency.
9- The double language The semantics is transformed into a battlefield and the words acquire a different meaning. “Freedom” becomes obedience, “loyalty” into submission. Homeland, nation, and leader are confused in the same word and any discrepancy is called “treason.”
10- The disappearance of any vestige of civic cordiality. Hate language is used that preludes aggression. The enemy is always a worm, a sell-homeland, a person dedicated to the worst interests. That is the antecedent of the destruction of the other. Before crushing it, you have to eliminate any vestige of humanity.
I insist: Is your president “populist”? You do not need to adopt the ten characteristics. Enough with five of them.
By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Published in his Blog El blog de Montaner