It’s not an ideology but a style of political discourse, characterized by oversimplification.

Cornell Clayton
Cornell Clayton

A specter haunts our politics—the specter of populism.

Movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street thrive, Sarah Palin and Elizabeth Warren are political stars, and Donald Trump is president. In Europe, Britain votes to leave the EU, Hungary and Poland elect populist governments, and politicians like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands grow in popularity.

What explains populism’s appeal? And when should we be concerned?

First, populism is not an ideology but a style of political discourse; one which equates “the people” (the silent majority, the forgotten man, “real” Americans) with virtue, and elites (political, economic, or cultural) with evil.

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