It’s not an ideology but a style of political discourse, characterized by oversimplification.
By Cornell W. Clayton, WSU political science professor and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service
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.
What worked for him—social media and free media coverage of his rallies—won’t work for most candidates, especially in next year’s midterms.
The failure of campaign ads in the last U.S. presidential race became the conventional wisdom, with the general election seen as the ultimate judge. At the presidential level, the importance of ads remains an open question thanks to the sitting president.
But Travis Ridout, a government professor at Washington State University, thinks ads still matter—that they’re worth spending millions on. “There is a different dynamic at play,” said Ridout, who co-directs the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads. “When you’re dealing with, say, a House race, oftentimes the challenger isn’t someone people have heard of before. Advertising can be very effective at introducing a candidate.”
The public is noticing a breakdown of civility in Washington since Trump took office. According to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, about 70 percent of Americans believe the tone in Washington has gotten worse since November, and only six percent say the tone has improved.
According to Cornell William Clayton, co-editor of “Civility and Democracy in America” and a professor of government at Washington State University, Trump cannot expect his critics to tone down their rhetoric while he frequently engages in such personal attacks against them.
“It’s just so unusual to hear a politician so focused on the kind of personal vendettas he’s focused on,” he said.
Clayton said the problem in Washington is less that politicians are engaging in uncivil rhetoric and more that they have proven incapable of compromise on major issues. The prospect of working with Democrats on health care has become a worst-case scenario for Senate Republicans, but a bipartisan agreement could reinforce the importance of working toward the common good.
By Cornell Clayton, professor of political science and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at WSU
Two weeks ago five people including the Republican House Whip Steve Scalise were shot by a deranged gunman as they practiced for the annual congressional baseball game in the nation’s capital. Shocked by the violence, a rare moment of bipartisanship erupted as leaders of both parties called for greater civility in our politics. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even sat down to a joint television interview to show they could be nice each other.
Similar calls to change the tone of our political discourse came after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011, when a national center for civil discourse was even established. Such calls for greater civility are sincere and sensible. We should be more civil. They are also unlikely to succeed absent a more fundamental change in how we think about politics.
Over the past decade the Foley Institute at WSU has hosted a series of conferences and research programs focused on political polarization and incivility. Here is what we know.
Republican Karen Handel won a nationally watched congressional election Tuesday in Georgia, and she thanked President Donald Trump after she avoided an upset that would have rocked Washington ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Both U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Washington State University professor of political science Cornell Clayton said it’s too early to tell what the results of the election will mean for the 2018 midterm elections.
Clayton, the Thomas S. Foley distinguished professor at WSU’s Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, said the race became symbolic for both parties but may not be a bellwether for the 2018 midterm elections.
“I think it was overhyped,” Clayton said.
The fact that it was close in a traditionally Republican district could mean generic GOP candidates will have trouble next year, he said. On the other hand, the fact that a Democrat couldn’t win in a swing district where Trump didn’t do so well might mean 2018 won’t be a wave election.