On our world travels, we’ve discovered a global trend— popular distrust of establishment politicians, be they left or right. People everywhere seem to be drifting away from the main, traditional political parties. Street protests in Chile, the Czech Republic, Lebanon are part of a global upheaval that some embrace but others resist as dangerous to democracy. And what’s next is anybody’s guess.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 is widely seen as the product of widespread disgust among Democrats, Republicans and independents of so-called establishment politics. It’s a trend far beyond the U.S. We heard expressions of distrust and disapproval of establishment politics on a recent Full Measure trip surveying public opinion from Northern Ireland to Greece.
Man: Maybe there's a distance between power and people not feeling they're being listened to.
Family: There is two different sides, and the gap between them is growing bigger
Here in Great Britain, as in other European countries, people we spoke to are expressing a great sense of uncertainty. But many seem to agree on one thing: that Europe is in the throes of a major political sea change.
Journalist Liam Halligan is a columnist for the Telegraph in the UK.
Liam Halligan: You’re getting more and more ordinary voters in Europe voting for non-traditional, non mainstream parties and we hear a lot about some of them going right, but also a lot of them are going left as well.
That includes a rush to Europe’s left-wing Green Party.
Bjoern Janetsky: I’m actually a part of the Green party in Germany.
Sharyl: What is the Green party in a sentence or two? What does it believe?
Bjoern Janetsky: Strong environmental protection.
Newscast: In recent elections, the Greens have doubled their vote.
In recent elections, the Greens came in third in France, won 9 out of 10 bigger cities in Germany, and took a block of 70 votes in European parliament.
There’s actually no universally accepted definition of what exactly populism is.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology held a scholarly forum earlier this year to try to come up with one.
MIT professor: “They run for the people. They run against the establishment. They run for themselves, above all.”
MIT participant: In one way or another, they suggest that they, and only they, represent what populists often refer to as the silent majority or also very typically as the "real" people.
Malachi O’Doherty: I think it's true that people feel in not being listened to by the establishment of politicians.
Malachi O’Doherty is a journalist in Northern Ireland.
Sharyl: What is populism? How would you define that?
O’Doherty: Populism is when large numbers of people who are not thinking clearly about their political realities, you know who are defying gravity, are attracted by a vision which a political leader is offering them without explaining how that vision can be fulfilled.
Sharyl: A politically popular vision of something.
O'Doherty: Yes, Yes.
In simple terms, many describe populism as ordinary people lashing out against the establishment swamp. In the most recent national elections in Europe, one in four votes was for a populist, according to one analyst.
Populist leaders have won elected government posts in 11 European countries. And outside Europe, populists have been elected to top spots in five of the world’s seven biggest democracies: the U.S., Brazil, India, Mexico and the Philippines.
Eric Kauffmann is a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and where he examines populist trends.
Eric Kauffmann: It can be left wing. It can be right wing. It can be religious. It can be secular nationalist. There are many different types of populism. Populism for me is just essentially about being anti-elitist and to some extent against the system. So I don't think it implies right or left.
Kauffmann sees the rise of populist politicians as the people’s response to rapid shifts caused by out of control immigration.
Kauffmann: Essentially we are going through very rapid demographic transformation in the West; ethnic change. Some people are fine with that and some people find that to be unsettling. And that difference between the people who embrace and like it, and those who find it unsettling, is reshaping politics. My argument is essentially that's reconfiguring the politics of Western countries.
David Cowling is a political analyst at Kings College, London University.
Sharyl: As someone who's watched political opinion, as long as you have take like a 30,000-foot level view, not just of what's happening in the United Kingdom and in Europe, but fold in what's happening in the United States.
David Cowling: “Kick the bums out” is, I think, an American expression—not what we'd use in the United Kingdom of course, But that's very appealing. And some people say, Oh yes, but it's populism and more... Yes, it's popular. Why is it popular? Don't just stand, you know, shouting as they do, railing against it. Engage with it. Understand. Don't talk to people, listen to them. And I think there's been that massive failure to do that. And it's not just UK and United States of America. Look at what's going on in Denmark and Sweden and Italy, in France and Germany. These are very turbulent times and we lack the politicians I think so far to guide us through them
Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard is a city leader in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Lonning-Skovgaard: We've seen unprecedented growth in most of the western countries and suddenly people can start to see friends and families lose jobs. They see jobs moving overseas. They see other groups coming in, maybe taking some of those jobs. I think we see these movements on the far right as you say, you know, with, you know, “Let's throw everyone out. Also on the far left “Let’s tax everyone,” and you know, “Let's use all the money on saving the planet,” which is, it's definitely very, it's very sympathetic, but it's also slightly unrealistic, right? And I think overall, I think mainstream politicians have failed to put in place a new vision.
Some, like businessman Shaun Russell, embrace the political upheaval.
Russell: I anticipate a decline of the traditional two party model.
Sharyl: Why is that?
Russell: Because I don't think that you have this much confidence, people can have, in either of those two red or blue parties any longer. They are publicly disintegrating and it's a very, very slow, ugly process.
Sharyl: But many critics like Naomi Long insist populists are dangerous. She leads Northern Ireland’s centrist Alliance Party.
Long: I think that there's a lot of that sort of snake oil salesman kind of politics going on. And although people are charmed by it because they see that people have great charisma and they sell a great deal, I think ultimately it will leave people feeling more disenfranchised, and more angry. And I think that that's a huge challenge for politicians because when those people who promise much deliver nothing, I think people will be more angry than they were with the pace of politics that went before.
She says that applies to Brexit the popular movement of Great Britain to exit the European led by Nigel Farage and the pro-Trump movement across the pond.
Sharyl: What do you make of the fact that most of the people we've talked to in Europe so far consider populism, whatever that means to them, to be something negative— Trump— to be something negative?
Kauffmann: I think there, there is a negative side, negative side in the sense of sort of disrupting norms of civility. There's no question that Trump's done that, that Farage has done that to some extent, a lesser extent. So they're not behaving according to those norms of, of civilized discourse. And I think that’s a fair criticism. However, on the other side, I think that these parties are bringing to the surface issues that have been neglected by the mainstream parties.
The appeal of populists may continue to elude critics— and feed the trend.
Sharyl: How does this end?
Cowling: I suppose I've studied history all my life. I suppose the argument is badly. I think it will get nastier before it gets better. I think how it will end will depend upon how the political class gets its act together, starts listening to people and addressing the issues that concerns them, comes down from Mt. Olympus and talks to people.
A new study recently concluded that Trump’s win was never based on hostility or prejudice but his open appeal to -- quote -- an existing reservoir of discontent about changing American society and culture.”