By Brigitte L. Nacos
Donald Trump’s inauguration address was through and through an extreme populist declaration that attacked the corrupt political elite (sitting right in front of the just sworn in 45th U.S. president) and glorified "the people."
His harsh demarcation between the good, patriotic people on the one side and the selfish, out of touch, high-brow establishment on the other side was characteristic for populist ideology that needs enemies -- “the other”—in sharp contrast to the common people.
Populists are hostile to intellectuals; they claim to be like regular, common people. Even if they are billionaires like Trump and several of his cabinet appointees.
Whether Trump wrote the speech himself as he claimed or not, whatever he said was completely in line with the right-extreme, nativist, nationalist, racist ideology of his chief advisor Steve Bannon, the boss of the alt-right Trump mouthpiece Breitbart News.
This is what Bannon told Michael Wolff of the Hollywood Reporter after Trump’s election victory,
I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist…The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver…we'll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we'll govern for 50 years (emphasis added).
Populism is hostile to pluralism but may well lead down the road to authoritarianism.
When elected to the highest office in a democracy, a populist leader and his crew can claim –and have claimed in the past--that the will of the people trumps the pluralist political process and the give-and-take between different interests and different groups that agree on the highest values and fair rules of the game based on civil liberties.
Indeed, if not effectively countered, there is a clear and present threat of populist leaders turning to authoritarian rule, what some contemporary populist heads of government in Europe, for example, in Hungary and Poland, have come to call illiberal democracy.
Populists who embrace authoritarian rule disregard civil liberties, first of all freedom of the press.
"The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what's wrong with this country. It's just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what's going on,” Bannon told Michael Wolff.
When Trump attacks the mainstream media day-in and day-out as rigged, unfair, and untruthful, one wonders, whether journalists’ mistreatment by Trump and his team during and after the presidential campaign are warning signs for more drastic curbs on those news organizations that are not among Trump’s propaganda machine.
Like far-right leaders in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe Trump celebrates law and order, isolationism and protectionism, while vilifying immigrants, Muslims, and other non-patriots as additions to his list of enemies.
Since authoritarian and fascists regimes are typically led by male chauvinists of the populist variety, the many powerful women’s marches in Washington and around the country one day after Trump’s troublesome inauguration speech were powerful signs of rising dissent and the will to overcome.