NORMAL — “Radical populism” and “chaos syndrome” are two phrases political observers have tossed around this unusual campaign season, but two retired Illinois State University professors say the situations they describe are not necessarily something new nor are they limited to the United States.
“Radical populism is not a new phenomenon in the U.S. or elsewhere,” said George Gordon, professor emeritus of politics and government.
Nevertheless, in a talk Wednesday on “Radical Populism in the 2016 Election,” Gordon and Bob Hunt, professor emeritus of politics and government, acknowledged there are several current examples that seem to follow historic patterns.
Gordon referred to a 1965 article that discussed fascism in terms of extreme middle-class reactions against real or perceived threats from “others,” such as immigrants, and government institutions that are seen as unresponsive, giving rise to a leader who can inspire nonvoters to go to the polls and is seen as a knight in shining armor who can solve their problems.
Bob Hunt, professor emeritus of politics and government, noted that radical and fascist political parties and movements have been growing in other countries, particularly Europe, that are “visible and aggressive” and attractive to “those who are marginalized.” Many share an anti-immigrant theme, he said.
Gordon said there was more than one candidate who fit the profile of a “radical populist” outlined in the 1965 article, even though none “had the whole package.”
Both Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump portrayed themselves as outsiders and inspired many nonvoters to get involved and to to the polls.
Sanders is a populist, Gordon said, but whether he is a “radical populist” depends on whether he is believed when calling for a “political revolution.”
But where Sanders spoke more of populism channeled through existing institutions, such as Congress, “Trump doesn't seem to have that next step,” Hunt said.
Trump has “anger without direction,” said Hunt, adding, “that kind of populism is not compatible with democracy.”
Gordon didn't give an opinion on what would happen if Trump were to win but said, “If Trump loses, I don't think the Trump movement is going to vanish into obscurity,” and government and political parties will have to decide how to deal with that.
About 65 people attended the talk, the first in a series on “The U.S. Presidential Election: Global Implications and Comparative Perspectives.” The series is sponsored by the Office of International Studies and Programs and the department of politics and government. The talks are at noon Wednesdays in the Bone Student Center through Nov. 9.
In answer to a question about the difference between populism and democracy, Gordon said, “We do not have a true democracy in this country. We have a representative democracy. … Those who crafted the Constitution did not trust pure democracy.”