The Importance of a Leader?

By: Melyssa Clark

History is an important tool in which we can trace back threads to the past in adding our understanding of how contemporary events are not created from a rupture. This is depicted through this week’s course material that traces back how modern populism is derived from Fascist ideology that emerged from Italy in 1919. The support for both of these ideologies are fuelled by crises that create division amongst insiders and outsiders within society as well as a political system. Although the authors work at contributing to a better understanding of populism as a term, whether in isolation or through a path dependency approach of a historical comparison to fascism, there is one important idea that various authors alluded to that could be further developed. That idea being the use of an actor-based approach that highlights the important role that populist leaders have in these movements. One of the main definers of populism is the division between “the people” and “the elites” effectively, this creates a need for collective action to have the people’s voice heard and remove the elites from power. In turn, it’s important to have a charismatic leader who is able to frame various crises through the democratized media and create a call to action to mobilize “the people”. The most cohesive example amongst the authors that illustrate this is Trump’s rise to power in 2016. Brubaker highlights Trump’s likability, relative to Clinton, and the means through which he uses the media to frame issues to create distrust of institutions and elites amongst the public.

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