Op Ed 1: The threat of the modern political climate, Dimitrios Monette

Despite the recent reestablishment of the Liberal party as Canada’s leadership, the nation’s choice to place that leadership in a minority seat has shown the volatility of the political order we live among today. Canadians find themselves in an ever polarizing political world, and while it might be argued that so far Canada has held back the overwhelming sweep of party/party hatred and conflict, it cannot be said for certain that such a path will be maintained into the future. As we look upon nations like the United States with a system that is so fundamentally entrenched against one another, and to Europe where prospects seem equally divisive, is it really so wild minded to look ahead to Canada’s own political future and see a climate of hatred and combativeness? Political pieces of our time focus heavily on the hatred spouted by their opposition, a stance is taken that populism is inherently evil or inherently good for the nation, and more and more are voters and citizens judging each other based upon political affiliation. This to an outward observer looks very similar to the political climates that gave rise to regimes such as the Nazis and Soviets, and does not ring well for a future full of stability. When writers themselves become rather partisan in their strikes against leadership targets and parties, how then should we expect the masses to remain docile and civil? 

To evaluate the path our western leading nation and southern neighbour, the United States, has taken towards the disunion they now face we can simply look to a pew poll set from 2016. Here we steadily see that the numbers of politically minded peoples in the United States have exponentially grown to severely distaste their opposition party and its supporters, with a jump of some 37% for the Republican change of attitude towards the Democrats, and 38% respectively for Democrats against Republicans over a period of 22 years with a rapid spike in the later 2000’s. In addition to this, over 40% of voters for either party believed the opposing political establishment and their supporters were a threat to the nations well being, success and stability. 

It is rather difficult to imagine that such sentiments have reversed in the last 4 years of the Trump presidency and in parallel the scandal filled liberal government of our own nation. It is from divisions like this that party’s like the NSDAP (Nazi Party of Germany) were able to pick cracks in the average citizens armour and exploit them to gain their support, and exploit hatred for their opposition in order to gain a foothold. Here in Canada parties have already begun the process of similar campaigning, including the strikes against Scheer for his old stance on gay marriage and Trudeau’s very interesting black face costume choice. These are not campaigning tactics for the betterment of society through the party presenting them, but rather smear campaigns by either party against the other to invoke feelings of hatred upon the opposition. Campaigning has been undertaken by the NDP leadership to strike at the perceived common enemy of the 1% rich who hold the supposed keys over our society, an easy answer for a far more complex issue of economy and living standard. To me, this looks suspiciously like an attempt to label an easy common other as an enemy and target in order to bring forth election and power, not unlike the perception of the thirties and forties that a common enemy in the Judeo-Bolshevik existed in opposition and oppression of the masses of “normal” citizenry(Hanebrink). While some of these things have a legitimate right to be brought to light, I find it interesting Canada has chosen this path ever more commonly than in its past.

Overall Canada has begun to enter into the unstable political world that has similarly gripped other western nations within this past decade. A sphere where none are willing to work with the other, and all ardently believe their path is the best for advancement for fear of the alternative condemning their nation. Not too unlike our Weimar Republic of the past, a Coalition has been thrown out and claimed ineffective, and an increase in political hostility has given rise to both alt right and far left extremist parties. Our democracy’s choice of path has resulted in the ideal breeding grounds for extremist views and leadership in the political world, and it was a situation just like this that led to the otherwise small NSDAP party seizing a majority of seats, chancellorship, and finally absolute control over the liberal democracy of the post First World War Weimar Republic. Am I claiming the west will bring forth the next Adolf Hitler and Nazi party? Certainly not, but to claim that our current political climate and discourse is good for democracy and stability is plain folly.

Works Cited:

Hanebrink, Paul. A Specter Haunting Europe : The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, Harvard University Press, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/lib/oculcarleton-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5521692.

Op/Ed 1: Turkey’s Authoritarian Leader – Andrew Devenish

As Turkey goes on the offensive in Syria against Kurdish-led fighters, international attention has been tightly focused on its issues. More and more people are being exposed to Turkey’s problems with corruption, censorship, oppression, and authoritarianism. The country was founded as a secular nation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire but seems to be regressing back into a religious fundamentalist state and cracking down on any and all political dissidents. What lessons can Turkey learn from other authoritarian states in history?

Apparently, too many. Turkey’s current leader, President Erdogan, is an authoritarian. He’s the leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, a far-right party that continuously undermines the supposedly secular nature of Turkey’s government and likes to dip its toes into religious fundamentalism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded Turkey as a secular republic in 1923 but has since struggled with controversy over whether or not it is holding true to its secular founding principles, and Erdogan’s AKP has been overseeing this controversy and in power in most years since 2002. Throughout that time, Erdogan, as the leader of the AKP, has given himself more and more powers through referendums and reforms. As Hitler rose to power, he dedicated more and more governmental powers to himself and eliminated political opponents, concentrating political power in his own office. Erdogan is doing the same thing. For 95 years Turkey was a parliamentary democracy, with the Prime Minister being the most powerful office. That remained true while Erdogan was Prime Minister. Then, when he was elected to the office of President in 2014, then a mostly symbolic position, he began granting himself more powers, becoming more powerful than the prime minister. Then, after a 2017 referendum and a 2018 election, the office of Prime Minister was eliminated entirely, and Turkey has since adopted a presidential system, increasing Erdogan’s own power and diminishing the power of parliament. Historically, it makes sense for an authoritarian to consolidate political power in his own office and eliminate positions that could challenge or check his power, as the Nazis did in the 1930s.

Another classic authoritarian tactic is censorship and media crackdown. The Nazis made use of all forms of media to further their goals. They eliminated dissenting newspapers and directly controlled the press, using propaganda to convince the German people of anything they wished, and keeping tight control to make sure no voices could be heard that didn’t echo what they were saying themselves. The Nazis arrested dissidents and suppressed free speech to keep control of what was allowed to be said in Germany. Erdogan has gone on the record to cite Hitler’s Germany as an example of the kind of state he wants to run, so it comes as no surprise that he would copy the tactics of Hitler when it comes to free speech. Turkey has a history of jailing journalists and dissidents, blocking social media sites and news websites that do not carry an explicitly pro-Turkey or pro-Erdogan message. Turkey also has its own genocide under its belt, with over a million Armenians killed under Ottoman rule in World War I, for which Turkey has never officially apologized, offering only some vague condolences in reference to Armenians that died in 1915.

A supposedly secular, free and fair society has been corrupted and controlled by Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and is slowly but surely turning into an authoritarian state modeled after many of Hitler’s own ideas. While it isn’t quite time to point to Turkey as a fascist state or a genocidal one, Erdogan’s many similarities to Hitler cannot and should not be ignored by anyone, as they launch a major military invasion of another country to wipe out the Kurds in Syria.

Works Cited

Dearden, Lizzie. “Turkey Quickly Sliding into Authoritarian Rule after Move to Increase Erdogan’s Powers.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 30 Dec. 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-increase-executive-powers-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-authoritarian-rule-government-a7501666.html.

“Erdogan Inaugurates a New Political Era in Turkey.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 28 June 2018, http://www.economist.com/europe/2018/06/28/erdogan-inaugurates-a-new-political-era-in-turkey.

Hubbard, Ben, and Carlotta Gall. “Turkey Launches Offensive Against U.S.-Backed Syrian Militia.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/09/world/middleeast/turkey-attacks-syria.html.

“The Press in the Third Reich.” Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-press-in-the-third-reich.

Tures, John A. “It’s No Surprise That Turkey’s Erdogan Likes Adolf Hitler’s Government.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/its-no-surprise-that-turk_b_8903734.

Withnall, Adam. “Turkey’s President Erdogan Cites ‘Hitler’s Germany’ as an Example of Effective Government.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 1 Jan. 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-cites-hitler-germany-as-example-of-effective-government-a6792756.html.

Yildiz, Guney. “Turkey Offers Condolences to Armenia over WWI Killings.” BBC News, BBC, 23 Apr. 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27131543.

Op-Ed 1: The Repression of Catalonia

As Spanish democracy is grappling with its fourth election in four years, a new wave of civil unrest has brought the successionist struggles of Catalonia back into international discourse. Successionist and populist movements are creating conflict between the autonomous Catalonian state and the federal government of Madrid. The current bout of civil unrest has hinged on political differences and economic greed. Ignited in September 2012, pro-separatist protests attracted 1,000,000 demonstrators who arrived at Barcelona’s doorstep with demands of succession. These resulted in the revocation of Catalonian autonomy in 2017 by the Spanish government, a decision which was not reversed until June 2018. The ongoing clash between federal and regional politicians has evolved into its current adversarial form; as recently as October 14, 2019, 13 high level Catalonian politicians were charged with sedition and misuse of funds, inflaming the discord and domestic Spanish political discourse and policy making.

Separatists argue that the actions of the Spanish government are repressive and punitive. International law agrees with this. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared that the detention of the officials imprisoned is in violation of international law. Further, the impact is spreading beyond Spanish borders. The Spanish example as a former hegemonic state and European power is encouraging and enabling dangerous conduct by other officials. Most recently, the Turkish home affairs minister cited the relationship between Spain and Catalonia as justification to persecute Kurdish officials. By undermining their own domestic law (specifically, the apparent fluidity of Catalonian autonomy), they are putting themselves in a state of subversion. The political strategies being used are inherently harmful and are negatively changing the overall Spanish political climate. Many separatist advocates and officials have opted to flee from Spain and seek refuge abroad in countries where extradition requests by Barcelona have been routinely denied.

Economic struggles have always underpinned Catalan calls for independence. The most obvious rationale for Spain to maintain control over the Catalonian region is overarchingly economic. For the same fiscal reasons Spain wants to retain Catalonia, Catalonia should have the ability to leave. By losing Catalonia, Spain loses 19% of the GDP, 20% of foreign investment, 25% of exports, and 16% of the total population. This is no small loss. Catalonia is uniquely positioned as it is simultaneously economically important while remaining a linguistic and cultural minority with its own unique history; characteristics that are usually cited for independence. It does not help the federal government that when under Franco, a physical and cultural genocide was undertaken, yet in 2019, their jurisdiction permitted a neo-Francoist party to take an active role in legal proceedings against Catalan officials. The obvious bias on federal and judiciary levels in the inclusion of neo-Francoist participation and suspension of autonomy is revealing concerning the dissonance between law and application in the Catalonian context.

The cultural, linguistic, and ethic differences unique to Catalonia that would encourage its statehood are subverted by Spain for the purpose of fiscal gain. This has been repeatedly evidenced by the actions of the Spanish government and their subversion of international and domestic laws. There are few legitimate reasons for the Spanish government to maintain their retention of Catalonia. Similar to a wide array of contemporary issues, the root causes are money and greed, which overpower the voices of the public.

Works Cited

Bearak, Max. “Analysis | Catalonia Has Always Been Distinct. Why Is It Part of Spain?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 25 Feb. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/10/24/catalonia-has-always-been-distinct-why-is-it-part-of-spain/.

“Catalonia Crisis in 300 Words.” BBC News, BBC, 14 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41584864.

Cuadras-Motaró, Xavier. “Catalonia: A New Independent State in Europe.” Europa Country Perspectives, Ebook Central, ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/lib/oculcarleton-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4513879.

Guàrdia, Arnau Busquets. “What Spain Has to Lose from Catalan Independence.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 17 Apr. 2018, www.politico.eu/article/catalonia-independence-referendum-what-spain-has-to-lose/.

Jones, Sam. “What Is the Story of Catalan Independence – and What Happens next?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/catalan-independence-what-is-the-story-what-happens-next.

Minder, Raphael. “With Catalan Fury Inflamed Anew, What Comes Next for Spain?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/16/world/europe/catalonia-independence-spain.html.

Puigdemont, Carles. “Spain’s Imprisonment of Catalan Leaders Is a Desperate Move That Will Backfire | Carles Puigdemont.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/14/spain-imprisonment-catalan-leaders-supreme-cout-jailed-nine.

“Violent Clashes Erupt as Spanish Court Jails Catalonia Leaders.” BBC News, BBC, 14 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49974289.


Jair Bolsonaro: a right wing Populist with Fascist tendencies? 

By Alex Wittmann

Jair Bolsonaro is not a true fascist, yet he is an authoritarian right wing Populist. However, when looking at what makes a Populist and a Fascist, we cannot rule out the possibility the Brazilian President may have Fascist tendencies. 

In order to truly understand what Jair Bolsonaro is, we must look at the key differences between right wing populism and fascism. Populism is a broad term that can be attributed to left wing and right wing movements. On both sides of the spectrum, populists define themselves as representing the masses or “will of the pure people” against the “corrupt elite.” In other words, populists define themselves as movement of the general will of the people against the ruling elite, who only represent certain special interests. Populism on the left combines their movements with socialism, Populists on the right combine their movements with nationalism. Right Wing Populism also combines their ideology and movement with xenophobia and stigmatization of race, they claim anyone opposed to their movement are enemies of the people based on their race, ethnicity, or country of origin. Let’s be clear, populism is not undemocratic. However we must be aware that it is a form of authoritarian democracy that can form a threat to liberal democracy and democratic institutions. 

In contrast with Fascism, part of the doctrine of Fascism is one that completely throws liberal democracy out the window. Liberalism rejected the state in the interest of individual rights, while Fascism advocates for the power of the state over individual freedoms. Fascisim can come alive when democratic institutions have been dismantled completely. Unlike right wing populists, fascists take their political agenda further. They imprison their political opponents, legitimize violence to gain power, enact violence against minorities or attempt to strip them of their political rights. 

 Looking at Jair Bolsonaro and his election. How much of a populist is he? Are there any fascist elements that he espouses? Let’s dissect his movement in relation to the points mentioned on populism. Bolsonaro believes in democracy, it was the very system of citizens voting that propelled him to power. Populists believe in the democratic process. However as mentioned it is authoritarian democracy that has the potential to undermine democratic institutions. 

This is one of the instances where Bolsanaro’s case becomes especially interesting. While he was indeed democratically elected and believes in holding elections, he has suggested that his left wing opponents are illegitimate and during his campaign said that members of the Brazilian Worker’s Party should be executed.  By threatening political opponents, he is directly undermining liberal democratic institutions of political opposition which is not unusual for populists to do. What is particularly interesting is Bolsonaro legitimizing political violence against his opponents. Before coming to power Fascists such as Mussolinini and Hitler used violence against their political opponents and jailed and executed them when they rose to power, legitimizing political violence. Despite the fact that Bolsonaro’s rhetoric could be dismissed as campaign posturing, any time a right wing populist leader espouses violence and imprisonment against political opponents, we cannot ignore that they may have elements of fascist aims. In terms of rebellion of the general will of the people against the elite, this is not exactly where Bolsonaro fits into the populist playbook. His movement was more of a response to crime running rampant in Brazil. He fits more adequately into the Fascist playbook when he advocates for criminals to be executed without trial. This was how Hitler and Mussolini dealt with their perceived criminals, namely execution without due process. This destroyed democratic institutions and it is exactly what Bolsanaro has threatened to do. Bolsoanro has combined elements of right wing populism and fascism when he has threatened to weaken the rights of Indigenous peoples, Afro Brazilians, and LGBTQ Brazilians, thereby creating targets of his movement, the same way Hitler did with Jews, Gypsies, and political opponents. 

After comparing elements of right wing Populism and Fascism, it is clear that Bolsonaro is a Right Wing Populist with Fascist tendencies. The only thing that prevents him from achieving his total Fascist aims at the moment, is the Brazilian constitution, which protects minority rights including those of indigenous people and their lands which Bolsonaro has targeted. For now, Brazil has what prevents most populist leaders like Bolsonaro from turning into Fascists, democratic institutions.

Works cited 

Finchelstein, Federico. “Jair Bolsonaro’s Model Isn’t Berlusconi. It’s Goebbels.” Foreign Policy, October 5, 2018.  


Finchelstein, Federico. “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past.” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

Mussolini, Benito, and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932. http://facweb.furman.edu/~bensonlloyd/hst11/mussolinidoctrines.htm

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism.” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania,


Sims, Shannon. “Here’s How Jair Bolsonaro Wants to Transform Brazil.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, January 12, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/01/heres-how-jair-bolsonaro-wants-to-transform-brazil/580207/

Looking to the Past to Solve the Present: Europe’s Antifederalist Model

There are many issues within the Lisbon Treaty of 2008. The Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the Treaty Establishing a Constitution of Europe, created an Antifederalist model of the European Union, which possibly explains the rise of Populist leaders across Europe today. Looking into the past, we may be able to find solutions for the present and prevent the return of extreme nationalism that devastated the 20th century.

My favorite Founding Father of the United States is Patrick Henry. He was one of the most influential and prolific characters during the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States. Yet, he ended up on the wrong side of history. Henry was an Antifederalist, and in the end would lose to the Federalists’ led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison during debates that formed of the Constitution of the United States of America. While the issues dealt with in the United States nearly 250 years ago do not directly answer the issues faced by Europe today, they may indicate a place to start.

One of the first things the Constitution of the United States does, is clearly define its citizens as “We the People of the United States.” The Lisbon Treaty makes a similar attempt, but fails to create a truly European identity, stating “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.” This is an antifederal compromise, which could explain the reemergence of Populist Nationalism. When looking to how Europeans identify themselves, over a third of all Europeans identify themselves based on their nationality alone, and nearly half identify themselves as their nationality over being European. This is in stark contrast to those who identify themselves as European over their nationality (roughly 6%), and those who identify themselves as European alone (roughly 2%). Where countries identify more closely with their nationality, there appears to be more support for Populism.

Another possible explanation for the rise in Populism that may derive from the Antifederal model of the Lisbon Treaty, is the relationship between the Union and its member states. Unlike modern nation-states, the European Union does not have well defined and established borders, given its enlargement plans. This means that the European identity is still expanding. Additionally, the Lisbon Treaty grants its member “their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security.” These are some of the fundamental underpinnings of nation-statehood, and could be causing the lack of identity associated with Europe that is fueling Populist movements.

While the Lisbon Treaty’s aim was never to create a nation-state, the European Union has increasingly taken on nation-state functions such as currency, legislation, and open borders within the Schengen Area. Although these policies have been largely accepted and embraced, they were strained by the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing migrant crisis. The Antifederalist nature created by the Lisbon Treaty makes it difficult to address these issues at the pan-European level, and has left many European nations to fend for themselves. Thus, as a leading expert on the topic of Populism named Cas Mudde pointed out,  the Populist movements which seek to channel the general will of the people against a corrupt and out of touch elite, is often assumed by the national identity.

At this point, you may be wondering why my favorite Founding Father would be an Antifederalist, due to many of the inefficiencies such a model may produce. However, while Henry may not have agreed with the politics of his day, he found a way to work within the system and safeguard all of the American people through the creation of the Bill of Rights. While the politics and symptoms of today differ from those of the past, it is my hope that Europe may do the same and find compromise.

Stemming the Populist Tide: Has Europe’s Populist Surge Lost Its Momentum? Not Quite

By Stuart Strang

In recent years, a populist wave has swept the European continent. The tides of populist electoral success instilled a fear that the European project was dead, and that fascism may soon rear its face once again. 

The success of populist groups has been attributed to their tactics of nativism and charismatic leaders. Populist political parties seek to overturn current political systems by pitting the ‘people’ against the ‘corrupt elite’. Leaders of populist groups claim that they alone speak for the ‘people’. This combination has proven effective for leaders such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Penn, and Gert Wilders. Despite success, the high tide of populism that had risen across the European continent may be lessening. 

The Austrian general election this week showcased the latest loss for populist parties in Europe. The right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) lost over a third of its seats. This is a major blow to populist parties, as the FPÖ was a shining example of success for populist parties. Prior to the election the FPÖ were a part of the leading coalition in Austria. Due to scandal, the FPÖ is now unlikely to be included in the new majority. 

Is the Austrian case localized or a part of a larger trend of populist decline?

Looking elsewhere in Europe, it is clear that populist parties have been struggling to keep their momentum.  Most notably, the European Parliament election earlier this year saw populist parties failing to make significant gains. Other examples include the Italian Lega being ousted from power.

 With the losses mounting for populists’, media outlets have started to question if populism has peaked. Has the populist tide lost its momentum? Not Quite. 

Europe is not out of the woods yet.

While populist success has somewhat stagnated, populist parties across European countries are still making significant headway electorally. This year alone saw populist parties at the national level in Belgium, Estonia , and Finland make significant gains. This does not appear to be slowing down, as polls also show the Law and Justice Party in Poland with a large lead ahead of the Polish general election on October 13th. Despite less than expected success in the European Parliament election, statements such as “The populists’ finish isn’t that much stronger than in 2014”  can be misleading. Put in context, 2014 was the watershed year for populist parties’ success. 

But how are populist parties continuing their electoral successes? 

Two explanations offer great insight. 

The first explanation highlights the flexibility of populist groups. “The People” that populists claim to represent is deliberately loosely defined. Who fits into the in-group defined as ‘the people’ is very fluid. Prominent populist scholar Cas Mudde warns that defining “Us” and “Them” is crucial for the success of far-right populist parties, and the boundaries are constantly shifting”. Populist’s are able to dynamically adapt their policy and rhetoric to better match current political trends.

The second explanation has been a lessening in radical policy.  Most prominently, the elimination of calls to leave the European Union. Ironically this  shift in rhetoric is due to the populist success of Brexit. The chaos that Brexit has caused has led continental populist parties to adjust course on their policies to leave the European Union towards less radical policies. By promoting less radical policy, populists stand to reach more moderate voters who feel disenfranchised by other mainstream parties. 

Populism in Europe is undergoing some stagnation. However, populist parties have demonstrated the ability to be flexible and sustain electoral success. 

To claim that European populism is on its way out would be a mistake, the tide may be out at the moment but will soon return if unchecked. 

Environmental Populism

By: Nadiya Alexandra

The likes of Donald Trump, Brexit, and far-right movements have given populism a bad name, but is populism really that bad? In light of the global protests on climate change, and Greta Thunberg of course, we need to change how we think about populism. We need to recognize that populism is a function of democracy, and we can use it for the greater good, just as Trump has used it for evil.

There is a reason why ‘environment’ and ‘populism’ are rarely seen in the same sentence, let alone in the same article. In recent years, ‘populism’ has taken on a negative connotation. Populism has been closely linked with authoritarianism and anti-immigration movements. Furthermore, populists are seen as disruptive, which is seen as a bad thing. There is no surprise that Trump’s right-wing populism has given populism a bad name, but now we have a chance to re-define what it means to be a ‘populist.’

Even academics have trouble defining populism, but it appears there is consensus on two core ideas:

  1. Populism speaks on behalf of ordinary people.
  2. These people stand in opposition of the elite who block the achievement of popular political goals.

The most prominent modern case of the embodiment of populism is Donald Trump. In his campaign he fused a radical right ideology with populist language such as ‘we’ and ‘our.’ Through this language, Trump has tried to create a homogenous American people, who strive for ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’ In this way, Trump has created an enemy out of Mexicans and Muslims. This is why populism has a bad rep. In this case, populism has divided people within America, and further created an ‘us versus them’ mentality. This has also lead to increased violence based on racial prejudices.

To starkly contrast Trump and right-wing populism, let’s examine the September 2019 global climate protests. Millions of people marched in climate strikes across an estimated 185 countries. In Ottawa, the largest school board encouraged students to take part in the climate strike on September 27, 2019. A clear message echoed among students: “there is no point of me going to school today if I have no future,” referring to the demise of our planet. Is this not populism? The climate marches spoke on behalf of ordinary people. The marchers were standing up to the elites who are blocking environmental conservation attempts, or not doing enough to save the planet. This aligns closely with what academics agree to be the two core principles of populism.

John Keane, a political scholar, described populism as a “recurrent autoimmune disease of democracy.” Looking at Donald Trump, Keane’s message certainly resonates. Trump’s right-wing populism has resulted in racism, violence, and a backsliding in global democracy.

Climate action can turn things around for populism. First of all, as Mark Beeson writes, climate change does not adhere to boundaries of race, religion, gender and nationality; it affects us all. Therefore, unlike right-wing populism, which has divided people, climate populism has the potential to unify us. Second, as the affects of climate change get worse, unified action from ‘the people’ should intensify and put more pressure on governments to act. The September 2019 climate strikes are proof of unity, and solidarity across the globe for climate action.

Greta Thunberg identifies as an environmental populist, she stands for a clear moral vision of protecting the environment. ‘We,’ the people, stand with her against a corrupt, greedy, unresponsive and elite system, which continues to exploit the environment at our cost. Greta Thunberg proves that ‘populism’ is not a dirty word, and as climate populists, all who marched this September have exercised their democratic rights to peacefully protest for change, for our future, for our planet.

Op/Ed: “Trump is not a fascist, but we should treat him as one”

By: PSjoberg

The recent resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe has spawned a tendency among observers to view these movements as a sort of “second coming” of early-20th Century fascism. It’s easy to see the connection: American President Donald Trump has been endorsed by the KKK, Marine Le Pen uses xenophobic language, and intensely anti-immigrant messages are becoming popular throughout central and eastern Europe. These developments conjure images of Nazi anti-Semitism, the strategic manipulation of identities in Mussolini’s Italy, and the suppression of minorities in Francoist Spain. Are modern populist movements, though, really the same as fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s?

The short answer is: “no.”

Such a simple answer, though, is grossly misleading. Through examining the technical definitions of the terms “fascism” and “populism,” we find a longer, more comprehensive answer: “no (right-wing populists are not fascists), but we should treat them as such.”

There exist certain vital distinctions between the two concepts. First, the words themselves provide some hints: “fascism” comes from the Italian word facismo, which simply means a bundle of sticks signifying strength through unity of the state. “Populism,” on the other hand, can be defined as a political approach which appeals to, and mobilizes, the common people against a perceived corrupt elite.

Second, fascists dream about toppling the democratic system and replacing it with an alternative –historically taking some form of authoritarianism. Populists, on the other hand, work within the democratic system in order to replace the governing elite with an alternative who better represents the common people. In short: fascism is anti-democratic; populism is democratic.

A final difference between these two terms is the important fact that fascists, unlike populists, believe violence is a positive and integral attribute of their cause because it creates commitment. Therefore, to be a fascist and to be a populist are two wildly different things. How, then, do modern-day “populist” leaders, such as Donald Trump, fit into these two categories?

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with achieving state strength and unity? While Trump proclaims a desire to “make America great again,” actions speak louder than words. Therefore, my answer is: not at all.

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with mobilizing the common people to overthrow a perceived corrupt elite? This defines Trump’s entire presidential campaign. My answer: to a high degree.

To what degree is Donald Trump in favour of toppling the democratic system in the United States? Trump has always worked within the current democratic system in order to achieve his goals (granted, while disregarding many of the rules). My answer: not at all.

To what degree does Donald Trump champion the use of violence as a political tool? While some might point to examples where Trump has seemed to latently promote or approve of the use of violence, he does not necessarily openly and explicitly advocate for the use of coordinated violence against his political foes. My answer: to a minimal degree.

In following the technical definitions of “fascism” and “populism,” Donald Trump fits the latter but not the former. However, it is not impossible for a populist movement to morph into fascism, given enough time. After all, the fascist movements of the 1920s became more extreme over the succeeding decade, before culminating in the mass atrocities of the 1940s. Benito Mussolini, the man who first attached the term facismo to that style of political movement, even initially referred to himself as a “radical populist.”

Therefore, this entire debate appears wrapped up in entirely the wrong focus: who cares what people are called, fascist or populist, if they engage in immoral discourse and actions? So many people are openly critical of Trump and Le Pen not because they’re undemocratic (although some might suggest otherwise), but because they’re illiberal. After all, Bernie Sanders could accurately be called a populist, and he most certainly isn’t undemocratic. The real issue here is morality, and both fascist and far-right populist movements have a tendency for immoral behaviour. President Trump, Marine Le Pen, and their other contemporaries may be best classified as populists for now but given time that may change.

While the common people of the 1920s and 1930s could not have foreseen the horrific acts fascists would go on to commit, the common people of the 21st Century have that luxury. If there is even a miniscule chance that modern radical populism might morph into neo-fascism, it is our duty to stop it. Immorality is immorality, and if labelling modern populist movements as fascist better enables us to take a firm stance against them, it probably isn’t such a bad thing.


Matthews, Dylan. “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said.” Vox. May 19, 2016. <https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism&gt;

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism.” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania. <https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/casmudde-populism-twenty-first-century&gt;

Mussolini, Benito and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932. <http://facweb.furman.edu/~bensonlloyd/hst11/mussolinidoctrines.htm>