The following editorial was published in The Orange County Register.
Whatever the outcome of November’s presidential election, one particular note should be apparent to political leaders going forward: Populism is alive and strong in American politics.
But it’s not unique to the United States this year; populism is trending globally.
There is an evident global frustration with those in the political class who are viewed to be out of touch with the average person. These folks are voting for what they believe will disrupt the political system and displace the establishment.
To that aim, 2016 has numerous examples: In the United Kingdom voters surprisingly voted to exit the European Union in June. In May, the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte, a brash politician known for making cringe-worthy statements that often rightly inspire global condemnation. In the country of Georgia, a famous opera singer and political outsider, Paata Burchuladze, is one of the frontrunners to be elected prime minster on Oct. 8.
And closer to home, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been built on tapping into populist frustrations of Americans who feel as though they are unrepresented, disenfranchised, left behind and poorly served by the American government. It was a similar populist sentiment that carried the Bernie Sanders campaign. And now, even Hillary Clinton has recognized that some of the populist policies Sanders and Trump have floated are gaining traction and she has assumed similar positions, specifically talking about trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The people are tired of the politicians because they are not telling the truth,” Georgian contender Burchuladze told The Orange County Register in a recent phone conversation. “Voters are calling for alternative voices who want to challenge current political realities.”
Burchuladze’s remarks were specific to Georgia and his campaign, but they most certainly apply to much of the rest of the world.
Populism has gone global this year and is due in no small part to global economics – and the economic choices many politicians have instituted since the onset of the global recession. As was argued by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times: “Real income stagnation over a far longer period than any since the second world war is a fundamental political fact.”
Wolf drew data from the McKinsey Global Institute’s report, “Poorer than their Parents?” which detailed the number of households suffering from real incomes that are either stagnant or falling: “On average between 65 and 70 percent of households in 25 high-income economies experienced this between 2005 and 2014. In the period between 1993 and 2005, however, only 2 percent of households suffered stagnant or declining real incomes.” This staggering data alone is enough to explain why voters are angry, scared and rightly frustrated with the political class.
It’s easy for politicians and government leaders to dismiss these populist winds but that’s a dangerous proposition. Voters are frustrated because government has become ineffective, political leaders are out of touch and unaccountable, and the fortunes of the elite seem to improve while the many stagnate or get worse.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of the 2016 election is that populism is bred when the political class fails to listen and act.