Around 2016, I remember being in the US and hearing news about politics consistently in the US.
In which the democrats did not finish their primaries yet and were still contemplating who to nominate.
Back then, Bernie Sanders was still relatively doing well against Hillary Clinton before the primaries moved to the South of the US where Hillary would gain the momentum needed to win.
Along with the special relationship the DNC offered her as you can read here.
Still, there was something peculiar about that election all around from the DNC primaries to the actual election between Hillary and Trump afterwards.
In which you had discussions of “populism” in the mainstream media.
Where both Bernie and Trump were occasionally brought up as examples of “emerging populism” in the country.
Of course, the discussion of “populism” didn’t start with either candidate but I’d be willing to bet that there was a greater focus on the term in 2016 compared to previous elections.
One previous election though worthy of mention being the 2008 election in which Obama was elected.
You know – the whole “Obamamania” as people wrote about here.
Being the first elected black dude to US Presidency.
" Remember when President Obama was considered an economic populist as he traipsed across the country in 2008"
Now, for those of us that with some familiarity to Latin American politics, it is a question of if these candidates represent what “populism” means.
Obama, Bernie and Trump.
On the surface, it’s almost laughable.
Because at least one of those candidates – Obama – seems very different from the other two given how his record, at least from my perspective, seemed much more closely aligned with the neoliberal interests.
Sure, he wasn’t a Bill Clinton type character when it comes to that but he didn’t seem “too much against the status quo” as some portrayed him as.
Be it his more neoliberal trade deals like this one here to his drone strike program.
Not making a statement on either but just recognizing that he had similarities to the politicians before him in many ways when it comes to economic and military policy.
Yeah – he was black.
In the same was Margaret Thatcher was a woman.
But being a woman didn’t stop her from acting in an imperialist manner, did it?
And, as a side point, that’s an issue some folks in the US have dealing with.
In which they see a political candidate as “fitting in” with a demographic that they see as “oppressed” and assume that they can’t do no wrong.
Then said candidate does wrong and acts like everyone else.
Your skin color or genitalia doesn’t dictate that you aren’t an asshole.
Still, it’s not just Obama where folks in the US get confused on populism.
“Bernie? Trump? What?”
Back in 2016, I remember later on when the election was getting close between Trump and Hillary.
There was a chick that I was working with at some college program that gave out fellowships to students who wanted to travel.
Her name was Chloe if I remember right.
Some skinny white chick with short brown hair from Ohio area.
We talked quite often since we often shared work shifts.
One day, we were talking about American politics and she brought up something she was confused on.
That being “the similarities between Bernie and Trump.”
Which, to her credit, I don’t think as many people were thinking about that until 2020 where Bernie was even more popular but yet you did have proof of crossover of political support between the two candidates as you can see here.
But, in 2016, she somehow caught wind of that narrative saying that both candidates are fairly similar.
And there was some article she showed me talking about “rise of populism” in the US bringing up both candidates.
In which, from her perspective, she thought that the term “populism” shouldn’t be applied to both Trump and Bernie.
Because Trump isn’t a real populist, she said!
And she brought up how Trump is rich, came from a good background, paid off politicians and all that jazz.
Therefore, he doesn’t truly “represent the people.”
And, similar to the application of “populist” to Obama, one could see the difference in how Americans apply the term “populism” compared to folks born in Latin America.
What is that difference?
The Difference of Understanding of Populism Between the US & Latin America
To clarify, this article isn’t talking about the ACTUAL differences between populism of the US and Latin America.
Only the difference in the common understanding of populism in the average person between the US and Latin America.
Or at least the understanding of the term itself from my perspective.
And that difference comes in at least two details that have come to my attention from my own experiences.
The first difference being the connotation with the word “populism.”
For those familiar with Latin America, I think we’re more likely to apply a negative association with the word.
That it isn’t something you want to be associated with.
Simply because Latin America has had plenty of examples of “populists” doing a shit job and even fucking up their respective countries quite greatly.
As corrupt as previous presidents mixed in with even more incompetent economic policies that fuck up their countries a lot more.
From my foreigner perspective, the only few folks who seem to, in any way shape or form, speak more positively of “populism” in Latin America are those on the very far left.
But it does seem to me that most folks in Latin America are not as naïve to “populist” presidents.
Or at least, even if they were to vote for one, are more likely to see the word “populist” in a more negative light than American voters.
Second, you can notice the lack of understanding in Chloe’s words.
In which, given her lack of experience with the topic, couldn’t understand how someone from a comfortable background could “represent the people.”
Like Trump versus Bernie.
Though I’m more unfamiliar with Bernie’s childhood, I do know he is quite comfortable financially nowadays as you can see here.
But, to his credit, he does have a more solid history of talking about common person issues.
That’s not the point though.
The point is that history is full of examples of people from comfortable backgrounds claiming to be “for the people.”
Acting or talking in the interest of “the common person.”
Fidel Castro? According to Wikipedia here, he was “born in Birán, Oriente, the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer, Castro adopted leftist and anti-imperialist ideas while studying law at the University of Havana.”
And, to be fair, not every populist is from a background that is relatively more comfortable than other people.
You have folks like Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales and others who, from my understanding, were not as comfortable either.
The point here being that not every populist has to come from some background of intense poverty to be a populist.
Said populist could’ve come from a more unfortunate background financially or might be from a more comfortable background perhaps.
In being from a more comfortable background, said populist might either have had the luxury of being able to study the socioeconomic conditions of the average person in his country and feel sympathy for them instead of working 2 to 3 jobs…
Which doesn’t mean he understands said conditions very well but regardless….
Or said candidate might not give a fuck about any of that and simply see a group of people to exploit for political gains.
Regardless of any of that said above, the point is that it’s not accurate to think of every populist as some poor dude from a village who had to work 12 hour days 6 days a week for a monthly sum of 200 USD.
Anything to Add?
It’s an interesting topic.
There’s some folks who think the “US is becoming like Latin America.”
The usual proponents of that either reference the increased immigration from Latin America or the increased income inequality and worsening economic conditions.
Of course, we can also bring up the increased attention to “populism” in the country.
Is that another sign?
Maybe or maybe not.
You be the judge!
But it is something to consider.
At least in regards to how the typical American considers what “populism” is versus the typical person in Latin America.
From my perspective, there remains a gap between the two perspectives and, from what I can understand, I believe that gap stems more strongly from a difference in experience with populism.
Where one group (those in Latin America) have more experience witnessing populist candidates on average than those in the other group (those from the US).
Of course, any comments related to that or related to the differences of populism between the US and Latin America are welcome below in the comment section.
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And thanks for reading.