Populism in politics is an approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that established elite groups disregard their concerns.
MEXICO CITY (Times Media Mexico) – Donald Trump in the United States, Boris Johnson in the U.K., Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico came to power by defying the old “establishment”, promising social assistance to the masses and rejecting traditional status.
However, it turned out that new disease has put them on their knees. Their populist policies have shown inferior results compared to countries with liberal democratic models such as Germany, France, or Iceland in Europe and South Korea or Japan in Asia.
Academics had already expressed their concern that liberal democracy might face the new populism and address the complex challenges of the 21st century. It should be noted that liberal democracy helped defeat fascism in World War II, created international institutions such as the WHO, and appeared to have triumphed in the Cold War three decades ago.
The new coronavirus dilemma
“This is a public health crisis that requires knowledge and science to solve,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.
“By nature, populists … have a disdain for the experts and the science they consider part of the establishment,” said Shifter, who was speaking about Brazil, where 81,000 people have already died. “Populist policies make it very difficult to implement rational policies that solve the problem or manage the crisis more effectively.”
In the United States, Mexico and Brazil, their leaders, skeptical of scientists, initially downplayed the importance of the disease. Those countries account for almost half of the deaths from Covid-19 recorded so far worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. Of those deaths, 143,224 were in the United States, 41,190 in Mexico, and 82,771 in Brazil.
“The pandemic and the economic crisis reveal the price of incompetence, and it matters,” warned political scientist Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. In his opinion, the disease “touches all the blind spots that populists have”. “They question the state and the institutions. And the objective reality is that the virus refutes all that.”
In the U.S. Mexico and Brazil, the presidents played down the disease, defended treatments that were not proven to be effective, and questioned and marginalized scientists and health officials, instead of implementing a consistent Covid-19 strategy in their countries.
Characteristics of these three populist presidents
1. They always questioned corroborated facts regarding the virus.
2. The three showed disregard of the recommendations to stay home or wear face masks mouth guards in public.
3. The three presidents created divisions amongst the people in their countries.
4. Instead of offering solutions based on research and science from top specialists, they offered grandiloquent gestures that appeal to their bases.
Lopez Obrador invited people “to go out,” “to hug” (read more here) In Brazil and the United States, when the pandemic reached them, both presidents downplayed the virus saying “only people at risk should be quarantined” or that “the virus was going to disappear” (Read: Trump’s alternative universe)
One thing is sure, the Covid 19 cases keep growing in the three countries, and people keep dying.
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