He is charismatic, but vain, boastful and somewhat authoritarian. He presents himself as the champion of a forgotten and oppressed underclass and as the outsider who can bring ethics and efficiency to politics.
The message he sells is that the country is in shambles, with rich bankers and businessmen conspiring with corrupt politicians and foreign powers to take away people’s jobs and exploit the country’s resources. He is the only one who can save the country, leading it to a glorious, utopian future of prosperity.
If that sounds fake and exaggerated in both diagnosis and treatment, it’s because it is.
To our leader, however, that the message doesn’t match reality is no problem. In fact, he knows just what to do: delegitimize the independent press whose job it is to keep him in check and at the same time have his own parallel press spew out all the “alternative facts” that he wants the people to believe. This parallel press even comes with the support of an army of trolls who viciously attack political opponents, the mainstream press, and anyone who happens who have dissenting views.
The leader believes that an electoral victory gives him the right and legitimacy to do anything he wants, so he acts with a blatant disregard for proper procedure and even the law, using his promised glorious future as an excuse for shady behavior—even if this is one of the things he criticizes about traditional politics. In fact, despite having railed against bankers, big business, and power-hungry, corrupt politicians, he quickly learns to revel in the swamp he had promised to drain, creating a close, interdependent relationship with those he used to denounce.
The leader’s economic policy is protectionist and shortsighted, all about instant job creation and magical growth. It is based on shutting out foreign influence, injecting money into the market, and micromanaging specific industries and businesses through stimulus packages, subsidies, and even bullying. His foreign policy, in turn, is shaped largely by personal and ideological affinity with other similar-minded world leaders—even if they are engaged in morally questionable behavior.
Think you know who I’m talking about?
Hint: it’s not Donald Trump.
I’m talking about Lula, ex-president of Brazil and populist extraordinaire.
Leaning left or right, a populist is a populist. And no, they’re never good.
Lula and his left-leaning Workers’ Party governed Brazil for about 13 years. The consequences were the deepest political and economic crises in the country’s history, as well as one of the biggest corruption scandals the world has ever seen.
America’s democracy is more mature and its institutions, more solid. However, given America’s status as the world’s main beacon of liberal democracy and main guarantor of world security and stability, the stakes of an out-of-control, “America first” Trump presidency are much, much higher. Hopefully, America’s checks and balances will be able to contain the threat. In the end, though, it is up to the people to make sure that the country does not embark on a dangerous populist adventure.