Opinion World Politics & Affairs

Opinion: Decoding the Populist Wave

By now, it is established wisdom that the age of globalization is coming towards an end and is being replaced with hardliner policies- much of which adhere to protectionism and other populist movements.  These policies have significantly altered the current political landscape as we know it.

Showing first signs in the Brexit vote and then electing President Trump only to go back to European elections again, this wave of right-wing populism has roots in countless countries. What was once only minor political movements have now become recurring themes in the global scenario- all within a matter of months

This sudden fluctuation in politics around the world has, in turn, led to several questions being raised. Why are populist leaders suddenly being elected? Why are people unsatisfied with the advent of globalization? More importantly-  What caused the divide in the first place?

While the answers to these questions vary considerably from country to country, some consistent patterns can be established.

An imperative element almost all right-wing politicians capitalized on was immigration. Conveniently, the right-wing rise happened at the peak of the Syrian civil war.

Now known as the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the Syrian conflict has seen 4.8 million citizens abandoning their home to escape the ravages of war and seek asylum in other countries.


Little did they know, each one of them was exploited to lure the masses into believing that any immigrants were simply foreign enemies who were apparently “stealing their jobs”. Similar blatant accusations were enough to convince key demographics and were at the heart of the current political divide.

As Fareed Zakaria once noted,

The populist wave in the West simply wouldn’t have gained the same momentum it did, had it not been for the Syrian refugee crisis.

In fact, one statistical analysis of European Union countries found that more immigrants invariably means more populists.

Further, the right-wing political movement found scapegoating immigrants as an easy alternative to finding actual solutions to problems in the real world.

At such a time, the circumstances were just right for populism to thrive.

Contrary to what mainstream media would have you believe, anti-globalist rhetoric is not a recent occurrence. Neither is it a temporary wave.

As Karl Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” For a keen observer, the sudden surge of sentiment against the once rapidly globalizing world is anything but unexpected.

Similar surges appeared prominently after key periods of globalization. The trade link established during the Bronze age collapsed when the circulation of new technologies threatened empires.

A few centuries of interval in global trade was brought to an end with the Islamic invasion which spread ideas like arithmetic and algebra from the East to West.

The Mongols were jeopardized by a period of plague which crumbled huge empires into smaller kingdoms. After Europeans rose up in the 16th century to establish globalist movements, the end of World War I brought with it a crusade in support of protectionist policies enacted by socialists and communists.

The great-depression saw countries fight to keep foreign imports out. However, the post-World War II period saw the advent of the recent wave of globalization.

Notably, the recurrence of protectionist sentiment and policies was expected. Populist leaders claim to swing the pendulum of change to dramatic extremes given the polarization of the generation.

Aided by mass migration, right-wing ideologies have flourished among the masses in ideal conditions- widespread distrust for the establishment, frustrated economic activity, and increasing nationalism.

The short-sighted solutions that populists leaders propose will have to run their course to convince informed voters to change sides. That is to say, the more damage right-wing populism causes, the more people jump boats to globalization.

What unfolds thereafter, in global politics is, therefore, not a result of “failed globalist policies” but of voters fed up of the establishment.

2 comments on “Opinion: Decoding the Populist Wave

  1. chengetayi nziramasanga

    world politics has shifted back to realism popularly known as realpolitik… President Trump is a firm believer of realism to solve world geopolitical challenges


  2. There’s some hope to the trend that Manas describes here. In 2017, we’ve seen repeated losses of the far-right in France (both the Parliamentary and Presidential elections), the Netherlands, and Austria. Moreover, the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), the far-right party of Germany, has ceded tremendous ground in opinion polls leading up to the September election. The United Kingdom’s SNAP elections witnessed Theresa May attempt to take in UKIP’s base with a generally hard Brexit stance, yet managed to lose seats. But make no mistake – globalization and more generally, neoliberal economic policies, are becoming toxic to Europeans. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to save the UK Labour Party by running against austerity, and the IMF’s reputation is forever tarnished for their advocacy of neoliberal economics in Greece.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: