failures and deride any who point them out using favored groups in society as a

Failures and deride any who point them out using

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failures and deride any who point them out, using favored groups in society as a foil with which to humiliate their critics. As for what these populists want, that is a more dif- ficult question. Populists seem not to know themselves. Different movements in different locales have little in common and very different priorities. Even within the same movement, priorities shift from day to day, depend- ing on the flow of news. All seem to share an anti-immigrant posture, but beyond that agendas look very different. Some populists clearly want all immigrants excluded, others want limits, and still other focus on legalities. All seem to exhibit a wariness of globalization, but the degree of concern var- ies greatly between movements, and beyond tariffs, none have much of an agenda, certainly nothing approaching a consensus about what is wrong, much less a coherent plan on how to handle globalization’s ill effects. The same can be said about income inequality or elite steps to deal with questions of climate change or any of the other issues that occasionally capture the attention of one populist group or another. Elites, including much of the media, have labeled populism a threat to free and open societies. They would make such claims. Populism challenges them, and to their collective mind it must therefore be evil. They have cherry-picked historically to make their point. But if elite accusations smell of self-serving rhetoric, such a threat nonetheless does exist. It lies in the vague agendas of these groups. The lack of coherent plans, or even priorities, keeps populists focused more on their per- ceived enemies than on what they want to accomplish. It renders them less rational and more emotional, and so vulnerable to opportunists who would bend their vague feelings toward actions that followers might not otherwise embrace. So far, elites have also failed to blunt this trend. By dismissing the populists under a fusillade of all the popu- lar pejoratives of the day, elites have only fueled the dan- gerous emotionalism in these movements. Instead of re- acting as they have, these same elites might reduce the risks implicit in this situation by engaging these populist movements. Such an engagement might disarm some of the animus that infects populists, but more, it would per- haps introduce into the discussion the rationalist skills on which elites pride themselves and so far have refused to exhibit. Still more useful, such an introduction might force the populists to define their objectives, giving them something to work towards instead of just something to work against and providing them with a shield against the unscrupulous demagogues who would hijack such move- ments for their own purposes. The collapse of traditional media is a major source of political radicalism and extremism.
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