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The quest to find the sword and shield against populism

Long have I toyed with the idea of trying to formulate what I see as the best approach to counter the populist movement spreading through Europe. What made me pull the trigger to finally put word to paper was a recent statement by Juncker that was highlighted in a Euractiv article. He calls for the EU supporter to stand up against the 'stupid populists'. While I agree that some form of cooperation is needed to tackle this problem, I am rather certain his method is not only counter-intuitive, but also his attitude is actually one of the roots of the problem.

Before I jump into explaining why I am of the opinion that the current Pro EU narrative is not an effective tool countering populism, I want to address what I think describes those that vote populism best. During my exchange in the USA from August to December 2016 I found myself in the midst of the wolves' nest, a rural county in North Carolina. Being curiosity oriented I naturally tried to start dialogues with those around me on their political views which seemed to be more difficult with Trump supporter. Those that did come out as a Trump supporter were reluctant to share precise policies or ideas they agreed with, rather they felt it was the right choice. I am an urban student of political science and that statement still remains with me to today since it quite baffled me. Voting on a feeling seems to be quite absurd if you ask me, rather the real way to decide who gets your vote is proper research into the party's manifesto and choose the one that aligns with your identity, problems, views and whatnot. Nonetheless, I think this put a nagging feeling in the back of my head that it might be something to look into.

The best method, I have come to find, of explaining the populist supporters and their counterpart is as David Goodheart describes: those that live 'somewhere' and those that live 'anywhere'. The Anywheres are the urban high educated part of society that moves all over the world for their jobs, most likely share partnership with someone with similar roots, are open to immigration, welfare and overall globally oriented. The Somewheres on the opposite side are those that have always been part of the lower or middle class since their parents and grandparents worked in the industry sector. They live and will live in the same community, find their spouse in that community and never really leave the area they grow up in. In the past, these people used to look at propaganda posters, which displayed coal miners, housewives or some similar worker in a heroic pose, and saw himself there. They were portrayed as a hero of the future, however, the future is much bleaker for these heroes. The technological age has arrived, and the majority of the workforce has shifted from industry to service. In this progress, however, people are left behind and feel like they are forced to globalise or end in poverty. And thus, with a single sentence, make America great again, did those that were left behind get a voice against the cosmopolitans

Describing populism in the above manner is to me also so much more attractive over, for example, Cas Mudde's that we thoroughly analysed during one of my classes. Calling populism a thin centred ideology and using buzzwords such as pure people and corrupt elite is something that should be avoided. While criticism is the core of the political debate, a continuous denouncing of an ideology adds insult to injury since it dismisses the worries and issues populist voters face. I really feel that the Anywhere who runs the show are too caught up in their own objectivism, however close to the truth it may be, to see that the original labour party voters are not caught up to speed yet. Shall we then use the same narrative manners the current US president and try to reason with our forsaken heroes? Maybe not, but I do think issues that are at the core of the populist movements are to be much higher on the priority list and those that seem to not resonate with the Somewhere need to be temporarily sidelined. Choosing a two speed Europe, where the polarisation will accelerate into a new unstable region similar to pre-ww1, should never be an option.

The question then becomes; How do we bring the Somewhere into the age of globalisation and progress? Education comes to mind as one of the first options, however, more investment in that sector means less growth in others, which might end up in simply educating populists about their own shortcomings which gives a dilemma similar to a certain cat in a box. Another angle to consider is perhaps going back to the metaphorical old-school propaganda posters. Can we show the Somewhere that they can be the hero of the technological future, and thus are as much needed as the Anywhere? But what place can we give those that still assume that heavy industry and manufacturing jobs will become abundant again?  A difficult question to answer if you are not a prophet and perhaps this question could use some spotlight in the political arena. If I were in the shoes of a Somewhere I definitely would be more interested in where my piece falls into the global puzzle rather then whether certain quotas are met by neighbouring member states.

What is life's purpose, has been on the table for debate since sapiens put a sensible thought in their minds beyond survival. Would it not then be great to try and find it for the Somewhere, rather than demonising them? The real place where a populist voter can find their fit might not be crystal clear yet, but pulling them into the debate shall avoid further anti-establishment empowerment.

Further reading:

Demonising populism won’t work – Europe needs a progressive populist alternative

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