I remember an editorial in The Economist, about five years ago, in which they wondered how it was possible that the adjective “populist” made sense both for Podemos, who wants to expand the participation rights of immigrants, and for Trump, who expanded a wall that He condemns them to the misery from which they flee; both for Geert Wilders, who intends to eliminate the “hate crime” from the penal code, and for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is committed to banning the expression “Polish death camps”; both for Evo Morales, who would grant rights to coca growers, and for Rodrigo Duterte, who, with respect to traffickers, advocates rather for direct execution. Brexit, Corbyn and even Pedro Sánchez were added to the list at that time… what stanza can make so much loose verse rhyme?
A mystery that became flesh, so to speak, also in those days, when Enrique Peña Nieto, the then president of Mexico, saw fit to take advantage of an appearance in tandem with Obama to happily beat populism. To his astonishment, Obama took the floor and argued vehemently that he considered himself a populist, and with great honor. Look for it on YouTube, it’s hilarious … and very illustrative.
And the academy? I will spare you the innumerable terminological disquisitions, the Byzantine conceptual compliments, the most subtle musings: there is no agreement, that’s all. Nobody knows very well what the expression means. No, at least, beyond the peculiar meaning that each one gives it. And, when a term is used – and boy is it used! – without anyone knowing for sure its meaning, it is clear what is happening: “populism” is no longer a theoretical term, but a political one. Its meaning does not consist in describing, but rather in encouraging, pushing, mobilizing, convincing, seducing, persuading and inflaming. The question “what is populism?” it can no longer be answered, the world in which it had a meaning has passed. Like a spark, in just a few years, but it has passed. The only question that can be asked now regarding the word is another: “What is it for?”
And in sight it is. It serves to mark territory. Initially it was the response – equally positional, reactive and to a great extent childish – that those inside concocted in the face of the accusation of “caste”, “elite”, “establishment” or similar that rained down on them as a result of the 2008 crisis. Populists they were the newcomers. All, without distinction of sex, ideology, country or condition. From Trump to Podemos, there is nothing … how “caste” they were all, from IU to Aznar. Some – Le Pen – had been trying for longer, true, but that doesn’t change the obvious: they were inside, but at the same time outside. They were gloom, democratic otherness, evil. Those inside included in that shadow all the new ones.
What was populism? Here in Spain it was, to a large extent, the dark side of the caste. Both terms did not denote a set of practices and behaviors, the only elements susceptible, at least in the best tradition of law, to moral judgment. What they demarcated were collective subjects, ontologically anchored in certain perverse properties. Good and bad, Ying and Yang, night and day, stigma and purity, shadow and light … what Ferlosio used to call the zero degree of morality.
Of course, both “caste” and “populism” can claim to harbor – when they are not wielded in the political debate with the intention of hurting, but of deliberation – certain descriptive content. But it is doubtful that it will survive the orgy unleashed by the fury of stigmatization, a drive that is difficult to control once released: the word “populist” works just by being uttered, which allows even those inside to throw it at it. they. The PSOE launches it against the PP, the PP against the PSOE, and all against the Catalan independence movement … “populism” has mutated into a term-virus. It expands hopelessly through the political system, infecting everything with anti-politics. Wherever it flourishes, deliberation succumbs. A word that nobody knows how to define, but that is thrown And over the city for all and against all. It is obvious that it no longer has a meaning, and that all that remains is its pejorative connotation. The essence of insults: offend without denoting.
Before the crisis and the newcomers, “populism” was – in the most widespread usage – something akin to demagoguery. He indicated a certain propensity to exalt the low passions of the electorate in an electoral spirit. There were no “populists”, but in any case higher or lower doses of populism. Because “populism” was a characteristic of certain actions in which everyone could fall, and not a stigma of certain political groups that defined them forever. That is the world to which we should return … but it is clear that it is not, and what is happening is the opposite. In fact, they no longer even try to convince us, but only to “mobilize” us. And the ship goes …