What kind of politicians do we want and need in future? Do we want populist politicians, even those who say the outrageous and unsaid, shaking up the establishment, those who are specialists in demagogy and marketing? Or, do we want the reasoning and more intellectual thinkers, in a time when the voters are well educated and do think too? None of the two types of politicians may know quite where to go, where to take their country, especially not those who talk loudest, seemingly being dead sure. Those who know more will be more humble and modest, and they will also include the voters in a dialogue. But can they win elections?When Barak Obama ran his presidential campaign in USA in 2008, and again his re-election campaign in 2012, I found him a very polite man, only rarely using direct and rough language. In many ways his speeches were not quite in traditional American in style; one is supposed to be boastful, not subtract from acheivements, and never admit fault, of course.

In Europe, one may be a bit less self-assertive, but not always quite truthful, not there, not anywhere.Obama’s style was that of a modern politician, an academic, a person reflecting on issues, discussing with the electorate and setting out a loose agenda for what he would do. It was clear that Obama knew that even politicians can never be ‘dead sure’ about much in life, indeed not the future. Yet, good politician must have convictions and ideology; they must have intentions and show direction; they must have priorities and plans; and they must say that in our complex world, with interwoven world economies, the course of the country can only be adjusted, rarely turned around. Let me add, politicians must always listen to experts, interest groups, bureaucrats and business people. It becomes the politicians’ task to make some sense of it all, and find a balanced and acceptable whole.Change can only be achieved in cooperation between leaders and the people, and the details can only be shaped through dialogue and debate. But sometimes, topics can be put on the agenda in new and original ways by politicians, parties and groups; things that were swept under the rug can be given priority before. When it is done, everyone will see the importance of it. Such topics can be those of down-trodden minorities.

They may be overripe to discuss since they have been left ‘hidden’ by heavy-handed establishment mainstream politicians and opinion-leaders.Today, we are sometimes in a post-Obama era as regards language and lack of cautiousness. We want to show off and pretend we are sure when everyone actually knows that it is impossible to be ‘dead sure’. We may want to be sure as a longing for the simple and easy, living in a world which is more complex and difficult than ever – in spite of all the wealth and wisdom the world has amassed to analyse and understand issues, and make life more bearable for everyone.In Europe and America, but also elsewhere, we see the emergence of extremist parties, especially on the right-wing (a generation and two ago, there were left-wing parties and groups). They put selected themes and topics on the agenda, often issues that have been unspoken and taboo, especially immigration and issues, even race and religion. That has happened in France, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and elsewhere. When they stay as small groups on the fringes, we allow them to exist. If they get into power and take mainstream positions, we worry. Luckily, most of the time, extremist and populist opinions are usually moderated when such politicians get into power; the crudest policies are put aside, or they are softened and modified.And then, a few words about Donald Trump, the likely Republican Party presidential candidate this year’s elections in USA in November.

Trump is a populist, and sometimes an extremist. He has picked a few topics, (such as immigration, trade, establishing work places in America) about which he has made outrages and outlandish statements. Nobody knows what his comprehensive policies would be, not even in the mentioned sectors.In Norway, the thoughtful and gentle leader of the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is not unlike Obama, and he is indeed the opposite of Trump. Støre places new topics on the agenda and reflects on issues without drawing bombastic conclusions. He does that in speeches and TV debates, not only within the party. Well, he has become doing this now than before because he has been criticised for being indecisive and unclear, having been called a ‘fog prince’ by nasty political opponents, notably politicians on the conservative side, who are currently in power.The next general elections in Norway will be held in early autumn 2017.

By that time, Støre and his intellectual deputy party chair, Hadia Tajik (a Norwegian-born politician of Pakistani heritage), will probably have to simplify their stands and give more specific ‘solutions’ to problems, not only give broad directions based on ideology and values. Of course, the latter is the right thing to do in our time when people are well educated and knowledgeable, and should therefore be less easy to confuse with simplistic slogans. Yet, even in Europe, as in America, many people seem to prefer more simplistic slogans, never mind that they may substitute untruth for reality.In USA, Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Party presidential candidate, is sometimes said to be similar to Donald Trump, but on the opposite, left side. I don’t find the comparison relevant. To me, Sanders belongs to the reflective and reasoning tradition, similar to Obama’s approach and that of Jonas Gahr Støre. He is not a populist, but a serious politician – who demands of his listeners that they have a bit more than just a ‘short attention span’. I am glad that many young people seem to like Sanders’ approach – which is the modern approach for well-educated and thinking people. The populist, extremist approach is something in passing, I hope, and only to be used for short, fancy introductory sections.

Yes, because, the populist style can be useful in order to draw attention, but it is not for the serious politicians and the serious voters.In Pakistan, I find Imran Khan to be a bit of a populist. Well, maybe a combination of populist and pragmatist. But he, too, needs to change gear if he wants to get anywhere near the seats of power in the national election next year. He has already drawn attention to himself and his party. Now, he must be pragmatic and practical. However, the transition from ‘protest party’ to ‘responsible party’ is always difficult, in any country.In America, Hillary Clinton is seen as an establishment candidate; she won’t rock the boat, she is going to be a safe pair of hands, but relatively little will change, and she is going to become President – and Bernie Sanders must keep pushing her and the party to move more to the left. She may personally even be more leftists than she admits so she can get elected, thus, needing Sanders to do what he does so well, making voters question accepted ‘truths’ and showing a new direction. He wants the Democratic Party to become more modern in a time of well-educated and thinking Americans.

I believe that it is not simplistic populist politicians like the Trump types that are the future. I believe it is the deeper-thinking politicians who are not afraid of going into dialogue with the voters, who even say that they are not certain of how to reach the goals and visions they have. They are leaders who want to energise and engage the voters so as to make their land good for all, especially the marginalised and the have-nots. That is what politics is mainly about: it is about sharing resources in more just ways, including having fairer business, trade and tax systems so that all can live better together. In other words, the populist and ‘so sure’ politicians are old-fashioned; it is the thinking and less sure politicians that hold the future. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy anddevelopment aid.atlehetland@yahoo.com