In last week’s article, I discussed a few new trends in current politics. I wanted to look behind the veil of the manifestations we see in politics today, especially the populist and untraditional ways, hoping I could discover some reasons, explanations and trends – because the world of politics is different today than before, especially in America and Europe. We see untraditional top leaders, groups and movements, such as the so-called ‘Tea Party Movement’ in USA (a name borrowed from the Boston opposition to the British colonialists in the 1770s). It is a right-wing mixture of protests and alternative thoughts, often superficially founded, but nevertheless with people’s opinions – or, sometimes, leaders fishing in troubled waters, using unhinged and frustrated voters, jobless people, and outsiders, plus others who are more in the mainstream, but with little political influence. It is a ‘casserole’ of views.

Last week, I wrote that the time of the orderly and predictable ‘isms’ is over, except for populism, but that one I don’t honour as an ‘ism’, a coherent set of thoughts; rather, its trademark is the opposite, that it is a mixture of many things, often unrelated, such as opposition to immigration, taxes, government regulations, and now also globalisation. Yes, they would say others agree, too, and we probably all only look for ‘the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye, but pay no attention to the plank in our own eye’, to use Biblical wording.

Today’s political landscape is more uncertain and unpredictable than in a long time. The 1960s and 70s were also such times, but the left, which was then ‘in fashion’, followed more of the traditional rules of parties and political thinkers. Today, the new ideas come from parties on the far and extreme right. Some of their ideas may belong to old thoughts, and thus be ‘old wine in new bottles’. Many of the ideas are certainly half-backed, explorative. That we have seen with President Donald Trump’s ‘quick fix’ thoughts after he came to power less than a month ago. He and his large administration must have woken up to realise that modern politics is complicated, that they have to build on ways of doing things through bureaucratic institutions, with advice and justifications from specialists and fellow politicians.

Radicals and extremists want changes to be done fast and easy, not slowly and systematically. In that way they have revolutionary resemblances. Yet, populists are also entirely different from revolutionaries; they have scattered and impulsive ideas, which can only be turned into realistic and implementable politics over time. Populists must realise that politics in our time is done brick by brick, stone by stone, with arguments and justifications built logically. After all, in representative democracies, results can only be achieved by majorities, and they must even take into account serious opposition from minority groups. I would sometimes give populist parties and movements credit for bringing up new ideas so that the old parties can change stale and sedate behaviour.

Why did populism gain wind their sails in this particular time and era – Trump in USA, Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, Akeson in Sweden, and others?

First, it is said that every generation must define who they are, what they stand for and believe in, and what democracy is. Frantz Fanon (1924-1961), a psychiatrist and philosopher, is one of the important thinkers, who especially influenced the anti-colonial liberation movements in last century. Today, we must ask what the important issues are in our time; I will immediately think of environmental issues and global warming, gender issues, social relations, religion, poverty, wealth creation and distribution, equality, and more. Moral and ethical issues are key in any time and for any generation. How we shape the future, think about it and develop opinions about the good life and society – for fellow human beings at home and around the globe? The Zeitgeist and intellectual atmosphere where we live influence us. Human beings have free will, but we still live in flocks and are never quite as independent as we think. We can be in opposition to mainstream thinking, but we must also have support and encouragement from others.

In our time, there are positive trends, but also negative trends. I believe that many of the ideas of my youth in the 1960s and 70s were more positive than today’s populist trends. We were more collective and concerned about the rest of humanity, not just how we as individuals and groups could be successful. But then in the 1980s, the trends began shifting and we became more focused on individual success, reaping the fruits for our private life, work and public life. Many of the individualist ‘ideals’ that we see in today’s world are built on those thoughts, also with some individualistic foundation from the immediate post World War II years.

I wonder if some of the many changes that took places in the last couple generations maybe went too far and too fast, especially in the social and economic fields. They were not rooted in people’s real values, but were based on opinions and values of experts, technocrats and others who argued ‘above our heads’.

We followed what was ‘in’ and modern, what the technocratic and meritocratic world told us through politicians – until the populists began to question it. Sometimes, it was good they did! And, nobody knows why the left didn’t do much, allowing the right-wingers the headlines and agenda. I believe, though, that the left will again be back in political ‘fashion’ in a decade or two – when the far right has failed.

Globalisation of goods and capital is one area that it was good that the populists began saying, ‘it is enough’; globalisation is not good for all, only for some. Free migration is good, I believe, but it must be regulated. Besides, if development in poorer countries were better and fairer, fewer people would want to leave for greener pastures; the West has a historical and current responsibility for poor countries’ situation. We may also in a not too distant future find that people from rich countries want to migrate and live in poorer countries because of the positive contributions they can make there. The whole war industry and the military conflicts can also be curtailed if ‘we’, mainly the West, want that to happen.

My simple conclusion – as I keep asking more questions – is that today’s populism, mostly with an ugly face, came because change along the old ways went too far and fast, without solid foundation in people’s real opinions and values. The leaders in the old and responsible parties were often dozing at the steering wheel. I ask them to renew, listen to people and follow own ideals, and also not be overwhelmed by the complicated world we live in. Simplistic populist solutions will not work.