Explaining Peron’s populist magic

Argentina’s Juan Peron has been called the greatest populist of all time. Here, Sam explains some of his magic. From the new book, History Repeating: Why Populists Rise and Governments Fall (Profile). Video courtesy of...

The Thai Trump?

Sam explains why it’s crucial to know the history of Thailand, where Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire businessman turned politician, behaved in ways that are uncannily reminiscent of US President Donald Trump. From the new book, History Repeating: Why Populists Rise and Governments Fall (Profile). Video courtesy of...

Searching for the kryptonite against populist superpowers

Anyone just about recovered from the Brexit shock should spare a thought for Italy. About a decade ago, many middle-class Italians considered Silvio Berlusconi, a populist billionaire convicted of bribery and tax fraud, and known globally for his “Bunga Bunga” parties, to be the worst-case scenario for their nation. After the March 4th election, many middle-class Italians now find themselves rooting for Berlusconi, given that two even more populist parties, the leftist Five Star movement and the far-right League, appear likely to become the largest parties in parliament. The lesson from Italy’s troubles? Under the right circumstances, populists have political superpowers. Once populists start winning, it is very hard to get rid of them. The definition of a “populist” is a politician who campaigns on behalf of the people against a corrupt elite. To quote President Trump’s classically populist formulation: “On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong.” That approach tends to dictate tactics for populist candidates. In a democracy, if the (numerous) people are right and the (narrow) elite are wrong, the people ought, by rights, to get their way. If they cannot, there is something wrong with the system. And so, in most cases, populists end up claiming that the political system is broken. Again, quoting Donald Trump: “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Of course, the Brexit campaign was, in a rather literal sense, about fixing a...