Populism And Its Effects On Domestic And Foreign Policy Of USA – OpEd


Populism which today has overwhelmed political leaders and cultures of the world and is running nonstop in various parts of the world, from North and South America to Europe and Asia, is not a political alternative or main ideology by itself but has grown alongside the fundamental ideologies of socialism and nationalism and come to the fore by directing them. This is why this political approach can be seen in both right-wing and left-wing tendencies in all parts of the world.

To have a better definition of political populism, it can be said that it has a dualistic nature; insisting on the juxtaposition of the orthodox masses against the corrupt elite. It also tries to define politics as a mirror of the populism-seeking masses’ will. As a result, the similarities between populist leaders and currents, no matter belonging to the right or left wing, are highlighted.

Studying the theoretical foundations of populism can shed light on its nature. For a clearer understanding of the nature of populism, its theoretical foundations should also be considered. The structure of this approach is based on two foundations of opposition to pluralism and opposition to elitism. Most populist leaders claim that they are speaking on behalf of a united, integrated people with high moral principles who are standing against a small group of corrupt political elites. In other words, the populist discourse is a view based on the duality that classifies people in the good section and corrupts political elites in the evil one.

Even this “evil-making” varies according to the ideological principles of populism and can refer to different groups and elitist categories. For example, Trump and his supporters considered the political structure ruling over the USA as evil. According to other foundations of populism, populists always claim that they are the only real representatives of the people of the word and that their other competitors have no place among the people- thus completely rejecting pluralism. In fact, populism can have a direct impact on foreign policy relations, regardless of its definition.

Populism in Foreign Policy

In some fields of international affairs, right-wing populists have relatively different opinions from their left-wing counterparts- for example, immigration or the debate over isolationism versus intervention. These are exactly the things that caused tension between the United States and the world after Trump took office. Trump’s action in banning the entry of citizens of six Muslim countries as well as the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico to counter the entry of immigrants from the southern borders of the country are tokens of the same page. In addition, his administration’s approach of distancing itself from international institutions can also be defined in the context of populists’ anti-elitism and their distrust of the ruling elites of these institutions. In fact, this group of populists is basically suspicious of international and transnational institutions, and this is why they adopt a confrontational approach in the field of foreign relations. In other words, due to having dualistic views, which is characterized by having moral views and dealing with good and evil, populist leaders who consider themselves to be the defenders of the real people are less likely to compromise and retreat in the field of international conflicts.

Another aspect of the Trump era’s foreign policy, clearly distinguishing it from other US presidents, was the insistence on avoiding consensus and bipartisan cooperation on the basic issues of the USA’s foreign policy and national interests. In other words, since populists like Trump only consider themselves as good-seekers of the country and its people, they generally reject any consultation with other political groups and even do not qualify them as being competent in this field.

Similarities between the Right and the Left

In the arena of politics, the spectrum of political forces is usually considered in a linear form, which is drawn from one side to the other and includes the extreme right, middle and extreme left. Logically, the two sides of the spectrum should have the most differences with each other, and naturally, the closer we get to the center, the more commonalities should increase. But there is another theory that is fundamentally different from the previous one, the so-called “Horseshoe Theory” proposed by the French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye. In this case, instead of a straight line, the political views are in a shape like a horseshoe and coincidentally, the two ends of the spectrum, representing the most extreme tendencies, randomly come together to such an extent that they attract each other like magnets. Therefore, it can be said that extremist groups and ideologies have many similarities with each other and adopt positions close to each other.

Despite the polarization of politics in the USA, a departure from the famous two-party tradition, and the tendency of members of both parties towards radicalism, it can be seen that in many fields, including issues related to foreign policy, there are alignments between the two ends of the spectrum. This fact is clearly visible in the case of Russia’s war against Ukraine or the containment of China. In the current situation, the positions taken by American politicians cannot be explained by ideological criteria or their proximity to one of these two countries, but it shows the chaotic state of politics in the USA; in other words, mere emphasizing on concepts such as left and right or conservative and progressive is no longer a way to understand the political developments of the USA.

In the latest case, many politicians and activists from the right and the left came out to support Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia or at least asked the US government not to interfere in the defense affairs of Ukraine and not to give military aid to Kyiv. For example, Tucker Carlson, one of the most famous right-wing media figures who have the most watched cable program in the USA on Fox News, has always defended the Kremlin and expressed openly anti-Ukrainian positions. On the other side of the spectrum, prominent left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky praised former President Donald Trump and described him as an example of a smart politician for his opposition to sending weapons to Ukraine. Even many left-wing news and analytical sources such as Jacobin, New Left Review, and Democracy Now, while condemning the expansion of NATO to the east and considering it as the main cause of the conflict, have strongly criticized the sending of military aid to Ukraine.

Therefore, it can be clearly seen that the Democratic and Republican parties are equally guilty of crippling foreign and domestic politics of the USA by involving with right-wing and left-wing populism. They have very similar but destructive views in many cases, especially those related to foreign policy. In recent years, especially after the disaster of Trump’s election as president (even though he only served one term), populism has become the common currency of American politics and has brought this country to a point where there is no longer a significant difference between the right and the left. In other words, the politicians of both factions have been drawn to both sides of the spectrum so much that they have become very close and converged based on Faye’s theory; and the point is that this convergence is not the kind of moderate and wise bipartisan coordination, and pushes the United States more and more towards political chaos.

Sarah Neumann

Sarah Neumann is a professor of political science and teaches political science courses at Universities in Germany

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