The Atlantic

How to Be a Populist

Around the world, politicians can follow a simple recipe to present themselves as saviors of “the people.”
Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

In recent months, the ascent of leaders and movements denounced by their rivals as “populist” has given the world the false impression that those leaders offer some kind of distinct ideology.

So-called populists do run on platforms that challenge the status quo; it is also true that this can lead them to embrace a wide range of positions on crucial issues. The policies promised by Donald Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen cannot be more different than those adopted by Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, or those promoted by Podemos, Spain’s newest political party. Yet all of these leaders are routinely described as populists.  

The fact is that populism is not an ideology. Instead, it’s a strategy to obtain and retain power. It has been around for centuries, recently appearing to resurface in full force, propelled by the digital revolution, precarious economies, and the threatening insecurity of what lies ahead.

Even though populist leaders and the countries they rule are

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