[FOUNTAIN]Populism’s persuasiveness

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[FOUNTAIN]Populism’s persuasiveness

Chile is the first country to give birth to a socialist regime through a free election. In 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president on a promise to nationalize the copper mining industry, which was monopolized by a multinational giant at the time, and to return the profits to the society. Though Augusto Pinochet’s military coup toppled the regime after only three years, the Allende administration ended the long argument among political scientists over whether it was possible to implement socialism through an election.
Chile’s military authorities might have been similar to those of other Latin American nations, but its social structure was very distinct. A community that could be called a civil society had already been established by the early 19th century. Political party mechanisms, which can moderate social discord, were functioning. That’s why the chronic Latin American aliment of populism was an exception in Chile. Despite its reputation, populism is not an exclusive property of the progressives and the left. In fact, the United States is the most sophisticated exploiter of populism. The word was even created in the United States. In opposition to the two-party system of the Republicans and the Democrats, the People’s Party was founded in 1891 and advocated policies that were economically irrational, such as the unlimited coinage of silver. Populism originated from this ideology.
American historian Michael Kazin wrote in “The Populist Persuasion” that American politics was being adopted to cultural populism based on the cultural values of the social mainstream, away from economic populism like farmers’ issues.
The Democratic Party has triumped in the decades since President Franklin Roosevelt through economic populism, which encouraged the middle class and working class to stand against the wealthy Republican supporters. The Republicans also learned how to deal with economic populism. Ronald Reagan effectively used cultural populism to distinguish himself from established politicians in Washington and various interest groups. Bill Clinton successfully came into power by representing the cultural values of the white working class.
The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd explains the characteristics of neo-populism as “situationalism.” Populism is exploited to one’s advantage instead of pursuing the truth. Many “situationalist” politicians can be found in Korea. Because the political parties are feeble, they compete to move the public without going through the party. Empty promises are rampant. Though wine is the first thing they associate with Chile, they could try to learn from its politics.


by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s week& team.

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