National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen not only supports US President Donald Trump, but also shares his ideas and similar methods to try to and win the French election. By explaining what populism is and how it functions, these similarities will sound all too familiar.
What is populism?
One of the most commonly used definitions of populism is:
“an ideology that considers society to be separated into two groups, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and argues that politics should be an expression of the people.”
– Cas Mudde, leading researcher on extremism and populism
Mudde breaks this definition down even more into three common characteristics and it is through these characteristic that we will draw comparisons between Trump and Le Pen.
The three common characteristics are: anti-establishment, authoritarianism and nativism.
Populism emphasizes “faith” in the wisdom and virtue of ordinary people over the “corrupt” establishment.
Here the “virtue of ordinary people” are known as the silent majority, or silent supporters. Candidates continue to speak about how bad the establishment is while trying to show that they are not a part of it. This develops into a deep cynicism and resentment of existing authorities. The existing authorities, are anything from big business, elected politicians and more recently mass media and experts.
Trump and Le Pen have both use name-calling as a way to separate themselves from these authorities.
For example, Trump called his opponent Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary” and Le Pen has called her opponent Emmanuel Macron the media’s “darling candidate”. Doing this shows how Trump and Le Pen are able to insult the other candidates and the authorities those candidates trust in.
Under this characteristic candidates favour personal power by exerting strong and charismatic leadership. They wave their hands making large gestures, they point to be accusatory to the other side and they change the diction of their voice to sound more passionate and reflective to the will of the people.
This isn’t a psychological trick. By not appearing to be so formal, they are portraying themselves to be on the side of the people. And they distance themselves from the establishment even more.
For example, Trump and Le Pen are continuously referred to by, “speaking their mind”, “not a polished politician”, and they “don’t’ adhere to political correctness.”
Nativism or xenophobic nationalism, assumes that the “people” are a uniform whole and that states should exclude people from other countries and cultures.
It promotes national self-interest over international cooperation, closed borders over the free flow of people and traditionalism over progressivism.
This idea is promoted by Trump and Le Pen a few different ways: campaign slogans and party platforms.
Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was wildly successful. It promoted this idea that America was broken and he was here to fix it by building a wall between Mexico and the US and with “extreme vetting” of people from Muslim-majority countries.
Le Pen’s campaign slogan “In the Name of the People” is also successful. It reinforces the idea that she is on the side of the people and only cares about their interests whereas the corrupt government doesn’t.
Furthermore, when you look at Le Pen’s party platforms it promotes isolationism especially in terms of culture and trade. Her website outlines how Le Pen wants France to leave the European Union, close “extremist mosques and introduce a tax on employers who hire foreign workers.
Le Pen is using similar tactics that Trump did to succeed in the election, the only question is: will she be successful as well?