“The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line, we zig and we zag.”
This is what Obama said to reassure americans about the Trump presidency. Trump is considered just a phase, an antithesis in Hegelian terms. It is temporary. It won’t last. People will quickly realize their promises won’t be fulfilled and will return to sanity.
I beg differ. What we see is different. Populist leaders, from Putin to Erdogan to Berlusconi to Netanyahu, they are not fast to go even if clearly they do not deliver.
Take Berlusconi: when he was elected, we thought it was just a moment of craziness. Perhaps the most authoritative Italian journalist, Indro Montanelli, famously declared in 2001 that Berlusconi was a plague that could only be cured by vaccination, i.e. by placing him into governments. Then Italians would realize his promises were unfounded, and they would vote him out the office. It didn’t happen, at least for 10 more years.
Populists are masters in finding scapegoat, external enemies to explain their lack of success. Berlusconi blamed the rigid political system, the press, Europe, the judges.
And he got away with that.
Because public policy is difficult, success is hard to define, especially in the era of post-truth.
I don’t have a solution, but I know that populism doesn’t go away quickly, easily or by itself.