In recent years we have seen many populist leaders come into power around the world, such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Donald Trump in the USA. Both elected in 2016, Trump and Duterte used rhetoric consistent with their country’s national values to gain popularity. These tactics are often called Cultural Populism, which focuses on a establishing a strong national culture and tends to emphasize law and order and paint migrants as enemies (Kyle & Gulchin, 2018). Unfortunately, we have seen multiple instances of these leaders abusing the power that they were given by committing extrajudicial killings and jailing immigrants. These actions could be considered attacks on basic human rights.
Cultural populist leaders, like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, often emphasize law and order. This is also known as Penal Populism, a type of populism where leaders advocate for law and order with the aim of exploiting their citizens’ fear and anxiety (Tusalem, 2018). Specifically, Duterte has used his “War on Drugs” as an excuse to commit thousands of extrajudicial killings since becoming president in 2016 (Tusalem, 2018). Yet Duterte remains popular in the Philippines by continuing to pander to supporters and exploiting national culture. According to researcher Cleve Arguelles, “Duterte’s enduring popularity among his supporters — even for those who come from communities victimized by the president’s war on drugs — is his capacity to make visible, give voice, and effectively respond to the conditions of everyday misery long experienced by them” (Weedon, 2019). Many populist leaders, such as Duterte or the USA’s Donald Trump, have manage to gain power by using these methods.
In cultural populism, the true people are the native members of the nation-state and immigrants are painted as enemies (Kyle & Gulchin, 2018). This is a model that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, used to get elected. Since taking office, Trump has used cultural populist rhetoric to exploit deep-seated nativism in the American population. He has done this by “associating immigrants with rapists and drugs dealers, separating parents from their children as a tool to “secure” the border, deporting millions of peaceful, hardworking immigrants already living in the United States, and vilifying political opponents as “open border zealots” who prioritize “criminal aliens” over native-born Americans” (Finley, 2019). It’s worth noting that the framing of immigrants as dangerous criminals is a tactic that Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented in some of the world’s most abusive governments (Finley, 2019). Much like Duterte, Trump’s popularity is still on the rise. His approval rating recently surpassed his predecessor’s, Barack Obama, approval rating at this point in his presidency (Kwong, 2019). However, country may benefit from rejecting President Trump’s rhetoric and electing a non-populist candidate in 2020.
In summary, the election of populist leaders is on the rise globally. These leaders, such as Duterte and Trump, exploit national values held by the majority the countries population to gain power. They then hide behind these values while committing human rights violations. We should seek to avoid electing, or re-electing, this type of leader in the future.
Finley, L., & Esposito, L. (2019). The Immigrant as Bogeyman: Examining Donald Trump and the Right’s Anti-immigrant, Anti-PC Rhetoric. Humanity & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597619832627
Gill, T. M. (2019). Politics, human rights, and social policy under contemporary populist regimes: The view from Trump-America and socialist Venezuela. Irish Journal of Sociology, 27(1), 80–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/0791603519827226
Kwong, J. (2019). DONALD TRUMP’S APPROVAL RATING SURPASSES OBAMA’S, NOT JUST ON RASMUSSEN REPORTS. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/trump-approval-rating-higher-obama-1460076
Kyle, J., & Gulchin, L. (2018). Populists in Power Around the World. Retrieved from https://institute.global/insight/renewing-centre/populists-power-around-world
Weedon, A. (2019). Why Rodrigo Duterte remains as popular as ever ahead of the Philippines’ key mid-term elections. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-10/duterte-rodrigo-philippines-president-popular-despite-criticism/11058752