The political discourse of the 21st century can be characterized by the increasing influence of populism, which exists in a close connection to the general political ignorance of the audience. In the context of politics, the idea of populism implies telling the people what they want or expect to hear. Populist speeches are often loud and extravagant in nature, aiming at engaging a broader audience through the discussion of highly topical matters. At the same time, this discourse is often detached from the reality of the situation, as its purpose is to cause a strong response and not address an issue effectively. As a result, the political landscape undergoes major transformations enabled by the impact of populism. According to experts and scholars, populism is likely to have a detrimental effect on political thought and awareness, distorting people’s perception of the actual agenda. Furthermore, it forms a cycle of political ignorance, as it is enabled by it and aggravates the issue through the unrealistic representation of politics. The purpose of this paper is to review several articles united by the theme of the nexus between populism and ignorance in modern politics.
In his article, George Thomas explains at length the detrimental impact of this phenomenon on the political agenda of the United States. The author associates this idea with the personality of Donald Trump, for whom populist discourse became one of the primary instruments of the presidency. According to Thomas, the ex-President’s speech can be characterized by the twisting of terms, which is aimed at presenting the facts in a favorable manner for his followers. This way, Trump and other populist politicians create a false image of the current landscape in an attempt to gain the support of as many voters as possible. George Thomas explains that the Constitution of the United States is designed to impose checks and balances on people in power. However, intense populism enabled by the development of advanced means of communication allows certain politicians to enhance the level of public support, even though it is based on false or imprecise statements. This idea is key to the discussion, as modern politics virtually degrades through populist discourse, as constitutional limits are bypassed.
When discussing the emerging role of populism in politics, it is vital to understand the underlying issues serving as its enablers. The article by Tom Nichols is devoted to the decreasing role of political expertise within American society. This piece of writing refers to seminal examples of stakeholders’ unawareness of the actual situation, which, however, does not prevent them from active participation. As such, a large portion of Democratic and Republican primary voters voiced their support of a military intervention in a country which does not exist in reality. This case is representative of the public politics today, as the population demonstrates a decreasing level of political expertise. From one perspective, the issue is caused by the growing political inertia of the people, who remain satisfied by the superficial understanding of the issues. In other words, Nichols discussed the lack of critical thinking, as far as political matters are concerned. At the same time, modern politicians are not eager to alleviate the problem through extended education of the public. On the contrary, some of them opt for exploiting the lack of awareness in order to promote the ideas, which only benefit certain, not even majority, groups. Nichols’ article discusses a topical issue, presenting thought-provoking facts and relating to the very roots of political populism.
As the situation progresses, populist discourse in politics grows closer to becoming the new norm. Jeffrey C. Isaac accentuates the increasing role of the right-wing form of populism in Europe and the United States, of which Donald Trump is the most vivid example. The article reviews this phenomenon in the context of Hannah Arendt’s seminal writing “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” The author of the book had to flee Germany in the fallout of Adolf Hitler’s rise, which implies a considerable degree of knowledge of the subject. According to the key ideas of the writing, when democratic parliamentary institutes face a crisis of representation, populism emerges. When the population observes this crisis, it becomes more susceptible to bold, radical ideas, which eventually entails the rise of controversial political figures. The article by Isaac artfully draws parallels between the origins of 20th-century totalitarianism and the current right-wing trends in democratic societies. These ideas signify that the contemporary democratic institutes have been placed on the verge of a severe crisis. Accordingly, the current expert opinion revolves around the detrimental nature of populism as a harbinger of adverse consequences.
The analysis of modern experts’ opinions confirms that the combination of political populism and public unawareness entails a dangerous situation. In general, those who partake in the development of the nation’s political agenda increasingly lack precise information. As such, voters rely on superficial knowledge and populist statements of politicians, who, in turn, often exploit the public’s ignorance. Facts and terms are misrepresented in the modern media, which causes further division of society. Alarmingly, experts find striking similarities between right-wing populism and older cases of totalitarianism. Ultimately, the situation has the potential to aggravate the existing issues and cause new ones instead of addressing them effectively. Consequently, a shift in the political philosophy paradigm is required to preserve the principles of democracy.