We often hear the term “populism” applied to right-wing political movements. Frankly, I don’t think “populist” is an accurate term. These movements appeal to the fears of the populace, often embracing nationalist and racist themes to stoke those fears.
They are not “populist” in the same way the American political movement called “Populism” was; that was a movement of farmers and workers, primarily in the upper Midwest, which wished to limit the power of industrialists a century ago. I suspect the news media have adopted the term “populist” as a gentler alternative to “fascist” or, perhaps more descriptive, “fascistic.”
At the Boston Review, Rogers Brubaker explores the appeal and spread of these movements. Here’s a bit:
This extraordinary populist moment did not, of course, emerge from nowhere. It was prepared by two sets of structural transformations which have steadily expanded opportunities for populism over the last several decades.
The weakening of parties and party systems and changes in the relation between media and politics have fostered a kind of generic populism, a heightened tendency—shared by both the left and the right—to address “the people” directly. Party membership and loyalty have plummeted, and in many countries parties that had long dominated the political system have collapsed. This has encouraged politicians to appeal to the people as a whole rather than to specific social constituencies represented by parties.
The pervasive “mediatization of politics,” the intensifying commercialization of the media, and the accelerated development of new communications technologies have likewise made politicians less dependent on parties and more inclined to appeal directly to “the people.” They have also encouraged a populist style of communication, characterized by dramatization, confrontation, negativity, emotionalization, personalization, visualization, and hyper-simplification.