The Populist Right is Less Popular Than You Think

They might have good ideas but to win they need to stop denying the obvious.

It never ceases to amaze me how the populist Right, or what speaks in its name, overestimates its strength both here and in Western Europe. One needn’t be an enemy of these activists to recognize the exaggerated nature of their claims.

Those in the media who now demand a border wall insist that the “people” want this goal achieved immediately if not sooner. In fact, according to Ann Coulter, Trump “scammed the American people” by not giving them the wall they’re clamoring for. But according a nationwide poll by The Hill51 percent of American voters oppose Trump’s project, while only 49 percent endorse it. Other poll results indicate even more widespread resistance to Trump’s border wall. Meanwhile, as many as 80 percent of those polled wish to legalize DACA residents, and presumably they aren’t making their stand contingent on building the wall, as Trump is.

Fascism: The Career of... Paul E. Gottfried Best Price: $22.31 Buy New $23.72 (as of 11:50 EST - Details) Equally misleading is the happy talk coming from French and German populists who seem to believe they can give the “people” a real voice by holding referenda. One devotee of the Rassemblement National (the new name for France’s Front National) wishes to follow Switzerland and Croatia, which hold referenda on important political and economic questions. The problem with referenda is that they’re not much of a check on regular party politics. They only work, as the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt observed in the 1920s, if they provide popular input for something like a presidential dictatorship. In a party system with a powerful judiciary, which seems to be the present arrangement in Western countries, referenda are regularly crushed through the political-judicial process, often immediately after they’re passed. This happened, for example, with California’s Proposition 187 in 1994, which called for an end to state funding for social services for illegal residents. A federal court prevented its implementation, just as California’s Proposition 8 referendum result against legalizing gay marriage in 2008 also fell to a federal judge, who struck it down as unconstitutional.

But there’s another even more basic problem with populists’ call for referenda: not everyone who votes a certain way in a referendum is indicating an ideological or political preference. California remains a politically left-wing state, which regularly elects left-wing politicians, who then appoint left-wing judges. The fact that blacks and Hispanics in California voted in a referendum in accordance with their social views to ban gay marriage tells us little about their politics more broadly. In fact, those same groups then turned around and voted for liberal Democrats who pushed the state further to the Left on all social questions.

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