Populism is a threat to democracy.” “Trump is an authoritarian.” “Trump subverts constitutional norms.” Claims such as these puzzled me when I first heard them four years ago. Trump always struck me as a political freelancer and Twitter provocateur, not a potential dictator commanding ranks of uniformed followers. I chalked up the angst to the post-religious mentality that is so widespread among our elites (and affects us all). Without a transcendent horizon, we’re vulnerable to upsetting fears. But that is not the only explanation. I am beginning to see that our political culture is changing. This makes many of us susceptible to panicked concerns about the continuity and integrity of our basic institutions.
Populism is a politics of anger and frustration. In its explosive discontent, it threatens established arrangements. During his campaigns and his term in office, Trump has stoked populist anger and openly represented it. This phenomenon is new in recent American politics, which since the end of World War II has been anchored by a “responsible right.” Trump’s encouragement of a right-wing, populist anger-politics has inspired many nightmares.