The global silent majority

Noor Naji , Opinion Editor

First it was Brexit, then it was Trump, and then it was the rise of French right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. The rise in populism internationally has shown the increasing divide between the disenfranchised “silent majority” and the so-called progressive mainstream.

According to Dutch political scientist Cass Mudde, populists share three characteristics: anti-establishment, authoritarianism and nativism. What Trump and Brexit leader Nigel Farage have in common–their scapegoating and anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric that appealed to the so-called “silent majority”–is the reason for their shocking popularity. This silent majority, angered with the establishment, has been waiting for a change in the political spectrum. As a research paper by the faculty of the Kennedy School at Harvard University suggested, the rise of populism can be explained by economic insecurity and a backlash against a progressive or liberal policies.

According to the paper, this rising economic insecurity has “fueled popular resentment of the political classes,” which in turn made them “susceptible to the anti-establishment, nativist and xenophobic, scare-mongering exploited of populist movements.”  

The suppressed anger of these individuals leads to populist victory, which makes people around the world wonder how these figures rose in the first place. At the beginning, they rise as jokes, with everyone mocking them for even attempting to run for public office. Shortly afterwards, they become alternatives for the “swamp” or the traditional establishment. Then they surprisingly become officials, in some cases at the highest level, who aim to solve complex problems with childish and impractical solutions, like, for example, a wall.  

While their simplistic appeal would traditionally bring them to their downfall, it is in fact what helps them rise to the top. And while it is easy to condemn populists, it is utterly inattentive to deny the large amount of supporters they have rallied. After all, they would have no political power without support from their loyal followers. However, at some point, their supporters’ concerns must be addressed, and these simplistic solutions along with scapegoating will not suffice.  

With that said, it is possible for us to learn from the world’s mistakes. In their recent elections, the French overwhelming voted for centrist Emmanuel Macron against alt-right populist leader Marine Le Pen. After seeing the aftermath of movements in the UK and the U.S., they willingly chose to take a different path, therefore, giving the rest of the world the hope that citizens can learn from past or recent mistakes.

Although populism and its negative effects on people continues to spread, it might have been necessary for our nation, and even the world, to see the growing divides between liberalism and nativist populism in order to face the problems we so often avoid.