Is Trump a populist?

Mamdouh AlMuhaini
Mamdouh AlMuhaini
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At the beginning of Trump’s era, his rivals described him as a fascist. This is of course not true because fascism means military parades, arresting traitors, mobilizing for war and oppressing the press. This is fascism as per Mussolini’s way as he did all of the above and also changed newspaper headlines because he adored the role of editor-in-chief, which was his job before he became a prime minister.

Does Trump do this? Of course not. The press insults him every day and he cannot throw a single editor in a cell in a police station. He’s a man of money and business and does not want to start new wars and is so far incapable of suspending his Secretary of Justice‎ Jeff Sessions whom he just offends every day for the purpose of making him quit, but Sessions, however, is holding on to his post.

His rivals describe him as such to destroy his image and distort his reputation. It’s just a lie that’s accepted in the political conflict and the electoral game. Trump has repeatedly done it with his rivals, and he is the one who stirred controversy that Obama was not born in the US and asked him to show his birth certificate until he reluctantly did. It was a mere trick and an empty accusation but the aim was political and electoral and it was to put Trump’s name on the nationalist political radar again, and he succeeded.

In less than two years since he became president, he suffocated the Iranian regime, punished Assad, participated in eliminating ISIS, strengthened ties with allies and negotiated with the North Koreans. Populist presidents do not usually do this

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

In addition to accusing him of fascism, he’s also accused of populism. This is really worthy of a debate especially that this accusation is made on a daily basis in political articles and programs.

On the contrary

So the important question is: Is Trump really a populist like we hear every day? The answer is no. The populist is an isolationist, and he destroys or does not care about international institutions or world order, and tears apart trade agreements. Regarding isolationism, it’s difficult to argue that President Trump is a populist with a withdrawal approach in foreign policy as his men in this regard are hotheaded hawks.

In less than two years since he became president, he suffocated the Iranian regime, punished Assad, participated in eliminating ISIS, strengthened ties with allies and negotiated with the North Koreans. Populist presidents do not usually do this as they are politically isolated. They don’t deal with matters of the world and they retreat within their homelands. If we look at these populism standards, we would see they apply to his predecessor Barack Obama whose practical approach was purely isolationist.

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It’s true that Trump attacked major institutions like the NATO but he did not undermine it, like he had threatened and promised, but he actually pushed other countries to contribute more to its budget hence strengthen it. Populism also means ending ties with traditional allies with whom there are mutual interests and who, through them alone, the formation of liberal world order is maintained.

Trump of course did not end these ties but he actually restored the coherence of the world order and his administration launched a war on the evil powers which seek to destroy it, like the Iranian regime which is suffering under the weight of economic sanctions. What about trade deals? Populists of course reject open free trade but the ongoing conflict between his administration and Beijing is not about that.

The Europeans are more harmed than the Americans from the Chinese partner that steals patents and that does not make fair laws of competition between the two parties. All indicators and statements say that Trump’s administration does not want to undermine commercial ties with China but wants to restore balance to them and push China to play by the same rules everyone else is playing by. The crisis with China is not new and many former presidents have suffered from it but Trump wanted to handle it. It will be an achievement that will increase his stakes and luck in the next elections.

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In terms of domestic trade, Trump cannot be described as a populist. He used his mind and hunch as a businessman before anything else. He decreased taxes, eased restraints and stimulated investment hence the economy revived. We can say he is a populist in terms of local policy as he played on the national and patriotic sentiment to strengthen his electoral base and mobilize it behind him.

Trump is in fact a populist in the local political rhetoric but he is a traditional republican in foreign policy and economy and he did not deviate from the doctrine of his predecessors much. In brief, Trump is populist in rhetoric and a Republican in his actions. However he is completely different than a dangerous category of new republicans, like Ted Cruz, who can be described as populists and isolationists and who do not care about what happens in other countries even if massacres are committed against children. These figures criticized Trump’s foreign policy and were enraged every time he intervened on the foreign level, even if it’s to strike Assad. They of course do this to make political gains because foreign interventions are usually unpopular decisions.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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