Populist Politicians Feast Off Our Dark Inner Feelings

Have you ever stopped to wonder why so many Trump-esque figures are dominating the world political scene these days? With Trump himself appearing to have a fairly free hand in ruining the United States, Britain has recently acquired the Trump lookalike, Boris Johnson, himself equally hellbent on destroying his own country.

Then, of course, there are the other dictatorial-type leaders or would-be’s, Bolsanaro of Brazil, Salvini of Italy, Orbán of Hungary, and others presently too numerous to mention, but all voted into office via so-called ‘democratic’ systems. Nor does this unsavoury group consist solely of men. Australia has perhaps more so-called ‘populist’ politicians than any other nation. One who stands out from the rest is Pauline Hanson. An ex-fish and chip shop owner, Hanson fronts One Nation, a populist far right-wing party dedicated to drastic anti-immigration policies and spawning hatred of both foreigners and native Australians.

Writing in the Guardian today, Richard Seymour, succinctly encapsulates that aspect of the human consciousness which allows these Trump-esque figures to flourish. What is it about ourselves as human beings that makes these dangerous, power-hungry,  individuals so alluring, persuading us to vote them into power, when logic dictates more amenable choices?

According to Seymour,it is our, “…dark appetite for adventure…” that draws us to these people. He uses the example of one British pseudo-politician, Nigel Farage, a man who has never held a UK parliamentary seat, but who is seen to hold the power to alter political history purely by the support he can engender from those who see him as the next Messiah of British politics.

Farage is often called a populist. The main sense in which this is true is that he is not afraid of the dark side of public feeling, whether it is the collective hate of outsiders or the whoosh of excitement as the currency slides, parliament slowly implodes and chaos beckons. To the contrary, he is keenly attuned to the prejudices of middle England, its anguished resentment and its yearning for adventure. He advocates for it and fuses it to his project of creative destruction. It was, after all, Farage and his allies who spotted[…]that people unruffled by European fisheries or subsidy rules would harken to the language of race war. It wasn’t enough just to link the EU to immigration. An atmosphere of national crisis, of “invasion”, of a “breaking point”, had to be invoked, and linked to folk memories of the second world war, Dunkirk and the blitz. 1

If we care to admit it to ourselves, we all possess to a greater or lesser extent, a dark side of our consciousness that longs for the adventure of chaos and disaster. We’ve been fed such desires throughout our lives, via radio and television, cinema, and of late by the even more potent tools of the internet and social media.

We love disasters, we’re fed them every day as entertainment. Admit to that self-righteous thrill when you read of the latest mass shooting in America (‘their attitude to guns is crazy, it serves them right’), the slight sense of disappointment if Hurricane Dorian misses Florida (‘who likes Florida anyway?’), or the secret hope that Brexit no-deal will happen and Britain will sink into the Atlantic under the devastating effects of economic and political chaos (‘serves them right for voting to leave’).

It’s not that we’re immune to the dreadful suffering of victims and their families from any of these disasters, we’ve simply been brainwashed into demanding more and more entertainment, in any form, to alleviate the intense boredom of our humdrum lives.

It’s this ‘dark side’ of ourselves that leads us to vote Trump-esque characters into political office on the basis that they’re simply more entertaining. Take another look at the image above of Nigel Farage descending the steps of a church, like Nero adorning the Roman Senate. He’s only lacking the laurel wreath on his head. Note the adoration in the faces of the gathering.

If you study the faces of the multitudes at Nuremberg during one of Hitler’s mass rallies, you’ll see the exact same expressions:

Nuremberg 1933

Hitler promised them the world and blamed the Jews for their woes. It’s a favourite of dictators to blame others. Foreigners, or those of different religious doctrines, are usually the first in line for the firing squad. Trump utilises similar dark visions of immigrants as rapists, murderers, and drug dealers; Farage and Johnson attack Muslims and foreigners stealing jobs from the British people. It’s a ‘them or us’ philosophy that dredges the very depths of the human psyche and drags up the worst of our darker fears, coupled with an equally dark desire for change and adventure.

All of this is condensed and intensified by our addiction to social media. We were told it would link us together but the reality is it drives us apart, brings out the worst of our tribalistic instincts, and destroys our sense of sociability.

American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago.2

All of which makes us rich fodder for those who would anoint us disciples of their self-centred and power-crazed ideologies.


1. “A dark appetite for adventure is driving Britain’s hardline Brexit folly” Guardian, September 2nd 2019

2. “People spend most of their waking hours staring at screens” MarketWatch, August 4th 2018

2 Replies to “Populist Politicians Feast Off Our Dark Inner Feelings”

  1. Lots of food for thought in this piece of yours, RJ! Like you, I think the internet and social media have much to answer for. Modern TV series and movies bear some blame too. Most recent outcomes, evident in types of national leaders chosen, could prove that we’ve reached a tipping point (or turning point), yet I suspect there could be worse to come before any such point is reached. Another generation, perhaps?

    I often get the feeling that too many everyday people now – adults – citizens of UK or USA, maybe of other English-speaking countries , have become more juvenile in their outlook, and , as you wrote “tribal”. Reminds me of schoolyard stuff, but far more dangerous in outcome.

  2. Twilight ~ and over it all hangs the spectre of climate crisis, the ultimate in ‘dark adventure’ which, if not contained, will prove nightmarishly dark for the next generation.

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