Populism vs. Davos Man during COVID
Captured legacy media and western governments continually fail by framing populism as nativist racism
“We are living in a world designed by Davos Man to direct ever-greater fortune towards Davos Man.
The billionaires have financed politicians who champion the uplifting of the already stratospherically uplifted. They have deployed lobbyists to eviscerate financial regulations, permitting banks to lend and gamble relentlessly, while depending on public largesse to cover their losses. They have defenestrated antitrust authorities, clearing the way for mergers that have enriched investment banks and shareholders, while bestowing oligarchic control upon large companies. They have squashed the power of labor movements, shrinking paychecks and handing the savings to shareholders.”….
“Davos Man has managed to turn every crisis into a opportunity for his further enrichment, finding in dire public health emergencies and financial conflagrations a justification for public relief, and implanting in every bailout a mechanism that steers public money his way.”
“Davos Man, How the Billionaires Devoured the World” by NY Times Global Economic Correspondent Peter S. Goodman
As I work my way through the carefully detailed and documented primal scream “Davos Man” penned by Peter S. Goodman, I am struck by the bias inherent in Mr. Goodman’s fundamental criticism that the broad global conspiracy which he documents has resulted in a situation in which-
“Davos Man’s gluttony is threatening our entire ecosystem. His extreme overconsumption has undermined faith in governance, giving rise to rage among the other creatures in the biosphere…. Davos Man’s relentless plunder is the decisive force behind the risk of right-wing populist movements around the world.
Typically, journalists explain such political shifts by pointing to recent events that have been exploited for electoral gain by fearmongering politicians who tap into nostalgia and nationalist sentiments- an influx of immigrants, the loss of status for a privileged group.”
Being rather sensitized to the inherent bias of the New York Times as currently embodied under Editor in Chief Dean Baquet, I immediately picked up that the journalistic objectivity of Mr. Goodman suffers a bit from the editorial culture in which he operates. Simply stated, the bias being that political “Populism” equates to “nostalgia and nationalist sentiments”, which sounds to me like a dog whistle evoking yet more of the “right wing nazi racist” rhetoric. This seems to be a favorite media trope for billionaire-owned legacy media outlets (and western governments) who are seeking to discredit genuine populist movements. Like the current attempts to discredit Marine Le Pen as a “Fascist”. Putting it bluntly, “Populist” is reflexively equated to “Fascist”. And they call us deplorables? In a public speech, I referenced the LA Times use of this ploy to discredit the “Defeat the Mandates” rally recently held in Grand Park, Los Angeles on April 10, 2022. Below are three extended quotes from legacy media “journalists” which illustrate the point.
“Organizers with the People’s Convoy have repeated false claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill more people than they save and have promoted the unproven treatment of the virus using ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasitic infections. Supporters at a Feb. 23 rally in Adelanto waved anti-Biden signs including an obscenity and signs and banners supporting former President Donald Trump.
Several trucks were decked out with stickers calling for the release of accused Jan. 6 insurrectionists from federal custody, and multiple attendees wore apparel with alt-right and Nazi symbols. The People’s Convoy website has since put up a new instruction asking supporters to only wave the U.S. and state flags.”
<Did you catch that written sleight of hand? Seeking release of accused but often uncharged or unconvicted persons scooped up in the context of the January 06 events is equated with endorsing “alt-right” (code for Q Anon) and neo-Nazi positions. Similar to the propaganda word tricks employed by the US Department of Homeland Security in their infamous domestic terror declaration.>
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada on Monday lashed out at protests against pandemic restrictions over the weekend in Ottawa, chastising demonstrators for desecrating war memorials, wielding Nazi symbols and stealing food from the homeless. The protest was a culmination of a group of Canadian truckers and their supporters who drove from Western Canada to Ottawa to challenge government vaccine mandates.
Speaking from self-isolation after he and two of his children tested positive for the coronavirus, Mr. Trudeau said he understood the frustrations of Canadians, exasperated by a pandemic that has taken a heavy toll. But he criticized the protesters for flying “racist flags,” hurling abuse at small business owners, spreading disinformation and, in one case, going to a homeless shelter in downtown Ottawa and demanding food.
“There is no place in our country for threats, violence or hatred,” he said, adding that the convoy was not representative of a majority of truckers, 90 percent of whom are vaccinated.”
“Direct military confrontation with the convoy would be the worst strategy; after all, nearly a quarter of the protesters have their kids with them. Most likely the government will resolve to prosecute everyone involved in planning the convoy and investigate all foreign sources of support. The truckers have made life hell for their fellow citizens and threatened the democratic process, impotently but intentionally. Custodial sentences, massive fines, and class-action lawsuits are all coming. These situations never end well for the hostage-takers.
On some level, though, even that kind of reaction seems over-the-top to me. These protests have been peaceful. I think that if you want to see accelerationist or insurgent tendencies, you have to squint. Everyone I have spoken with who has actually been to these rallies has described them to me as a tailgate. Several sources reported Nazi-flag sightings, but the Nazi flags in question were accusing Trudeau of being a Nazi. I guess it’s a small comfort that, for the trucker convoy in Ottawa, the Nazis are still the bad guys, unlike for, say, the “Jews will not replace us” crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally in my neighborhood took place at the corner where the Royal Ontario Museum happens to be. During the rally, the museum didn’t even close. I’m sure the trucks looked impressive on Twitter, if you angled the phone just right to make them look dangerous, but there, in person, kids were strolling by on their way to look at dinosaurs. January 6, it wasn’t.”
When speaking and writing about COVID-19, vaccines, and the broader political context of how we have found ourselves manipulated and coerced by a global horizontally integrated alliance between Big Tech, (Big) Legacy Media, Big Finance, Big Pharma, Transnational non-governmental organizations, and Western Big Government, I am very, very aware that I am touching on (and helping activate) a growing political upswell which is legitimately populist. I am also very sensitive to the risks and long unpleasant political history of “cult of personality”-based movements. Jim Jones comes to mind as one trivial example. There are no perfect human beings, in my opinion. Even those who point to the lives of Jesus Christ, the Budda or Mohammad as embodying moral perfection invoke some form of divine intervention in their stories. For better or worse, politicians and legacy media reporters play right into this by selecting specific individuals for defamatory attacks, which plays right into classical myth literary themes concerning the hero’s journey and martyrdom. As is often observed, all press is good press at some level. But as I keep saying, I do not strive to tell you what to think, but rather to enable you to have the tools and information required to think for yourself.
So what is the nature of political populism? Is populism inherently nativist and racist, or is that meme just another example of lazy sophist journalists grasping at convenient straws while doing the bidding of editors controlled by their billionaire “Davos Man” owners (or being responsive to the billion USG-provided Dollars which funded the COVID vaccine propaganda push)? Quoting from Peter C Baker in a January 2019 piece published in The Guardian:
The word evokes the long-simmering resentments of the everyman, brought to a boil by charismatic politicians hawking impossible promises. Often as not, populism sounds like something from a horror film: an alien bacteria that has somehow slipped through democracy’s defenses – aided, perhaps, by Steve Bannon or some other wily agent of mass manipulation – and is now poisoning political life, creating new ranks of populist voters among “us”. (Tellingly, most writing about populism presumes an audience unsympathetic to populism.)
<Having spent many hours with Steve Bannon, who I consider a mentor and friend as well as a brilliant media strategist, I suspect he would enjoy being tagged as a “wily agent of mass manipulation” by someone writing for The Guardian. A badge of honor, conferred during media wartime by the opposition. Of course “COVID-19 The Great Reset” and the COVID-19 Pandemic were still a twinkle in the eyes of Klaus Schwab and Tony Fauci when this was written.>
In preparing for this dive into the true meaning of “Populism” as a type of political movement, I read a number of definitions and summary articles, but found none as comprehensive, insightful and intellectually satisfying as this Jan 2019 piece, despite the questionable provenance of publication in The Guardian. So please allow and follow with me as I summarize the points made (as I understand them).
Here are a couple of cited seminal Political Science and lay press publications on the topic for those who want to dive in to the primary literature:
“I define populism as an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. Populism, so defined, has two opposites: elitism and pluralism. Elitism is populism's mirror-image: it shares its Manichean worldview, but wants politics to be an expression of the views of the moral elite, instead of the amoral people. Pluralism, on the other hand, rejects the homogeneity of both populism and elitism, seeing society as a heterogeneous collection of groups and individuals with often fundamentally different views and wishes.”
Academic books can be found and ordered from Amazon <yes, I appreciate the Jeff Bezos “Davos Man” irony> here.
The controversy over left-wing populism. Mouffe, Chantal. Le Monde Diplomatique: May 2020.
Populists are on the rise but this can be a moment for progressives too. Neoliberalism has created genuine grievances, exploited by the radical right. The left must find a new way to articulate them. Mouffe, Chantal. The Guardian: 10 September 2018
Centrist politics will not defeat Boris Johnson’s rightwing populism. Mouffe, Chantal. The Guardian: 01 October 2019.
“In the article, Professor Mouffe discussed the ‘us and them’ approach which she says is always involved in democratic policies and said that “the way to fight the populist right is to build a bigger ‘us’”.
She spoke about the fear of populism and said that in politics, dealing with the opposition between ‘us and them’ is necessary to draw a political frontier between the left and right.
She said: “What characterizes a liberal pluralist democracy is the way the line is drawn – so that the ‘them’ are not seen as enemies, but as adversaries engaged in a confrontation between competing conceptions of the common good.”
She added: “After decades of ‘post-politics’, during which citizens were deprived of a voice in the way they were governed – under the pretense there was no alternative – we are now living through a populist movement.
“Political frontiers that were said to have vanished are now being reinstated, in the name of recovering democracy and popular sovereignty.””
Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style. Moffitt, Benjamin; Tormey, Simon. Political Studies: May 15, 2013
Populism. Moffitt, Benjamin. Wiley press: March 2020.
See LSE Review of books’ “Book Review: Populism by Benjamin Moffitt” by Jake Scott for the “Cliff Notes” abbreviated version.
‘We the people’: the battle to define populism
The noisy dispute over the meaning of populism is more than just an academic squabble – it’s a crucial argument about what we expect from democracy.
By Peter C Baker
There is no shortage of prominent voices warning how dangerous populism is, and that we must take immediate steps to fight it. Tony Blair spends his days running the Institute for Global Change (IGC), an organization founded, per its website, “to push back against the destructive approach of populism”. In its 2018 world report, Human Rights Watch warned democracies of the world against “capitulation” to the “populist challenge”. The rise of “populist movements”, Barack Obama said in a speech last summer, had helped spark a global boom for the “politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment” that pave a path to authoritarianism. “I am not being alarmist. I am just stating facts,” Obama said.
When populism is framed this way, the implication is clear. All responsible citizens have a responsibility to do their part in the battle – to know populism when they see it, understand its appeal (but not fall for it), and support politics that stop populism in its tracks, thereby saving democracy as we know it. “By fighting off the current infection,” writes Yascha Mounk, until recently executive director of Blair’s IGC and a prominent anti-populist writer, “we might just build up the necessary antibodies to remain immune against new bouts of the populist disease for decades to come.
But as breathless op-eds and thinktank reports about the populist menace keep piling up, they have provoked a skeptical backlash from critics who wonder aloud if populism even exists. It is now relatively common to encounter the idea that, just as there were no real witches in Salem, there are no real populists in politics – just people, attitudes and movements that the political centre misunderstands and fears, and wants you, reader, to fear too, although without the burden of having to explain exactly why. Populism, in this framing, is a bogeyman: a nonentity invoked for the purpose of stirring up fear.”
<Sound familiar? Of course many readers of this substack already know that Tony Blair is notoriously a graduate of the World Economic Foundation “Young Leaders” program and a longstanding WEF/”Davos Man” supporter.>
Populism as “Thin Ideology”
Populism, Cas Mudde argues, is more than just demagogy or opportunism. But it is not a fully formed political ideology like socialism or liberalism – it is instead a “thin” ideology, made up of just a few core beliefs. First: the most important division in society is an antagonistic one between “the people”, understood to be fundamentally good, and “the elite”, understood to be fundamentally corrupt and out of touch with everyday life. Second: all populists believe that politics should be an expression of the “general will” – a set of desires presumed to be shared as common sense by all “ordinary people”….
Today, no academic disputes the dominance of Mudde’s definition, especially among the growing number of scholars hoping to be part of the conversation about populism as a global phenomenon. One major factor in its success, in fact, is the way that it anticipated events in world politics. The market crashes of 2008 led to the emergence of anti-austerity movements – such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Occupy worldwide – motivated by rage at financial institutions and the small class of people who benefited from their profits. These movements were obviously animated by a sense of opposition between “the people” and “the elite” – but old theories of populism that defined it specifically as rightwing, racist or anti-immigrant were insufficiently capacious to describe these new developments in populist politics.
The leading academic alternative to Populism as “Thin Ideology” construct
Most objections to the thin-ideology definition owe a substantial debt to a duo of leftist political theorists: Chantal Mouffe, a Belgian who teaches at the University of Westminster, and her late husband, the Argentine Ernesto Laclau. Both thinkers have directly informed the new European left populist movements, including Syriza, Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise.
Mouffe and Laclau’s writings on Marxism and populism – some of which they produced together, and some separately – are famously dense and sometimes resistant to summary. But at their core is the idea that conflict is an inescapable and defining feature of political life. In other words, the realm of politics is one where antagonism is natural and unavoidable, in which consensus cannot ever be permanent, and there is always a “we” and a “they”.
“Political questions are not mere technical issues to be solved by experts,” Mouffe insists. “Properly political questions always involve decisions which require us to make a choice between conflicting alternatives.” This emphasis on conflict produces a vision of democratic life that looks more radical than typical mainstream accounts of liberal democracy – but, Laclau and Mouffe would argue, one that more accurately describes the actual logic of politics.
In this view, any existing socio-political order (or “hegemony” in Mouffe and Laclau’s preferred formation, borrowed from the Italian Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci) is subject to challenge. Every status quo – however sturdy – is only temporary, and can always be challenged by a movement that seeks to replace it with something new. Political change, in other words, is the result of demands against the existing order, which must be fused together in a movement to change it – a movement that may look a lot like populism.
When my demands and your demands and our neighbours’ demands are brought together in such a movement, they can become the basis for a new political “we”: a “people” insisting that the current arrangement of power be altered in their name. To the extent that such a movement succeeds, it creates a new hegemony – a new baseline – which itself becomes open to challenge over time.
From this perspective, populism is just another word for real politics: for people (“us”) creating together, live on the ground, a sense of how our dissatisfactions relate, who is to blame (“them”), and how to force a change.
But those who benefit from the status quo don’t want it to change; to this end, they might champion toothless approaches to collective decision-making: bipartisan consensus as an end in itself; the elevation of “rational” experts over hot-headed partisans; “Third Way” centrism that shuns ideological conflict in favour of “what works” or mediation by liberal institutions. These approaches (Mouffe calls them “non-politics”) may for a time become dominant, as they did in the Anglo-American 1990s and early 2000s. But nothing lasts for ever, especially when the number of people who feel politicians are making their lives more precarious is rising. And then politics – real politics, which is to say populist politics – make a return.
A competing integrative analysis of Populism by Benjamin Moffitt
Benjamin Moffitt, a senior lecturer in politics at the Australian Catholic University, refers to populism as a “political style”, the presence of which “tells us very little about the substantive democratic content of any political project”. Under definitions of this type, the central question is not whether a given political actor or group is or isn’t populist. It is instead whether, from moment to moment, they are “doing populism”, and how, and with what impact.
The media framing of populism almost always sounds like a discussion about the margins: about forces from outside “normal” or “rational” politics threatening to throw off the balance of the status quo. But the scholarly discourse makes clear that this is backward: that populism is inherent to democracy, and especially to democracy as we know it in the contemporary west. It finds life in the cracks – or more lately, the chasms – between democracy’s promises and the impossibility of their full, permanent realization.
The question of populism, then, is always the question of what kind of democracy we want, and the fact that we will never stop arguing about this. Anxiety about populism can be a smokescreen for people who don’t want the world as they know it to be disturbed. But it also flows from the core insight that we can never know exactly where democracy is going to take us – not this time, nor the next, nor the time after that.
I could not have said it better. And that is why we must not let Davos Man define and dominate “democracy” for us. We have seen where that has lead over the last couple of years during the time of COVID. Davos Man is basically an idiot savant, believing that his financial achievements are a demonstration of his intellectual superiority which qualifies him to rule the world and dictate terms for the rest of us. But Bill Gates is neither a physician nor a scientist, and is not qualified to define global public health policy for the rest of us. He made stupendous profit from his vaccine investments immediately prior to the outbreak, and now he is pivoting to what most of us knew at the outset - that broad spectrum antiviral drugs are the best option for dealing with a novel virus. His lack of awareness or acknowledgment that early drug treatment options for COVID-19 quickly became available but were actively suppressed demonstrates his complete unsuitability for his self appointed role as global public health leader.
Populism is apparently anything which arises organically outside of the dominant political culture, and which acts to oppose current political dogma. If that is true, then consider me an unapologetic populist. But please stop with the right wing Nazi crap. That is clearly just more trite, lazy, superficial sophist journalistic jingoism, defamation and gaslighting. Do your job as journalists, and as conscious human beings. Take a moment, think, and do a bit of research before you write. So what if your editor does not like what you think and write. At least you will still retain ownership of your soul.
The new political axis is between individual freedom to choose and collectivism. Not left versus right. Not Nazi versus Woke. And I am an old school American. I choose freedom, as embodied in the core beliefs and thought which nourishes the roots of the American enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Not the collectivist world view which Davos Man and his WEF lackeys have cleverly weaponized to hide his egregious self-interest driven rape of the planet, its human capital, cultures and economies.