The more support representatives give to a populist, the more they undermine their own power and necessity

The Danger of Populism To Representative Democracy

Representatives Support Populists at Their Own Peril

Representative democracy depends on an electorate willing to entrust the job of governance to representatives so the electorate is free to go about its day-to-day business secure in the knowledge that its representatives will promote, secure, and protect their delegated interests without the need of their daily involvement.

A populist leader, on the other hand, needs the continuous attention of the electorate the way facebook needs a user to stay engaged on its platform. For both facebook and the populist leader, attention and engagement is the desired and necessary commodity. For the leader, the more attention and engagement he can capture, the more important and useful that attention becomes to his ambitions, and thus, the more powerful he becomes.

Secure enough of the electorate’s attention, and their other representatives, at whatever levels of government, become powerless and moot except as figureheads and yes-men to the real leader.

At this stage, the other representatives have effectively lost representational power. That power had derived from the will of the people who elected them but has now been co-opted by the populist for his own use. Clearly, alone, He can represent the will of the people so much more directly and efficiently than some unwieldy number of elected office holders. 

Thus, ironically, the more backing and support the representatives give to the populist, the more they undermine their own power and necessity. The populist makes use of the worst impulses of pure democracy to discredit anyone who stands in the way of the majority support he has won, or claims to have won. In fact, the populist’s control of the majority (base) means they really need no other representation than that of their supreme leader.

And if a lower level party representative (be they a governor, or election official, state legislator, or congressman, or senator) should be so bold to contradict or interfere with the populist, he will swat them away by turning their voters against them. The loyalty is to him personally after all, not to anyone or anything else.

If you doubt these claims, consider Julius Caesar’s usurpation of the powers of the Roman Senate. The only variable being that he controlled not just the populace, but also the military.

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