Stupid, yes, but entirely predictable. People vote for a populist out of emotion, out of frustration. It’s a way to give the finger to those in power, and the irony is that democracy tempts people to vote against their interests at times.
It’s one thing if you vote against your interests and the failed populist that they’ve voted for has democratic values. But populists are typically not democratic; they offer rhetoric and rarely have any idea of how they’re going to deliver on their campaign promises.
What they do understand, though, is how to gain more power - that’s what they’re good at. They know how to exploit people, how to manipulate people.
What’s especially important to understand is that there’s not necessarily a single moment when democracies die: the support columns corrode over time until one day, it just collapses. What this means is that people in countries that hold elections might still believe they’re in a democracy, when in reality, true democracy is in a state of rapid decline.
I forgot where I read it but I came across in article which included a 2011 poll in which a majority of Venezuelans believed that their political system was democratic, perhaps because in spite of the fact that he was taking apart the machinery that makes democracy function, Hugo Chavez still enjoy some level of popular support.
Now Chavez is dead and he’s been replaced with a real sonofabitch in Maduro. Now it’s beginning to dawn on Venezuelans how fucked they really are. Yes, they still have elections. Yes, they still have a press. Yes, people there still protest. But the price of speaking truth to power is much, much higher than it was 15 years ago. In 2000, media critics of Chavez would have been labeled fake news and probably had a flood of protest calls from pro-Chavez trolls. Now? Those same journalists go to jail – or to neighboring Colombia where they report in exile.
That’s some food for though for those who think that comparing Trump to other authoritarians is hyperbole. If it turns out to be hyperbolic, then we should thank our lucky stars. But I’ve got news for people: don’t rely on good fortune to save American democracy. It’s against the ropes right now.