News Release

Dirty Populists

JANINE R. WEDEL, jwedel at gmu.edu, @janinewedel
Wedel is an anthropologist and University Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. She is author of Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class (2014).

She just wrote the piece “Dirty Populists” which states: “The election left one of the world’s largest countries deeply divided, handing the presidency to a military-loving, minority-bullying, media-bashing firebrand promising to smash a corrupt establishment. I am not talking about the 2016 U.S. presidential election that put Donald Trump in power, but rather the 2018 election in Brazil, won by the so-called Trump of the Tropics, Jair Bolsonaro, who was formally inaugurated on January 1.

“Bolsonaro joins the growing ranks of supposedly transformative leaders — including Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and de facto Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński — who won power by railing against the establishment and vowing to end systemic corruption. Will he also join Trump, Orbán, and to a lesser extent Kaczyński, in overseeing the spread of new kinds of corruption, while attempting to reshape governance to entrench his own power?

“Despite repeatedly pledging to ‘drain the swamp,’ Trump has enabled a level of corruption that is arguably unprecedented in American history, affecting large swaths of the federal bureaucracy. He has failed to fill open positions, slashed budgets, bypassed established bureaucratic procedures and protocols, and sidelined diplomats. He has largely spared the military, though here, too, he frequently denigrates his commanders’ expertise in favor of his gut feelings.

“When the state apparatus is eviscerated, governance can become more informal, policy more personalized, executive power more dominant, and loyalty to the leader more important. Trump has installed family members as official and unofficial advisers, placed senior aides in agencies to monitor loyalty, and issued more executive orders in his first year than any president in a half-century.”