Populism and Han Kuo-yu

How are we to understand Han Kuo-yu? How did he rise from nowhere last year to become one of the central figures of Taiwan’s politics? And how has his popularity fallen so dramatically over the course of this year?

I have been asked versions of this question repeatedly over the past 16 months, and I have never been able to give a comprehensive answer. I could explain pieces of the puzzle, but there were always important parts that didn’t make sense to me. I think I finally have a fuller explanation to offer.

Han Kuo-yu is a populist. His rise to prominence was based on the success of this populist appeal, and his decline from that peak is a result of events and opponents eroding the power of that populist message. Populism is the frame through which to understand almost everything about the Han Kuo-yu phenomenon of the past year and a half.

 

What is populism?

 

Saying Han is a populist isn’t very helpful if we don’t know what populism is. Unfortunately, the word populism is used both in public discussion and in the academic literature to refer to a frightening variety of phenomena. At a recent workshop I attended on populism, the papers cited literature that used the term to mean:

  • Anti-establishment (referring to party leaders)
  • Anti-establishment (referring to social and economic elites)
  • Charismatic mobilization
  • Direct communication with followers
  • Anti-pluralism
  • Pushes unrealistic but popular economic redistribution
  • Anti-immigrant
  • Anti-minority
  • Claims to represent the general will
  • A style of relationship between a leader and followers characterized by sincerity
  • A focus on unification or independence (in Taiwan)
  • an “all-people’s” cabinet (referring to President Chen’s first cabinet)

A term that means so many things is nearly useless. What we need is a better theoretical definition. Good definitions cut away all the extraneous ideas. Effectively, they tell you, “Don’t pay any attention to all that other stuff. Focus on this. This is the crucial feature, and everything else either flows from this part or it wasn’t important in the first place.” Fortunately, dear reader, someone has given us a better definition. At that recent workshop, Jans-Werner Mueller, a political theorist at Princeton, gave the keynote speech, and his talk was enormously clarifying for me. The definition of populism that I provide in this post is taken almost directly from Mueller’s talk and his 2016 book. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a link to online versions of either of these, but here is an article he published in 2015 presenting the same conception of populism.

Populism is a way of framing political competition as a moral question. Populists champion the real people, who they see as morally pure and homogenous. Not all the legal citizens are part of the real people, and the populist insists that he alone defines who constitutes the real people. Since the real people are homogenous, there is a clear will of the people. The populist insists that he alone can identify and represent the will of the people. The morally pure will of the people is impeded by a corrupt elite, who are not part of the real people, and the corrupt elite is sometimes allied with a parasitic underclass, who are also not part of the real people. Anyone who challenges the legitimacy of the populist’s definition of the real people or of the popular will is making a moral challenge. This moral challenge is almost always answered in moral terms, by labeling the challenger as corrupt.

Within all those critical ideas, the single most important concept is that of the real people. Not everyone who is a legal citizen is part of the real people. Only some people are part of the real people, and they are the only ones who matter. Who are not part of the real people? As I understand it, populists always point to a corrupt elite that betrays the real people. The leftist version of populism most commonly found in Latin America thus sees the corrupt elite as conspiring with the USA to steal the people’s wealth. The rightist version of populism currently running through the USA and Europe sees the corrupt elite as allied with a parasitic underclass. Trump, Farage, Haider, and Grillo do not see (most) minorities and immigrants as part of the real people. Ultimately, the real people are defined exclusively by the populist himself. Since the populist can say who is part of the real people, he can also define what the real people want. This rests on the assumption that the real people are homogenous. They may not currently be unified, because the corrupt elite is constantly trying to divide them. The populist’s task is thus to unify the real people. As a homogenous bloc, the real people all want the same thing, if only someone will come along and identify that vision for them.

Conceived this way, populism is anti-pluralistic. In a pluralist view, society is composed of many different individuals and groups with different values, different interests, and different goals. There is no such thing as a concrete, identifiable will of the people, since the people do not exist as a singular entity. Policies are not inherently morally legitimate, so citizens are free to oppose them without fear of being accused of betraying the society. Competing policies have to be judged by their empirical results, so pluralism encourages policy debates in which different sides present evidence to demonstrate that a given policy has had or will have a particular desired effect. Populists view these decisions in moral terms. It is not necessary to argue about specific policies, since it is obvious that the government should just do the things that will help the (real) people. All other policy proposals must be motivated by corrupt intentions.

[Note: Not all leftists who want more redistribution or rightists who want less immigration are populists. The critical point is the existence of a homogenous real people in the politician’s rhetoric. For example, Bernie Sanders talks about the 99%, but this is statistically defined rather than notionally defined. He is quite aware that many people in that 99% do not and never will share his values and goals. He is trying to build a coalition from a diverse society that will agree on a (yet to be negotiated) common set of policies rather than to activate an already existing homogenous block of real people who already want those things. Bernie Sanders may want redistribution, he may be charismatic, he may have devoted followers, and he may be anti-establishment, but none of those (superficial) things make him a populist.]

 

Han Kuo-yu’s populist rhetoric

 

“Our country is sick. Our Taiwan is wounded. What happened? Why did the leading country of the four little Asian dragons, after President CCK passed away and left us the Hsinchu Science Park and the Ten Major Construction Projects – how did our country become this way? Our industriousness, our kindheartedness, our diligence, our simple goodness? The rest of the world looks at Taiwan and sees fraudsters and drugs. How do we explain this? … There are now three living ex-presidents, President Lee, President Chen, and President Ma. You were president for over twenty years. What industry did you leave behind for Taiwan? The only industry Taiwan has is in the Hsinchu Science Park!”

–Han, Apr 28, 2017, KMT party chair election policy forum

 

Han Kuo-yu entered the national political fray in 2017 by running for KMT party chair. He was a relative unknown, a former relatively undistinguished legislator who had been out of national politics for fifteen years. At the first policy forum, Han presented himself in clear populist terms. After talking about how prosperous and hopeful the ROC had been when he was young in the 1980s, he talked about how it had stagnated over the past thirty years. The quote above lays down the gauntlet in distinctly moral terms. The people are morally pure, but the country has been corrupted. Presidents Lee, Chen, and Ma have not worked to help the people. That is, the people have been betrayed by the elite. Han implies that moral leaders standing on the people’s side would have created several additional vibrant economic sectors, since that was obviously what Taiwan’s people need.

Han pointedly did not exclude Ma from his list of corrupt elites. The KMT also had a cabal of corrupt elites who have betrayed the people. The people’s interests are not, in Han’s discourse, equal to the KMT’s interests. In fact, Han later states that, as chair, if any DPP mayor did a good job, he would not nominate a KMT candidate to contest the seat and would instead let the good mayor have another term. Here, Han is establishing that he, not the KMT as a collective, will decide who is part of the real people.

 

When he entered the Kaohsiung mayoral race, Han usually told a similar story. Once upon a time, Kaohsiung had been prosperous and vibrant. Kaohsiung had the highest proportion of Mercedes in all of Taiwan, and a bowl of particularly extravagant eel-larvae soup sold for tens of thousands of NT. Kaohsiung had abundant resources hard-working, honest people. Kaohsiung should rightfully be the most prosperous place in Taiwan. However, now many people had to move north for economic reasons, and the city was choking under heavy public debt. The honest people of Kaohsiung, out of gratitude for their contributions to democratization, had given the DPP power for 20 years in Kaohsiung City and 32 years in Kaohsiung County, and the DPP had done nothing for them in return.

Han did not usually directly accuse the DPP government of corruption. On the stump, he sometimes referred to Kaohsiung as a sleeping giant, implying that the DPP governments had simply neglected the people’s needs rather than actively undercutting them. However, corruption was a constant undercurrent in the wider political discourse. By the end of the campaign, there was a constant stream of people murmuring about all the corruption cases that must have piled up during the twenty years of DPP government in Kaohsiung.

According to Han, the good people of Kaohsiung just wanted better daily lives 過好日子. He often stated that Taipei could have all the politics; Kaohsiung just wanted to focus on economics. The prescription was fairly simple: the government should help the people sell their goods to the rest of the world, and Kaohsiung would naturally become a magnet for people everywhere else. Goods go out, people come in 貨出去,人進來. Han even turned his unfamiliarity with Kaohsiung into an advantage. As an outsider, Han did not have intricate local knowledge. No matter. Han packaged himself as a CEO mayor, who would put good people in place and allow them to do what needed to be done. The specific policies were not important; what was important was having leadership dedicated to helping the people (instead of themselves).

How did the DPP react to Han’s message of working for the people? With dirty tricks and mudslinging! In Han’s rhetoric, the DPP campaign was not based on ideas at all. Rather, in order to continue to enjoy their power, they used underhanded and crooked methods to try to delegitimize him. He wanted a clean campaign, but his opponents only knew how to use dirty tricks.

 

 

In this year’s presidential election, Han’s populist rhetoric has been even clearer. He tells the same basic story. Everything was once good, but now it is bad. However, this year his attack on the DPP government is much sharper. Instead of merely insinuating corruption or neglect, he explicitly accuses the Tsai government of corruptly betraying the people.

Here is Han at a rally in Hsinchu County on Dec 7. “The DPP government doesn’t care about the people at all. It’s true. A small cabal of people – among 23 million people, there is a small cabal of people leading the DPP – is full of corruption and rot. They feast and feast. The factions divide the spoils among themselves. When the factions finish dividing the spoils, their underlings divide up their share, and then their underlings take a cut. As long as you are a DPP elite, it doesn’t matter what birth status or background you have, as long as you are one of their people. It doesn’t matter if you have murdered someone, committed arson, or embezzled money, it doesn’t matter. They’ll give you a powerful position all the same. They set these people free on us to engage in corruption, to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Taiwanese people. Now, after three and a half years, all of Taiwan is sick.

The Han campaign’s focus on the Yang Hui-ju楊蕙如  case fills an important hole in this narrative. The corrupt DPP elite systematically divert government resources toward perpetuating their power. In this case, the KMT charges that the DPP used government resources to fund internet soldiers to attack their political enemies online. Here is a concrete case of how the corrupt DPP elite are stealing the people’s money and using it for their own purposes. No wonder Taiwan is stagnating!

This year, Han has also expanded on his notion of the real people. He has given them a label, shumin (庶民, commoners). In his mayoral campaign, Han often expressed his belonging to this group by talking about how he only needed a bottle of water and a bowl of braised pork on rice (一瓶礦泉水,一碗滷肉飯). Perhaps more importantly, he defined them with another memorable phrase, “Never forget that the world is full of people living bitter lives” (莫忘世上苦人多). The shumin are the people who live, or worry about living, bitter lives. In 2018 and 2019, lots of people can identify with the notion of bitterness, including people angry at the new labor laws, civil servants who have seen their pensions cut, people relying on Chinese tourists, people who think their electricity bill is too high, people who want to drink bubble tea with a disposable straw, people who don’t want to replace their old (polluting) scooter, people who have to breathe dirty air, and people who just think that things should be better. It is worth emphasizing that a lot of people who worry about bitterness, such as retired civil servants, are not poor or marginalized. Even more pointedly, some people worry about the bitterness of being cut off from government patronage flows. The DPP reforms (and rumored future reforms) of the irrigation associations and farmers associations, along with the huge Forward-Looking Infrastructure Package threatened to reroute government patronage projects from one set of people to an entirely different set of people. Being thrown off the gravy train would indeed be bitter. This definition of shumin as people who suffer or fear bitterness feeds back into his notion that that what the shumin want is simply to have better daily lives.

Han has talked about his love for the ROC quite a lot in this year’s presidential campaign than during last year’s mayoral campaign. However, even last year, Han’s most passionate supporters were decked out from head to toe in ROC flag imagery; ROC nationalism has always been a core element of his appeal. How did he communicate this without explicitly talking about it? I think the most powerful message comes from his nostalgia of the CCK era, which he interprets as an era of peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity (as opposed to the contentious era of authoritarian suppression and a frothy bubble economy that others might see). In that era, the virtuous leader implemented good policies for the people that he loved, and the people enjoyed good daily lives. There was only one permissible will of the people – the one prescribed by the regime in which everyone loved the ROC – so nostalgic people like Han could remember that era as having a homogenous, singular general will. This golden era is especially seductive to mainlanders, who enjoyed a privileged status, which was even better since they did not have to acknowledge their privilege. During the CCK era, people were able to concentrate on getting rich, and they did not have to worry about politics. Everything started to go downhill once the Lee Teng-hui presidency started. The population began questioning the ROC, respect for the former privileged classes diminished, the economy slowed down, the newspapers started reporting stories about corruption, and the formerly unified society became divided into perpetually fighting political parties. No wonder people who love the old ROC, the one that existed prior to democratization, flock to Han.

Han has, of course, embraced KMT positions on how to manage relations with China. He is a strong supporter of the 1992 Consensus. However, he comes at it from a slightly different angle than President Ma. Han’s imperative is to do what is best for the shumin so that they can have better daily lives. If what the country needs is to open more markets so that people can sell their goods to the world, he will do whatever it takes to make that happen. China is an important market, so naturally he will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Taiwanese businesses have access to that market. In every election, Taiwan always has a few candidates promising to put ideology aside and focus exclusively on economics. What they almost always mean is that they will accept One China, but they don’t want to talk about that with the public. Han is close to this. He will tell you that he wants the 1992 Consensus, but he doesn’t want to talk about the political implications of this decision. In his rhetoric, it is simply a tool to maintain peace and open markets.

 

Unsuccessful and successful attacks on Han’s populism

 

During last year’s mayoral election, Chen Chi-mai, the DPP candidate, chose to largely eschew negative personal attacks on Han. Since Chen was an overwhelming favorite to win the election in deep green Kaohsiung, he might have assumed that he could rely on a positive message to consolidate the green side and not worry at all about what Han was doing.

Chen’s main attack on Han was policy-based. Chen charged that Han didn’t know enough about the details of Kaohsiung politics to be an effective mayor. This attack played right into Han’s populist rhetoric.

In the first mayoral debate, Chen tried to expose Han’s unfamiliarity by asking him how he would renovate two fishing harbors. Han replied that he didn’t need to know those details, just as he didn’t need to know how many fire hydrants there were in the city. As the mayor, he could simply direct a bureaucrat to devise an appropriate plan to renovate the fishing harbors.

Populists don’t feel any need to struggle with the details of plans. Let me use an anecdote from Hungary, where Viktor Orban refused to participate in a policy debate, explaining,

“No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious […] I am sure you have seen what happens when a tree falls over a road and many people gather around it. Here you always have two kinds of people. Those who have great ideas how to remove the tree, and share with others their wonderful theories, and give advice. Others simply realize that the best is to start pulling the tree from the road…. [W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” (quoted in Mueller 2016, 26).

Han likewise wasn’t interested in policy debates. He would simply order bureaucrats to start doing the obvious things necessary for revitalizing the fishing harbors.

Near the end of the election, KMT chair Wu Den-yi insulted former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu, likening her to a “fat sow.” The DPP collectively recoiled in indignation and spent several days defending her honor against this insult. Han even admitted that Wu had stepped over a line. However, bringing Chen Chu into the center of the election was probably advantageous for Han. After all, he was effectively running against her. Far from being a popular incumbent and an asset to Chen Chi-mai’s campaign, Han had recast Chen Chu as a corrupt, ambitious politician who had first neglected the people and then abandoned them as soon as possible in order to take a better position in the central government. She was the personification of the corrupt elite holding back the morally pure people. Unless the Chen Chi-mai team could first undo that reimagination of Chen Chu, it probably didn’t help them to have her squarely in the public eye in the days right before voting.

Chen Chi-mai tried to introduce sovereignty questions into the campaign. Since the Kaohsiung electorate is historically more green than blue, it made sense to try to pull the campaign back to traditional battle lines. Chen thus complained that all of Han’s schemes to strengthen the economy were based on tapping into the China market. This line of attack doesn’t seem to have had much effect, probably because Han was running for a position in local government. As mayor, he simply did not pose much of a threat to national sovereignty since the (DPP) national government would still set the limits for what was and was not permissible. While he openly supported the 1992 Consensus, ECFA, and Free Trade Zones, he wouldn’t be able to unilaterally implement any of those. His promise was merely to go as far as possible within those limits, something that other local governments around Taiwan were already doing. Sovereignty might have altered the outcome, but Chen never found an effective way to introduce it into the election.

 

After seeming so bulletproof last year, why has Han seemed so vulnerable this year? I see three big answers.

First, sovereignty has been effectively introduced into the equation. This was probably inevitable, since how Taiwan relates to China is almost always the biggest and most important question facing Taiwan. If anything, we should marvel at how Han was so effective at keeping this question on the sideline last year. Xi Jinping’s bluster and the protests in Hong Kong have thrust China to the center of political discourse, and this has pulled the lines of partisan battle back toward established patterns (which now favor the DPP). If it hadn’t been Hong Kong, it almost certainly would have been something else. Regardless, Han’s populist wave has crashed against the solid rocks of Taiwan’s robust party politics.

Han aided this process with a couple of own-goals. First, in a trip to Hong Kong in March, he unexpectedly visited the Hong Kong Liaison Office, the unit in charge of overseeing One Country, Two Systems for Beijing in Hong Kong. Second, when the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong began, he refused to criticize the government, first saying he hadn’t paid any attention and then saying that he hoped stability could be restored. Both of these actions were highly controversial, and they probably cost him quite a bit of support. From a populist perspective, both actions were defensible. Han had defined the real people as only caring about their daily lives. That is, in his conception, shumin don’t care much about political questions such as sovereignty, human rights, or democracy. He was, as promised, doing whatever was necessary to keep the China market open. However, shumin are not actually a monolithic, homogenous block with a single general will. Different people have different values and want different things. Some of his erstwhile supporters cared quite a bit about sovereignty, human rights, and democracy. When those values came into conflict with supporting Han, many of his erstwhile supporters decided that they no longer wanted to be part of Han’s shumin.

Second, Han has not performed well as mayor; he has not taken good care of the shumin. Han came into office with the populist promise that he would do the things necessary to help the people. It hasn’t gone well. Han has been accused of laziness and ineptitude. He is said to sleep until noon and enjoy drinking a bit too much. He has also had a few high-profile failures, particularly in dealing with the Dengue fever outbreak. The accusation wasn’t merely that Dengue fever had hit Kaohsiung, but, more importantly, that Han had failed to act energetically to control it. The city asked for extra budget from the central government to do things like spraying and draining standing water, and the premier responded that the city had not yet even finished using the normal budget for these things. In contrast to Han’s poor record, President Tsai has had a year full of policy triumphs. She has secured a purchase of F-16 fighter jets, the economy is growing faster, swine flu has been kept out of Taiwan, spending on social welfare programs is up, taxes are down, the budget is balanced, infrastructure is being built, and new energy sources are coming on line. At the recent presidential policy forum, after talking about all her achievements, Tsai could tell Han that she was the one who was actually doing things to help shumin, while Han was merely “consuming” them (ie: paying lip service to them and cynically using them for his own purposes).

Third, the DPP has successfully attacked Han as being a fake shumin. Populists don’t always have to be like normal people. Donald Trump’s supporters do not mind that he is a billionaire and they are not. As long as he speaks and works for them, it does not matter that he is decidedly not like them. However, Han has always presented himself as actually being a shumin. His “bottle of mineral water” embodies his normality. At a recent rally, I heard the slogan 庶民選總統,總統選庶民 (shumin choose a president; for president, choose a shumin). He is not merely like them; he is actually one of them.

The DPP has attacked Han’s shumin credentials in two ways. First, they relentlessly attacked Han for breaking his promise to serve a full term as mayor in Kaohsiung. Remember, Han pointed to Chen Chu’s departure from Kaohsiung as evidence of her corruption. She cared more about power than people, so she cynically abandoned the people to pursue more power. She was obviously part of the corrupt cabal and not part of the shumin. This helps to explain why so many former Han supporters felt so betrayed when he agreed to seek the KMT’s nomination for president. He was doing the very thing that he had identified as proof of corruption.

In early November, Han came under an even more direct attack. Reporters uncovered his history of real estate transactions and found that he had bought and sold luxury housing in Taipei. There was an insinuation that he had used political influence to secure financing for the deal. His opponents questioned whether a property speculator who depended on political connections was really a shumin or whether he was actually merely an ordinary corrupt politician.

 

Conclusion

 

Han Kuo-yu’s meteoric career over the past year and a half makes much more sense if we view it through the framework of populism. Han frames politics as a moral choice between himself, the representative of the shumin, and a corrupt elite who control the DPP and sap the country of its vitality. This framework focuses our attention on crucial points, such as his rhetoric around corruption and his seemingly cavalier attitude toward public policy, while instructing us to ignore other aspects that may seem central but are actually secondary, such as his attacks on Filipina workers. It also helps explain why some attack against him have been effective while others have failed miserably.

There are still lots of questions to be answered. Perhaps most pertinently, since populist rhetoric is always present, why did it suddenly start to work in 2018? Why didn’t it work in 1994 or 2009? If you know the answer, the entire world wants to know. By clearly defining what populism is, at least we have a more tractable question.

If Han loses the presidential election, we probably should not take that as proof that populism is unsustainable in Taiwan. Taiwan’s robust party system, constructed on top of a single, dominant, enduring political cleavage, has worked against populism in this case. However, we should not be overconfident that a populist couldn’t take over the DPP and ride its structural advantages to electoral victory. It isn’t hard to imagine a DPP populist constructing “the real people” as everyone who believes in Taiwan nationalism and moving to systematically marginalize everyone else. The best defense against populism is not to merely defeat one populist one time. Rather, fighting populism requires a renewed commitment to pluralism, insisting that it is perfectly normal and legitimate that different people have different values and different goals, that people who disagree with you are not necessarily corrupt or immoral.

15 Responses to “Populism and Han Kuo-yu”

  1. formosajmac Says:

    Really great one

  2. Grey Says:

    Populists can only succeed the 1st time around, when their grand promises sound ground and haven’t been tested out in real life yet.

    In addition, most people saw right through Han’s fig leaf of cross-Strait policy. The Greens knew right away that he’d cravenly surrender sovereignty to China and let Beijing tell Taiwan what to do. The Blues either didn’t mind, or in fact desired unification.

  3. Grey Says:

    Moreover, such politicians who promise, “I will focus only on the economy and not talk cross-Strait policy” seem to forget that not only will Taiwanese voters not let them get away with such a stance, but Beijing won’t either. Xi Jinping and the CCP sure aren’t going to let a Taiwanese president reply, “Sorry, I won’t talk anything cross-Strait for 4 or 8 years.”

  4. Georgi Stankov Says:

    Very informative article! Thank you!

  5. Kai Says:

    I think it’s too much of a simplification to see this binary. Most politicians are more or less populistic. They just have to, because the majority of their voters will not understand the complex problems that come with governing a country.

    And I would say the story about the internet army paid with tax payers money is true and it is really bad. But, OK, every democratic country has the government it deserves 🙂

  6. Julian Says:

    This is as good as it gets in Taiwan political commentary. What a pleasure to read. My first reaction is a minor caveat: Seems to me that all successful politicians in modern democracies tap into populism in some measure, at least in the eyes of many of their supporters. When we reach that level of social and political evolution where populism as defined by the Princeton scholar is no longer an attractive option for aspiring pols, we will have achieved much.

    • Kai Says:

      @Julian: Right on. There is a long way to go to reach that level. Unfortunately some countries even take steps back into the wrong direction, like US or UK.

    • kezza Says:

      It looks to me that populist discourse and populist regimes are being slightly mixed up in the discussion. Populist messages had always been part of democracy, going back to at least the hey-days of the Roman Republic (the Populares). Populist discourse is one tool of building a working majority in modern election campaigns, and will never go away (people prefers simple explanations and “solutions” than the ugly complications of reality). The best we can hope is stop the (inevitable?) rise of populist regimes, of which one of the main defining features is the erosion of the institutions of democracy (freedom of press and speech, checks and balances, independence of the judiciary, etc.) which are “hostile” to the “will of the people”.

  7. Vincent Dubois Says:

    Is there a Chinese version of this article?

  8. beidawei Says:

    You and Mueller have carefully defined populism so as not to include what we might call pro-diversity forms. Anti-Trumpists and pro-Trumpists seem equally prone to casting their struggle in moral terms. Or perhaps it could be argued that “pro-diversity” (pseudo-?) populisms do not really support diversity, but only use it as a symbol (aimed at promoting a certain alternative elite).

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Yes, is correct that populism is not pro-diversity. Populism always features a call to heed “the will of the people,” which only makes sense if the people are homogeneous. I don’t think you can have a pro-diversity populism, because once you legitimize diverse opinions, you have undermined the moral foundations of this particular mode of political discourse. However, populism can absolutely be left-wing. The best example from American politics is Huey Long, whose rhetoric on inequality sounds strikingly modern.

      However, if you look deeper, Long had all the elements that Mueller lays out, including the “real” people, the corrupt elite, the moral casting of politics, the emphasis on the general will of the real people, a refusal to compromise with the legal institutions, and so on.

      • Bei Dawei Says:

        Ah–I suppose we need to distinguish diversity of opinion from identity-group diversity. I’m thinking of somebody like AOC, who certainly does castigate a corrupt elite. For her the “real people” would not include Trump supporters, who are seen as Nazis. Would that make the “real people” homogenous in some way, so as to fit your definition of populism? That’s a tough one.

        Meanwhile, Trump pays lip service to some (ethno-racial) “diversity” rhetoric–he never talks about the white race or anything like that, but is more likely to boast that blacks and Hispanics support him (or ought to support him). You can say that he also uses “dog whistles,” but then the Democrats (not AOC) have been known to talk about “electability,” which can also carry a racial tinge.

        Notice that both invoke well-established US rhetorical traditions. AOC makes use of the socially-approved notion that the US is a “nation of immigrants,” and that the civil rights movement was good. Trump does this too (it would look odd if he did not), but is more likely to refer to Western or Judeo-Christian values. The “good people on both sides” thing is presented as a gaffe which does not reflect his actual view of neo-Nazis (and indeed, Trump does not seem to support neo-Nazis, except to the extent that he thinks it might benefit him).

        My friend Van studies populism–I sent him the link to this post (which I appreciated very much, by the way), and challenged him to reveal the error (if any) of your ways!

      • kezza Says:

        Even just for opinion-diversity, this definition of populism seems to be overly restrictive — there can be diversity among “the people” as long as it is on a sideline issue (e.g., neo-cons and paleo-cons disagree about foreign deployment of US troops, but that will probably be a non-issue when it come to Trump’s re-election next year). Only on the central issue(s) is there the need to be homogeneous for the populist message. The Achilles’ heel of Han’s (and KMT’s) campaign this year is the failure to sideline the sovereignty issue and the positioning of Taiwan in the Cold War II between US and PRC camps (which are unavoidable topics in presidential elections unlike mayoral elections).

        Moreover, the concept of “the people” must be dynamic in time (especially if the populist come to power and risk being seen as elite using the exact criterion, e.g. Hugo Chavez), and Han’s 庶民 fails that test by everybody’s dictionary.

  9. guest Says:

    When an entrenched “public service” bureaucracy disconnects public policy from the results of elections, we should not be surprised to see populist rhetoric appear. This is how it always happens in the US, at least.

    Populism itself is an essential feature of democracy. And it is ironic to see it spoken of with such fear–in the US, anyway–by those who campaign on “hope and change” and “progress.”

  10. jshey Says:

    Trying to answer your question about Han’s rise in 2018 – he campaigned on good relations with China and the Chinese tourists with their free spending ways will come. ‘Get Rich and be Safe.’ With China being Taiwan’s largest trade partner where else was money coming from? Tourists increased with Ma’s regime of opening Taiwan to Chinese influence and so people had a taste of it. Han’s rise can be seen as a case of people voting for their pocket books.

    Last 40 years has seen US policy shift towards developing China and ignoring Taiwan. China has grown rich and has spent significant money to try to influence public opinion in Taiwan by providing tours for Taiwanese traveling to China and also channeling money to fund politics and underground gambling bookies — giving favorable odds to their preferred candidates — as a way of buying votes. This is something you don’t see anywhere else in the world.

    Han’s rise fits into what the Taiwanese people know — to get ahead you have to cater to China. However, US is now eager to woo Taiwan back from China’s embrace, recognizing Taiwan’s strategic importance. Events in Hong Kong and his ‘own goals’ have now cast him in a bad light. Facebook, google are all removing China’s internet influencers and shutting down the underground gambling bookies — all US led efforts are having an effect. Two powerful forces – China and US are now at work in Taiwan. We shall see Jan 11 which side prevails.

    Great job with your writing!

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