I am so tired of the endless, witless, selfish hate-mongering that disguises itself as political debate in what once called itself the First World. You know the nations I’m talking about, the ones burdened with mountains of debt, confused leaders and distressed citizens, and who have so generously shared a multi-year financial crisis of their own making with the rest of us. Maybe that’s their perverse idea of globalism.
I will be brief. In my mind, populism is the expression of the will of the people. I may not agree with someone’s expression of that will, but if it meets with the approval of the people, it deserves my serious attention. For a formal definition, I prefer the one supplied by the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.
“The belief that greater popular participation in government and business is necessary to protect individuals from exploitation by inflexible bureaucracy and financial conglomerates.”
But today, populism seems to be defined as some form of fascism, either of the Left or of the Right. I am told that Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, Mao Zedong, Hugo Chavez, Marine Le Pen, and of course, Donald Trump were or are equally “populists” and equally evil.
I will not accept this nonsense, period. To me, it smacks of 19th Century European class politics. A pseudo-sophisticated upper class looks down on the huddled masses beneath them and sneers. Let the leaders demonize each other if they must, but let them leave the rest of us alone.
If the self-anointed elite believe “the people” are following a false prophet or worse, than they have themselves to blame. There is an old political adage in the US that “insurgents don’t win elections, incumbents lose them”. Unable to accept their very obvious responsibility for the mess they have made on both sides of the North Atlantic, they unload their self-shame, their anger, and their fear on the very people they expect to follow them. All “the people” have to do is to kneel before them, admit their sins, stand up, and get back in line. Are these leaders aware they live in democracies? If it has slipped their minds, their minds are slippery indeed.
Then there’s globalism. Later this year I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of my acceptance into the US Peace Corps and the beginning of my assignment in the Republic of the Philippines. When I left, I had no idea how profoundly my life would change. When I got back two years later, I tried to return to what had earlier been my career path, only to discover a few months later that the old path was no longer my path. It was an expensive decision. I turned my back on an almost completed graduate degree that I no longer needed nor wanted, paid off my student loans, and found my way back to the path where I was meant to be.
In those days, I would have called myself an “internationalist”. It was not a political statement, just recognition that I went wherever I was needed and was happy to have the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of wonderful people all over this planet. In years following, I paid for another graduate degree that I finished because I wanted it and I needed it. It was worth every penny. I had made the right decision and have never regretted it.
Some time ago, probably in the 80s, I happened to notice that mutual fund families appeared to have two different kinds of funds that sounded as if they were the same. Some were “international” and some were “global”. I read that international funds were those that invested in any nation except the United States. Global funds were those that invested in any nation including the United States. Knowing this, an investor could immediately differentiate between US-based funds that were strictly “foreign” and those truly global.
Okay, I was good with that. As time went by, I called myself a “globalist” without any ideological intent, just recognition of my personal and professional reality. But today, it seems a person who uses “populist” as a slur is having the favor returned and is accused of being a “globalist”. Apparently, a globalist is the personification of greed, the iconic billionaire in his corporate jet who cares for nothing more than his own pleasure and with no respect for his home nation.
For me, a globalist is simply someone who knows we are all in this together and is thankful for it. You cannot face up to global threats with nothing more than national or personal agendas. Globalism doesn’t threaten us. It gives us a shot at something better not just for ourselves, but for those yet to be born. You can’t pass the torch if there’s no one there to take it.
I am an American citizen and fully intend to die as one, but I am a resident of the Republic of Panama and it is my home. This is where I and my friends and my professional associates live. I definitely do not have to reject my old home (even when it’s acting whacky) to fully participate in the life of my new home. Each has its flaws, as do all nations, but I am proud to be associated with both. I can say the same for the more than 40 nations I have worked in over my lifetime, most as a short-term consultant, others as “homes” for longer periods. They have been good to me. I accepted their flaws. They accepted mine.
Shame on those who would distort two perfectly decent words for the purpose of slandering others and as a cover for their own failures.
Define them as you like, but I am standing by mine. I am a populist, I am a globalist, and I am proud to be both. And you know? I believe the day will come when both of these terms are again respected, not as threats, but for the value inherent in both.
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