Populism is simple and democracy is complex. Democracy involves interplay between multiple interests, with populism presenting as an inherent threat. We illustrate how populism can wear out democracies from the inside.
Informed by international research, we investigated populist strategies and demagogic methods, aided by the expertise of politically engaged scientists, activists and artists. Guided by their work, we identified 10 POPULIST STRATEGIES and an ALPHABET OF DEMAGOGIC TOOLS that have been recently employed in politics.
The Internet is a field of political influence and propaganda. For FOLLOWYOUR.PET, we have applied the aforementioned manipulations to web content that currently rates as the most popular: cute cat-GIFs. As modified ‘Trojan Cats’, this project feeds them back into the web, to explore how populists and demagogues unconsciously influence the public. Given you are here and have met one of our cat-GIFs, be poised to form your own opinion.
10 POPULIST STRATEGIES
#01: Consider the notion of a ‘people’ that share similar values and needs. The people behave and represent the population’s silent majority.
#02: Insist on the belief that corrupt elitists govern the ‘good people’ and are separate to society. Be anti-elitist: fight against ‘the big wigs’. Present yourself as one of the people and show that you have no interest in belonging to them.
#03: The people need a spokesperson! Show that you are this voice and that you know what they want. How do you identify this? By filtering the people from the overall population. Announce the peoples’ needs and promise that you will act upon them. This will pacify your voters and let you govern as you please, because: ‘The ‘Governor’ wants what we want.’
#04: Be anti-pluralistic. We are the people – and any opposition is futile. What’s the point of elections, parliaments and debates? We know what’s right and good for us. If you’re against us, you’re against the people.
#05: We are united and not just a party – but a movement, a front. In politics we don’t need interest groups with varying agendas anymore.
#06: Why are the people still ruled by a corrupt elite? You don’t have a chance because the institutions and the media are all in bed with one another. Those traitors and liars have joined forces against you and you’re now the victim. Accept this role and play the victim: it will pay off.
#07: ‘Trust no one, except us!’ Everyone who is against us is a traitor, directed by foreign forces or corrupt elites. This is especially true in the case of the opposition, the media and the do-gooders.
#08: You recognize the evil plan: there was no moon landing, manipulators create clouds and Reptiloids rule the world. Finally it all makes sense! Why can’t anyone else see it? Conspiracy theories allay your fears.
#09: Take over the State, for it belongs to the people! Take over the courts and the media, as they should serve the people. What about art and culture? It needs to glorify our people!
#10: Create the people for whom you’ve always spoken for:
- Overturn the constitution in the name of the peoples’ wishes.
- Offer everyone who supported you a piece of the cake.
- Give traitors their just deserts.
A SMALL ALPHABET OF
A: Lead the way. Radiate self-confidence.
B: Declare a state of emergency: the country is going downhill. Fuel fears to confirm your solutions.
C: Simplify! Create clear communication to call a spade a spade. It’s never as complicated as they say.
D: Make simple promises! When you’re in power, you’ll address all the problems.
E: Hurry: the enemy never sleeps and tomorrow everything will be too late.
F: There is no alternative: behave as if your actions are the only logical thing to do. This way you’ll make all nonconformists look insecure and ridiculous.
G: Confirm their feelings and you’ll lead the masses.
H: Divert strong negative emotions such as hate, envy, fear, anger and aggression to your own interests.
I: Repetition! Repeat your dogma. Make it more radical each time and it will become truth. Constant dropping wears away a stone.
J: Make noise and people will listen!
K: Present an outrageous, absurd requirement that shocks everyone. Then deliver the actual, watered down requirement. This will sound harmless in comparison and get accepted.
L: Deny any responsibility for the current situation. Despite having played with fire, you didn’t light it.
M: Polarise: Leave no room for nuances or doubt. Black or white, good versus evil: the others are evil. Very evil.
N: Make dialogue impossible: change topics often and fast so that you can’t be corrected. Besides, you’ll be onto other issues by the time your claims have been scrutinised.
O: Be vague, generalize and leave room for projection. Speak in broad terms and then anyone can identify with you.
P: Answer questions with counter questions, to prevent any discussion of the real topics.
Q: Use pseudo-logic, following this pattern.
a) The pope has a friend.
b) This friend is an anarchist.
c) The pope is an anarchist.
If you let your audience decide, ‘c’ will become a truth. And no one was implicated.
R: Redefine the phrases of your political opponents. A good slogan is a good slogan. Why reinvent the wheel? Just alter the gist to suit your case. Thus you’ll win both sides and disable your opponents’ weapons.
S: Be frank with your lies: everything useful is truth and anything that jeopardises your plans or is defamatory, is not.
T: Ridicule your opponents. Reveal how unsuitable they are for leadership.
U: Get personal to distract from the real issues. As a last resort: get dirty.
V: The rules that apply to the people and their opponents are different: the opponents are evil and don’t deserve equality.
W: Turn prejudices into solutions. Find a culprit to eliminate your problems.
X: Condone using extreme methods on your opponents by blaming them for the existing crisis. The end justifies the means.
Y: Promote self-confidence via degradation. The people will feel better if they can look down on others.
Z: Be nationalistic: Insist that your country is Number 1 and more worthy of protection than any other. This revaluation will instil confidence in the people and gratitude in return.