The night from 6 to 7 January, 2021 we saw over and over again the surge up the steps of the Capitol sweeping away security guards. Fit for the occasion, amongst the flags I spotted a banner: AMERICANPOPULISTPARTY.COM. I googled it and found a website in what seemed Polish with a link to a private domain. Not liking it, I tried American Populist Party instead: It turned out to be a concoction of what the platform of such a party might look like and not the real thing, so the banner before the Capitol remains a mystery. Anyhow, from watching a short video on the website, its – once more fictitious – message would go down well the real populists on the ground. In fact, I recall Donald Trump junior shouting about a Republican Party in the process of deserting his father. This is an excerpt I found on the web.He was saying about Republicans refusing to follow President Trump inviting them to refuse certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Referring the angry crowds assembled before him he said: ”This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party!” (

See here the identification of the leader with the masses characteristic of populism as defined by Müller (2017) and Rosanvallon (2020). Another one is disregard for evidence. Famously, President Trump’s spokesperson coined the term ‘alternative facts’ for photographic evidence that the inauguration of President Obama had drawn larger crowds than that of her master’s remember! And, how many times have we not heard that there was no evidence to support President Trump’s claim that the elections was stolen? Point is, for a populist, evidence or, as the case may be, the lack thereof count for nothing. Writing on populism, Müller and Rosanvallon show why: Evidence having no bearing on what populists see as truth separates them from their distractors who see the question of what truth is as an epistemological issue. For populists as against this truth is what binds them and the leader together, what makes them one. To admit to anything else would mean questioning, not only the leader, but also their own self. Whatever does not accord with this joint understanding is therefore a question of identity. Which is why populists must declare whoever does not share their and their leader’s believes irredeemably wrong. In other words, they must reject pluralism in an epistemological much as in a political sense, this being a consequence of their claim to absolute truth, one without any of the filters imposed by the elites. The people nor their leader – they are after all one – cannot be wrong, so why listen to experts, why look for evidence? The issue is existential and as such never up for discussion.

Being softer on populism than Müller – he vouches to it being a genuine political innovation – Rosanvallon nonetheless agrees there is a danger of populism deteriorating into a ‘democrature’: an authoritarian regime with only limited capacity for reform. Müller sees this as more of an innate tendency. So, why the surprise about what we have seen on our screens?



Müller, J.W. (2017) What is Populism? – With a New Afterword, Penguin Press, London.

Rosanvallon, P. (2020) Le siècle du populisme: Histoire, théorie, critique, éditions du seuil; Paris.

The figure is from the website describing the – fictitious – programme of a – fictitious American Populist Party.


Andreas Faludi
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