Paradoxes of populism during the pandemic
Populist protests against Coronavirus-related restrictions in the US appear paradoxical in three respects. Populism is generally hostile to expertise, yet it has flourished at a moment when expertise has seemed more indispensable than ever. Populism thrives on crisis and indeed often depends on fabricating a sense of crisis, yet it has accused mainstream politicians and media of overblowing and even inventing the Corona crisis. Populism, finally, is ordinarily protectionist, yet it has turned anti-protectionist during the pandemic and challenged the allegedly overprotective restrictions of the nanny-state. I address each apparent paradox in turn before speculating in conclusion about how populist distrust of expertise, antipathy to government regulation, and skepticism toward elite overprotectiveness may come together – in the context of intersecting medical, economic, political, and epistemic crises – in a potent and potentially dangerous mix.
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