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Happy Dog Takes on the World Presents We the People-The Rising Tide of Global Populism

The City Club hosted our other event for Tuesday which was the monthly, "Happy Dog Takes on the World" presented in collaboration with the Happy Dog, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, Global Cleveland, IPM, Northeast Ohio Consortium for Middle East Studies, and Ideastream.

On this occasion the title of the program was "We the People-The Rising Tide of Global Populism" and took place in the form of a discussion featuring Prof. Dwight R. Hahn from John Carroll University; Prof. Terry O'Sullivan from the University of Akron; and Prof. Richard M. Perloff from Cleveland State University. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Tony Ganzer at WCPN.

We got there early and shared a table during dinner with Ms. Mary K. Stevenson, Executive Director of the COAR Peace Mission (who is also the wife of Prof. Hahn) who we have talked to before at several other events and her friend,  Prof. Jen Ziemke from John Carroll University. We also got to meet Prof. Mindy Peden who chairs the Political Science Dept. at John Carroll.

To get closer to the stage, we soon moved to a table occupied by our friends Dr. Richard Crepage, Ms. Meryl Johnson, and Ms. Corina Van Vliet who are either regular or almost regular faces at City Club affairs.

Our friend Mr. Teddy Eisenberg introduced the programby saying what many of us have been thinking lately which was, "what the heck has been going on with all this populism that I've been hearing about?"

The discussion went well because all three scholars respected each other and seemed to enjoy taking part in this exercise. Although no precise definition of the term "populism" was agreed on, we gleamed from what transpired that a "populist movement" possessed certain characteristics which included:

***It is a movement composed of those who consider themselves the "true people" which gives them an exclusionary nature particularly against those of immigrants and certain ethnic groups.

***It was composed of people who perhaps correctly considered themselves disenfranchised and therefore were very angry, fearful and resentful about the "elites" governing the country who were not paying enough attention to their needs particularly those related to the economy.  But in many cases the anger and fear are misdirected such as the current mistrust of immigrants.

***In conventional politics there are liberals and conservatives who don't always agree but see themselves as all part of the game and therefore recognize the need for compromise. As we wrote earlier, however, populists see themselves as the "true people" and play an "all or nothing" game.

***Populist leaders tend to be very charismatic people who know how to stir up emotions but are mostly failures when it comes to running a government; in short, it is difficult to transpose the colorful rhetoric into policy.

On that last point there was some debate because Prof. O'Sullivan really liked U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and believed that his platform contained workable policies but Prof. Hahn believed that U.S. Sanders was not so much a populist as he was a liberal democrat. Thus, the panelists went back and forth as to whether or not genuine populism can appeal to a person's best nature as well as her/his worst. 

Of course President Trump and his attractiveness were discussed and Prof. Perloff offered a good parable along these lines; imagine a homely girl who goes to a school dance and becomes angry and upset because everyone ignores her but suddenly she is whisked up by the dashing football star and they have a blast dancing into the night. The only trouble is the football star is not who he appears to be-he is in reality a country club cad but it doesn't matter because at least he acknowledged the unhappy young woman at a time when she needed validation. Likewise, President Trump seems to be successful in tapping into the frustration and desperation of many Americans.

In terms of challenging the Trump administration, it was said that we must turn to the institutions that form the bedrock of our democracy like the courts; take to the streets nonviolently as we did in at the Immigrant Rights march last Friday; and, above all, try to listen to what people have to say and try to find areas that we can work on together even though we might find some of their beliefs (i.e. anti-LGBT) repugnant.

During the Q and A, we pointed out that the recent backlash against foreign-born people was fueled by misperceptions that just didn't hold up and the panelists all were with us on this point.

Before and after the program, we got to visit with Professors Hahn, O'Sullivan and Perloff and found them all to be very engaging, knowledgeable people who took a genuine interest in what we had to say. We can understand why so many of there student turned out to witness this discussion; it was because these educated men related to so well to others. We even suggested that Prof. O'Sullivan (from Akron) check out the monthly "Morning Buzz" at the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and he was receptive to the suggestion.

So, at the end of the night, everyone was with Mr. Ganzer when he closed things by saying that on this night, "I think we have accomplished something here!"


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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