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Happy Dog Takes on the World: Will Populism Prevail?

On Tuesday night, May 2nd, we went to the Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland for a "Happy Dog Takes on the World" event titled "Will Populism Prevail?" presented by a collaboration of the City Club, Cleveland Council on World Affairs, Global Cleveland, International Partners in Mission, and the Northeast Ohio Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies. 

The program was in the form of a panel discussion between Dr. Mark K. Cassell, Ph.D, Professor of Political Science at KSU and Ms. Marianne Prebet, a French-born entrepreneur who has lived in the United States since 2004 and, in 2009, founded "Simply Gourmand" a very successful online French grocery store.

We spoke with Ms. Prebet briefly before the program and she assured us that she is very concerned about what is taking place in her native land and has voted in every French presidential election since she has been eligible to vote. We shared a table with Dr. Steve and Dr. Anne Sanford, a very engaging couple, who are respectively a retired physician and a retired geologist who happen to live just a couple of doors down from Dr. Cassell in Shaker Heights. Stopping off at our table were Ms. Lisa Jean Sylvia from International Partners in Mission who reminded us that we need to purchase our tickets for their upcoming annual awards luncheon on May 19th. We also said hello to Ms. Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of Policy Matters Ohio, an organization which tabled at the Station Hope gathering that we attended the previous Saturday. Our friend and colleague from Margaret W. Wong & Associates, Mr. George Koussa, was there too and was active in the Q and A.

The discussion, which was moderated by Mr. Tony Ganzer of WCPN partially centered on the upcoming presidential election in France wherein Mr. Emmanuel Macron of the newly formed En Marche! party is expected to win substantially against Ms. Marine Le Pen, of the right-wing populistic National Front party. Ms. Prebet seemed fairly confident that Mr. Macron will win this Sunday but she worried about his ability to govern a multi politically-fractured country afterwards. If he cannot then Ms. Le Pen, who has garnered more popularity than anyone initially believed possible, will surely be a prime contender for the presidency in five years. Ms. Prebet believed that the first test for Mr. Macron will be how well his supporters fare in the parliamentary elections coming up in June. What is particularly worrisome is Ms. Le Pen's contempt for the European Union and many are fearful of the ramifications of a withdrawal by France which, on the heels of Brexit, would surely create a shockwave which could possibly lead to the ruination of that longstanding institution.


More optimistic was Dr. Cassell who indicated that far right populism is certainly a force to be reckoned with because right wing parties are definitely more popular now than they were several years ago but didn't see them taking hold in Germany. He talked about the upcoming election for Chancellor of Germany in which the current Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union Party is locked in a tough race with Mr. Martin Schultz of the Social Democratic Party. In this case, both candidates are strongly supportive of the European Union despite reservations about certain policies.

In the course of the discussion the histories/politics/economic conditions of both countries were compared and it seems like Germany is doing quite well now economically and that its government has a history of building coalitions amongst the various political parties. France, however, suffers from very high unemployment and many people (especially those living in the rural areas) feel disenfranchised and left behind which makes it easy for them to adopt a France first-nationalistic attitude and don't believe that it is to their advantage to be part of or have to deal with international entities. What's more France, as Ms. Prebet contended, is not "a consensus society" and its elite class, according to Dr. Cassell, flaunts its entitlements which creates deep resentment amongst the middle and lower classes. As Ms. Prebet observed, the troubles in France have been many years in the making.

During the Q and A, we asked about the refugee crisis taking place in Europe. They both agreed that the magnitude of the crisis was unprecedented and dealing with the large influx of Muslims was a very delicate matter. It was said that the European citizenry was resentful because nobody asked for their input before the large amount of newcomers was thrust upon them. Referring to the situation in Germany Dr. Cassell, once again, expressed cautious optimism because he believed that an "infrastructure" was slowly but surely being created there that would enable provision of the necessary services and its Turkish population was being consulted on how best to integrate the Muslim refugees into its society.

Addressing the issue of populism, Dr. Cassell maintained that its leaders tend to be good at rallying the people but do not do that well after they are elected as they attempt to govern a country on a day-to-day basis and thus have to deal with unattractive but important essential matters like street maintenance and sanitation. He believed that leaders like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan who take the "strong man" approach have actually thrown a damper on populism's attraction.

For Ms. Prebet, as she perceived it there was a "big divide now" and it wasn't about left vs. right but "those who can face a changing world and those who don't want anything to do with it."


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

Kwasi Bediako