In recent months I believe I have not heard the word "Populist" so much since I was junior in high school studying American history (The Populist Party in the late 19th Century American politics, for those of you for whom, like me, it has been a while). And it not just here in the U.S.: the same sorts of language is coming from Europe as well. It is generally (in its current usage) a sort of curse word: someone is accused of being a "populist" as one might have been accused of being "Catholic" 125 years ago.
A populist, in case you have forgotten, is "a member of a political part claiming to represent the common people" or "a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtue of the common people." In the past such a party - The Populist Party"- was largely supported by farmers in the South and Midwest against the perceived entrenched interests of the industrial elite. In its present incarnation the term "populist" is put in opposition to "globalist", "a national policy of treating the whole world as the proper sphere of political influence". This has redefined populist as a sort of national minded party only - a party of the people of a particular place.
My contention is that in reality, even most who proclaim themselves globalists are practicing populists.
A populist now defined is a person interested in the rights of a smaller group than the international playing field - typically a state. Such are accused of benefiting themselves to the expense of the international order.
But oddly enough, we have made a practice and habit of practicing something else, tribalism.
The Interweb really accelerated the process. Once upon a time - a time I can barely remember myself - if one had interests that were often not shared by any of one's friends, one sort of suffered in silence or lived via magazine and mail order. Suddenly, as the world became more "connected", one found that one had companions in one's various interests: I was not the only one interested in role playing games or 13th Century Ireland or Japanese swords. I became part of a community - a community that was often not defined by my geographic area but rather my interests. A group that shared common interests and, over time, a somewhat common way of thinking, at least about sudden things.
I had found a tribe.
Now most people are parts of tribes, even if they do not realize it as such. They talk within the tribe, they share within the tribe, they defend the tribe from outsiders, they support the tribe. And this sort of behavior is supported, even blessed, by culture that has come to value this as the true sign of individual freedom. Even those those who are thoroughly internationalist and globalists are, if they at all belong to one or more subgroups and act in this way, tribal. We can none of us escape it in the modern world.
But now we have a problem: populists are also a sort of tribe by this definition. They talk within a group, they share within a group, they defend against outsiders, and they support the group. It is just that they have a larger group than most.
I do not necessarily have an answer for this (and thank you for sticking with me through this). It does strike me as odd though that we seek to decry and mock the very sort of thing that we claim to cherish and support. It is either the sign of a society that is schizophrenic or a sign that we have lost the ability to ask the deep hard questions about what we really believe and what we are truly about.