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Koike tests possibilities and perils of populism in Japan

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The horrendous images beamed around the world from Charlottesville, Virginia, serve as a poignant reminder that white-supremacist populism is a toxic force in the United States. President Donald Trump’s repugnant response, coming out on the wrong side of history on both Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, inflamed passions and reminded everyone that he is unfit to be president.

The Brexit vote, Trump’s election and French President Emmanuel Macron’s thumping victory are symptomatic of the age of anger we live in. Populism is about claiming to represent the “real people” and targeting the establishment, corruption and immorality. Populists feed on social discontent and promise to clean up a bankrupt system that is rigged for the favored few while the interests of the “real people” are neglected. They invoke culture wars and promise to revive and protect traditional values and community ties that have been sundered by a self-seeking elite. They promise a better life and trade in disappointment and nationalist grandstanding.

Populists have astutely exploited unease about job security and rising inequality, stoking resentment against the broken promises of globalization made by the political and business establishment.

So why no populist revolt after Japan’s economic bubble collapsed in 1990 or the 2008 “Lehman shock”? Perhaps this is because Japanese politics is influenced by a culture that esteems self-effacement, proper conduct and harmony. This is to say that a bumptious and meretricious candidate like Donald Trump is unthinkable.

Populism feeds on significant disparities in wealth, power and cultural values between the governing elite and “the people” and harps on a shared feeling of exclusion —........

© The Japan Times