The end of populism? Don't count on it

In the culture today, failed politicians never retire into humiliating disgrace. They rarely even do genuinely penitent charity work. Instead, they fail upward into corporate board seats, where their previous authority is prostituted for their private benefit.

And in our business culture, the largest corporations squeeze profits and exert dominance by ensnaring employees and customers alike in thickets of human-resources rules, alongside terms of service meant to confuse and ultimately demoralize us.

Social media are another source of populist energy. And not just because they allow the people to speak back — or perform as if they are speaking back — to authority. Social media have a way of facilitating too much impulsive, disinhibited commentary among different segments of society, which increases mutual bitterness and hostility. An annoying neighbor is just an annoying neighbor — but on social media, being an annoying digital neighbor makes you a symbol of “the other guys” who are ruining everything. Have the past four years shown much conciliation between populist and elite factions, or increasing contempt and cynicism about them?

This is all exacerbated by the obvious way in which social media can literally derange people by overstimulating the portions of the brain that rely on social cues to navigate the world.