And that brings us to the second difference between the interwar era and our own. Eighty years ago anti-liberal parties promulgated comprehensive ideologies (communism, fascism) that promised to unify highly differentiated national communities around a common purpose or goal. Recognizing the greater challenge of doing so under the more pluralistic conditions of the present, today’s populists try the opposite tack, using social media and other forms of technology to sow rancorous dissension with fake news and generous helpings of disinformation. The hope is that anti-populists will end up so confused, distracted, and riven by discord that the populists will win and maintain power despite their lack of majority support in the electorate.
This is one of the distinguishing marks of Putinist populism, and we’re likely to see more of it throughout the Western world over the coming years. When no one can say for sure what is true and what is a lie, political leaders are given a free hand. In some cases, they can even get away with murder.