Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Secret Club of Populists around the world. You are about to meet the illustrious members of this exclusive organization which operates under the banner, “We are the People,” or “People are us.”
Before anybody screams fake news, let’s make it clear that this club is just a figment of one’s paranoid imagination. But at the rate populism is going nowadays, who knows? These populists just might be conspiring in some dark corners of the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Special Adviser to the Club
Vladimir Putin is rarely present during club meetings but for “some reason,” he always seems to know what the members are discussing both in the meetings and in their digital communications. He is nevertheless regarded as The Godfather of the club. Although the members don’t always agree on whether Putin is really a populist, they all rever him as an anti-establishment icon.
None of the other members know this, but the idea of forming a populists’ club came from Putin. It all started as a joke that Putin heard from a Kremlin adviser who heard the joke from a Kremlin functionary who heard the joke from a Kremlin janitor. The Russian leader made the mistake of sharing it with Trump who was so enamoured with Putin that he took the joke seriously and founded the club the next day. Feeling somehow accountable for the creation of the club, Putin couldn’t reject the offer to serve as its adviser.
U.S. President Donald Trump
Founder and Chairman of the Club
While listening to Putin’s joke, Trump began daydreaming of warm, happy drinking sessions with kindred spirits. “It would be nice,” he thought, “to hang out with people who are just like me and will not pick on me.” And so he began searching for potential members.
Trump googled up the most famous populists in the world. With huge excitement, he listed down Julius Caesar, Maximilien Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Benito Mussolini. His world almost fell apart when he found out they were all dead. So he modified his google search to “POPULISTS WHO ARE ALIVE,” and added, “RIGHT NOW.”
As Trump drew up his final list, he noticed that the candidates had so much in common. They were inclined to be loud, charismatic, extremist figures who loved to stir public emotion against any given order. Most of them exhibited dictatorial tendencies and a disregard for human rights. But they somehow got away with it by claiming that they represent “the people,” and therefore, anything or anyone that defies their leadership, defies “the people.” “Cool!,” Trump exclaimed, “I am really not alone in this world.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
If Putin was The Godfather, Viktor Orbán was The Man. Members idolized the Hungarian premier for his extraordinary rhetorical skills, a characteristic which they all aspired to as populists. With powerful discourse, The Man challenged the EU’s long-held charitable policy on immigration and managed to sway its leaders into adopting tougher measures against immigrants. So effective was he that EU heads were barely aware they were falling for Orbán’s arguments, slowly but surely. Orbán was a major slap in the face of Angela Merkel, and the club members loved him all the more for it.
There was nobody else worthy of being called the Rhetorics Master of the club. But on the sly, the members used Orbán each time they needed to sell an idea to the chairman of the club. The brilliant orator could so effortlessly play Trump like a ukelele, even make him believe that the world is flat. And Orbán didn’t mind twisting the brain of the American leader who kept miscalling him, ‘Mr. Organ’.
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
With so much bad blood currently flowing between the U.S. and Turkey, Trump considered it a good move to invite Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the club. “Maybe we can be friends again,” Trump thought as he recalled how the Turkish leader’s visit to Washington ended in disaster.
The gesture of goodwill was much appreciated by Erdogan. Despite his frustrations over the recent indictment of Turkish security officials in Washington and Trump’s decision to provide weapons to Kurdish militia in Syria, Erdogan couldn’t let go of an opportunity to keep the U.S. President in check one way or another. Owing to the notoriety of Turkey’s security force, the club members thought it was only proper to appoint Erdogan head of security.
French National Front Leader Marine Le Pen
Nobody in the originally all-male club wanted a female member at first. But they needed someone who would carry out the tedious task of transcribing the minutes of the meetings. And the men agreed that it was the kind of job traditionally relegated to a woman.
The first person that came to mind was Marine Le Pen. With her political career down the drain, they were quite certain she wouldn’t say no. And they were right. Much against her will, Le Pen assumed the role of club secretary. With all her political troubles and the recent closure of her bank accounts, she could use some support even from unlikely and condescending allies.
Another candidate was Theresa May. But who would dare ask a Prime Minister to take down notes? Besides, the members thought she didn’t deserve to be in the club. They smelled something fishy about a lady who talked one way before the Brexit vote and talked another way after the Brexit victory, and who, up to this day, cannot say whether she would vote Brexit in a second referendum. To the members of the club, May was nothing but an opportunist.
UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Image Consultant and Decorum Coach
With the popularity of Brexit, the club just had to include a representative from the United Kingdom. Theresa May was out of the question. The name, Nigel Farage never came up. Jeremy Corbyn was it.
It wasn’t because the members saw the Labour Party leader as an accomplished populist. Far from it. But there was something about Corbyn’s elegant and mild-mannered approach to populism that made it look almost legitimate and respectable. While most populists behaved in a way that gave populism a bad name, Corbyn spoke with an air of benevolence and grace which put populism in a very good light. The club members chose him for the selfish reason that having Corbyn around made them feel good about themselves.
As some of the club members miserably lacked any sense of refinement, most notably the President of the United States, Corbyn was assigned the task of mentoring them on decorum and good image projection. In addition, he was to help enrich the members’ English vocabulary and teach them to use words like, ‘hither’ and ‘thither’ or ‘gerrymandering’ and ‘gaggling’.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
There was much contention over the membership of Rodrigo Duterte. First, some of the members envisioned an all-white club. Second, other members thought Duterte’s country was too insignificant. And third, the club doubted whether Duterte could shut his mouth and keep the club a secret. They thought the guy was a braggart and a blabbermouth. He even boasted once or twice about participating in the killings of suspected drug dealers in his brutal drug war in the Philippines.
But Trump had the last say. He wanted Duterte close by especially now that the Philippines is chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Trump needed as many Asian countries on his side. As for Duterte, the only concern was, “Are there any women in the club?” After learning that there was one female member by the name of Marine Le Pen, Duterte immediately checked her out on google and then rolled his eyes.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Since the club welcomed somebody from Asia, the members felt the need to invite politicians from other continents. There were several candidates from Africa. But Trump didn’t want anything to do with Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir who was facing genocide charges. Cameroon President Paul Biya was rejected for having snobbed the luncheon meeting that Trump arranged with African leaders during the UN General Assembly in New York. South African head-of-state Jacob Zuma would have made it, if not for the climate change speech he delivered before the UN General Assembly. Trump found it a little too passive-aggressive.
The only acceptable candidate was Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who was on good terms with Trump. The only issue against him came from Duterte who asked, “How the hell do we address him? Should we call him ‘Mr. Fatah’? ‘Mr. Fatah al-Sisi’? ‘Mr. al-Sisi’? Or ‘Mr. Sisi’?”
Leader of Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders
Unfavored Candidate for Membership
Geert Wilders has been begging for months to be accepted into the club. But according to Trump who kept combining the Dutch politician’s first and last names by mistake, “Geerders is too smalltime! I mean like, who is Geerders anyway?!” But the punchline of his argument was, “Where is The Neverlands anyway? I don’t want anybody from The Neverlands unless it’s Peter Pan or Captain Hook!”
Disputes over Latin American Membership
There is an ongoing debate over whether or not to admit Latin American populists to the club. Some of the members believed there should be a representative from a continent that had a long and prestigious history of populism. As one member asserted, “For Pete’s sayke, this is the blawdy cohntinent of Vargas, Ibarra, Cardenas, Peron, Chavez.” But it wasn’t enough to convince Trump who had very little idea who those people were. As far as the US leader was concerned, there would be no Hispanic members all because he didn’t like Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba.