Europe Day special
Warning! Populists on premises. If you bump into one, remember that hope trumps hate.
On 8 May 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered. Almost 75 years later, the European community has to defend its democratic values again against demagogues. Far-right fuglemen have been extensively trained in rhetoric, which makes debates hard but not impossible. Avoid their traps.
Populists push three frames: division, order and integrity. They pretend to speak for “the people”. They try to present themselves as bearers of truth, and they exaggerate problems to fuel the desire for a strong leader and keeper of traditions. If you want to win arguments, a heated quarrel plays into their hands. Foil their framing instead.
How to bust populist propaganda
Listen carefully and identify the frame behind their statement.
(N.B. Do not interrupt them because your opponent will draw attention to your “rude behaviour” and him being well-mannered.)
Should they claim to speak for the people, point out why this is presumptuous and illustrate what you have done to promote democratic values and public participation.
If they portray themselves as heroes or victims, highlight why it is inconsistent with aggressive rhetoric and irresponsible behaviour.
In the likely case that they warn of chaos and call for law and order, acknowledge public concerns and shift the debate to the future so that the audience can see who offers sound solutions.
Never underestimate a debate with a populist. Always enter the ring with examples and key words to reframe the debate.
For further tips, read this guide from Counterpoint. Germanophones can also devour the brilliant book “Populismus für Anfänger” written by Walter Ötsch and Nina Horaczek.
The broadcaster Deutsche Welle invited two progressive, senior Members of the European Parliament, a conservative Pole and a far-right German politician to the “Conflict Zone”. After discussing migration for 30 minutes, the moderator invites the audience to share their views. What question would you ask whom?