Claus Leggewie at Eurozine:
To label Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and its like-minded European counterparts “populists” is gradually to trivialize the true nature of these parties. Populists traditionally feed upon the opposition between the “big nobs” and “the people”, on the alienation of the wider population from career politicians, top managers and opinion leaders. Such antielitist movements came into existence in the nineteenth century. In America and Russia respectively, the People's Party and Narodniks mobilized against the powerful and the people's representatives who pursued politics as a profession. Then came the Peronists and Chavistas in South America, followed by tax rebels like Mogens Glistrup, who attracted protest votes in 1970s Scandinavia and who considered the welfare state too expensive. And, lastly, there came the sceptics who consider both the euro and the EU (that is, the Brussels bureaucrats) to be fundamentally flawed and mistrust The Beltway (Washington DC).
Inherent to the groupings of people united against the powers that be was always the exclusion of people who apparently did not belong – from the Know Nothings in the United States who railed against Catholic immigrants and Asians to today's indiscriminate haters of Islam who fear for the Christian West even if they have never set foot in a place of worship themselves, or are simply hooligans. Along these lines, nationalist populists distinguish themselves from social reformers, which in today's America means: xenophobic supporters of Donald Trump who want to chuck out Muslims and Mexicans, as distinct from supporters of Bernie Sanders who make the case for social justice independent of skin colour and religion.