The Populist-Public Relationship and the Interaction of Public Trusts

This paper adds much-needed nuance to authenticity-based understandings of the relationship between the populist leader and the public. Merging scholarship from law, philosophy, psychology and other social sciences, it argues that the populist-public relationship reflects an interaction of two principal forms of public trust. The first is the public’s trust in the populist. This trust follows primarily from the populist’s appeals to authenticity, rooted in the public’s perception of similarity to, and identification with, the populist. However, and significantly, this trust arises alongside, and in interaction with, a second form of public trust – the public’s trust in itself (‘public self-trust’). We contend that these two trusts are mutually reinforcing. And the result of the interaction, we suggest, is a positive feedback loop of public trust that helps sustain populism.