1st Edition

Populism in Power Discourse and Performativity in SYRIZA and Donald Trump

By Giorgos Venizelos Copyright 2023
    262 Pages 59 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Shifting attention away from policy achievements and effects on democracy, this book focuses on the charismatic function of populist discourse – comprising antagonistic narratives, transgressive style and appeals to the common people.

    The book puts forward an integrative approach that brings together discourse analysis, analysis of digital media, in-depth interviews and ethnographic methods, and places into comparative perspective the cases of SYRIZA in Greece and Donald Trump in the United States. Theorising populism through the lens of collective identification, Venizelos places the rhetorical and emotional dynamics of populist performativity at the core of the analysis, offering a rigorous yet flexible conceptulisation of populism in power. Against theoretical expectations, findings suggest that both SYRIZA and Trump retained, to different degrees, their populist character in power, although their style and vision differed vastly.

    This book urges researchers, journalists and politicians to adopt a reflexive approach to analysing the political implications of populism for politics, polity and society, and to challenge the normatively charged definitions that are uncritically reproduced in the public sphere. It will appeal to researchers of political theory, populism, comparative politics, sociologists and ethnographers.


    1. Populism(s) in Power

    2. Populism in Greece and the United States: Politics, History, Culture

    3. SYRIZA in Opposition (2012–2015)

    4. SYRIZA in Government (2015–2019)

    5. The Rise of Donald Trump: ‘Make America Great Again!’

    6. Donald Trump in Power: ‘Keep America Great!’

    7. Left and Right-wing Populists in Government: A Comparative Analysis




    Giorgos Venizelos is Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Cyprus. His research is situated at the intersections of contemporary political theory and comparative politics with a special focus on populism, anti-populism and discourse theory. He has published in journals including Political Studies, Constellations, Critical Sociology and Representation . He co-convenes the Populism Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association ( www.giorgosvenizelos.com ).

    "It was once assumed that populists could not survive once in power, but recent history has shown us how very wrong this assumption was. Comparing two of the most important cases of populism in power on the left and the right in recent years – the cases of SYRIZA in Greece and Donald Trump in the US respectively – Giorgos Venizelos’ masterful book pushes our understanding of the phenomenon of populism forward in several ways. It works across regional and ideological lines, interrogates the relationship between populism and anti-populism, and creatively analyses populist discourse, visuals and performances to make sense of how and why populism operates and sometimes changes when in power. Theoretically sophisticated yet empirically grounded, cleverly argued and methodologically innovative, it is required reading not only for those interested in populism, but in the rapidly changing landscape of contemporary politics more generally."

    Benjamin Moffitt, Associate Professor Australian Catholic University

    "This book recasts the debate over populism in power by examining its varied effects on democracy and its performative mode of governance.  As Giorgos Venizelos explains, populist discourse, performativity and identification may be forged in opposition, but they hardly disappear once populists take power. Through a comparative analysis of left-wing populism in Greece and right-wing populism in the U.S., Venizelos breaks new ground in showing how populism adapts to governing responsibilities and transforms ‘the people’ in different institutional contexts. This book is a major contribution to the study of populism’s dynamic properties and the socio-cultural bases of its appeal".

    Kenneth M. Roberts, Professor of Government, Cornell University

    "In the crowded field of populism studies, GiorgosVenizelos persuades with his illuminating comparison of diametrically opposed types of populists in government. His meticulous in-depth studies of Syriza and Trump show that populists succeed in reinventing and recalibrating their populist discourse once in office but do so in different ways given their ideological roots. His book is a must read for any scholar wanting to understand the impact populists might have on liberal democracy".

    Sarah De Lange, Professor of Political Pluralism, University of Amsterdam