A Post-Populist World?

Danielle Lee Tomson
5 min readSep 26, 2021


Prayer in Post-Populism? Photo Credit: Pedro Lima via Unsplash

What comes after populism?

For those not willing or too disillusioned to take harder political drugs, it might mean a greater turn towards the spiritual, religious, and artistic to find meaning, identity, and belonging. In short, things are about to get weirder.

The zealous energy around the Populist Explosion of 2016 feels dwindling. With the Cyber Ninjas Arizona audit completed this week, handing Biden an extra 99 votes, one can almost palpably hear the chants of “Stop the Steal” weaken in the airwaves. The political slogans of the loudest Deplorable activists and influencers might not actually speak to the roots of suffering of The Forgotten Man after all. Indeed, America wasn’t “Made Great Again” with any durability. “Build the Wall” did not happen, even as the Biden administration is warehousing or deporting migrants. The Trump Train is slowing as other players enter the game and pull attention away from a single charismatic leader who speaks on behalf of “We the People” against corrupt elites — the hallmark of populism. It is hard to claim “We the People” when you lose both the popular and electoral college vote. This is not to say that Trump voters and their interests have disappeared, but they certainly have changed tone. Left populist leaders in the House who fought “for the 99%” might still attract eyeballs but the realities of difficult policy votes and slow progress can begin to dampen campaign time enthusiasm. Dismantling systemic racism and sexism in policy takes longer than protests take to organize.

False messiahs are a real let down.

So where where might we be going next?

Populism, as it were, is a kind of political drug — which can both be medicinal or damaging. With its catchy slogans and charismatic leaders, populism of the left and right varietals offers a shot of adrenaline through a body politic that jolts it into an awareness that something is not working. It can offer a new high to the democratic process, but there is only so much of it you can take before you realize its not solving a problem so much as numbing a problem. Like any drug, if you take too much you begin to need either harder or different smack to satisfy the urge, or you get clean — usually through medical or spiritual or artistic intervention. Or overdose.

To satisfy the urge for meaning, belonging, and identity in a post-populist world then, I see two possible emerging trends. Firstly, we already see the political mainstreaming of previously fringe or extreme ideologies (Overt White Nationalism and White demographic angst on the Right or revolutionary socialist politics on the Left). This might cause some to break their hypnosis with politics and lessen their engagement entirely.

Where will politically-inclined people go then, as they search for meaning, community and identity in a society where political and civic processes disappointed them? This is where I am beginning to see a new rise in interest religious, occult, artistic, and spiritual communities. This might pull away from the American political story entirely as they search for meaning beyond the political process.

In a world hyper aware of End Times levels of disease, death, natural disasters and human suffering, there is certainly a palpable and refreshed desire to figure how to to make sense of existence, mortality, and living in community with others. This takes on a lot of forms. Sure, Pew Polls indicate a decline in religious affiliation but“church” and spiritual practice can take on a lot of forms in a distributed and decentralized world living increasingly online. I sometimes wonder if we should count Burning Man or yoga studio membership as a form of religious affiliation.

Just look around and bear witness to the variety of trends emerging.

Mainline Protestantism might be “out” but Earth-based spirituality and paganism are in — and its not easy to pin down a trending political affiliation. Progressive circles are elevating indigenous spirituality as an alternative epistemology in the wake of climate apocalypse. Witchcraft is on the rise. Suddenly Tarot decks pop up in a lot of dinner parties and beach gatherings. Even some far-right types find themselves in pre-Christian Nordic rituals and White Separatist neo-paganism. Usually though, its more of the Dr. Bronner’s “All-One-Or-None” varietal.

Christian Nationalism is on the rise, at least in mainstream consciousness as it tends to manifest in political millenarianism or messianic narratives (think QAnon). Despite a lot of the flag waving that might go on, there is an understanding that the Kingdom of God comes before the United States of America and its separation of church and state.

On a wilder note, the occult finds itself growing in online circles. TikTok mediums and psychics rose to prominence as they claimed to “channel” Gabby Petito. Apps like Co-Star network my friends based on their astrological birth charts.

Perhaps most other-worldy (or world-creating) spirituality comes out of the world of Web 3, NFTs, and Cryptocurrency (if you don’t know what these are, helpful links to ease your descent down the rabbit hole). Crypto and NFTs feel like contemporary alchemy — turning 0’s and 1’s into value. I’ve heard more about the Hermetica and the Emerald Tablets of Thoth from Cryptocurrency enthusiasts than anyone else. Apparently the tablets, made out of some alchemy process according to lore, discuss the philosophy of One God, the interconnectedness of everything in the universe — which feels very Blockchainy. NFT art has a robust online community around it — each with their own Discord chat rooms, social media pages, and micro community. These artists create other worlds, story lines, and games that have real cash value, but also invoke occult tropes. A favorite of mine is “Heaven Computer” — where GhostSoftware claims to bring you “the latest technology in divination, On-Chain Errormancy,” where you can “mint” (essentially buy using crypto) a “ghost” NFT who can divine your future. And of course, it makes sense that folks who have left the political system might be attracted to an entirely decentralized, anonymous, and anti-government technological system and community.

And new and iconic art trends, of course, have been known to develop in response to pain, lack of representation, societal unrest. Think of the groundbreaking art and writing that came out of the trauma and sense-making of the World Wars — Orwell and 1984, the surrealist paintings of Ernst and Dalí, the Dadaism of Duchamp, the magical realism of Kahlo. Think of the music that came out of the Vietnam protest movements — Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin. When nothing else makes sense rationally, art speaks to the things we cannot otherwise verbalize.

I might not be in the business of divination like “On-Chain Errormancy,” but I will say this. Whatever comes next in the post-populist world will be motivated by the questions of life, death, relationships, trust, God, spirit, and truth. Politics might attempt to answer these questions, but it will fail. As America tries to make sense of who it is, what is values, and what it wants, trying to find those answers in the political process will always fall short — which is why we will look to the heavens, our creations, and each other’s mortal and immortal selves.

And if we are lucky, maybe, politics will not co-opt these things entirely. But that bet has terrible odds.



Danielle Lee Tomson

Personal Musings of a Scholar and Strategist Navigating Propaganda, Tech, and Power