Populists then and now

fighting Bob

Robert La Follette

In the September 7 issue of The New Yorker,” George Packer discusses populism, specifically the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Packer writes:

Populism is a stance and a rhetoric more than an ideology or a set of positions. It speaks of a battle of good against evil, demanding simple answers to difficult problems. (Trump: “Trade? We’re gonna fix it. Health care? We’re gonna fix it.”) It’s suspicious of the normal bargaining and compromise that constitute democratic governance. (On the stump, Sanders seldom touts his bipartisan successes as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.) Populism can have a conspiratorial and apocalyptic bent—the belief that the country, or at least its decent majority, is facing imminent ruin at the hands of a particular group of malefactors (Mexicans, billionaires, Jews, politicians).

About Sanders we read:

Sanders, who has spent most of his career as an outsider on the inside, believes ardently in politics. He views the political arena as a battle of opposing classes (even more than Elizabeth Warren, he really does seem to hate the rich), but believes that their conflicts can be managed through elections and legislation.

Packer writes that for Trump:

There’s no dirtier word in the lexicon of his stump speech than “politician.” He incites his audiences’ contempt for the very notion of solving problems through political means. China, the Islamic State, immigrants, unemployment, Wall Street: just let him handle it—he’ll build the wall, deport the eleven million, rewrite the Fourteenth Amendment, create the jobs, kill the terrorists. He offers no idea beyond himself, the leader who can reverse the country’s decline by sheer force of personality. Speaking in Mobile, Alabama, recently, he paused to wonder whether representative government was even necessary.

Packer concludes by noting that while populists seldom win elections, they can have an effect on the political climate for better or worse.

This short article is interesting–recommended.


About whungerford

* Contributor at NewNY23rd.com where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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3 Responses to Populists then and now

  1. josephurban says:

    I believe there is quite a difference between Sanders and Trump. Sanders has dedicated his life to the principles good government and the social contract. Trump has just recently discovered he cares about the common man. Which one do you think is sincere?


  2. whungerford says:

    As George Packer notes, it is unclear what Donald Trump really believes.


  3. Deb Meeker says:

    I agree with Sanders. Politics is a battle between the haves and have nots. But as we know, the have nots are sometimes too easily bought for politicians; we all know money corrupts. Sanders has remained unscathed by scandal, and remained tried and true to his principles through all his years of government service. He is definitely a “populist”, but has much more than rhetoric to offer the American people.

    “Populism is a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general population, especially when contrasting any new collective consciousness push against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant political sector.” ~ Wikipedia

    Donald Trump has changed his position, and opinion on most any topic he’s been asked about in the last three months. He is not a populist unless one contends that the population truly has lost any sense of the American ethic, of unity, and desires yet another term of the “Cowboy -I’m as ignorant as they come about issues, I just power through everyone” leadership type.


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