Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Hisory Of American Populism

Populism has a long history in the US and it is flourishing in Europe today.  It has taken on many forms in the US in response unique situations in our history.  It is more powerful during economic downturns since more people are exposed to hardship in bad times.  Donald Trump won the US election by employing populist messages that were enthusiastically received by his base.  Bernie Sanders also employed populist themes in his primary campaign that were well received by many Democrats.  Populism is not necessarily bad.  Many positive reforms in the US have been in response to populist concerns.  However, some forms of populism have been exploited by politicians who are more concerned about winning elections than they are about reforms that promote social welfare.  The disparity between Donald Trump's campaign promises, and the economic policies that he announced during his campaign, raises serious questions about his use of common populist themes that have been effective in winning elections.  This article in Foreign Affairs describes the use and misuse of populism during our history.

Bernie Sanders used a common form of populism that raises concerns about income inequality and economic hierarchy.  He made a case for the use of government programs that would redistribute income from those at the top of the hierarchy to those in the lower rungs of the hierarchy.  He favors a form of social democracy that is more common in Europe than it is in the US.  Donald Trump's populism was much broader than Bernie Sanders' populism.  He appealed to a form of racial nationalism and ethnicity along with  fears about foreigners that were more common earlier in our history.  That allowed him to defeat Hillary Clinton in many counties that had voted for President Obama in recent elections.  President Obama used a message about change in which we could believe.  He told Americans that "Yes We Can" make important changes.  Hillary Clinton failed to sell herself as change agent.  Trump's theme song of "Making America Great Again" worked better than Clinton's argument that we were already great because we were an inclusive society.  That message did less well than Trump's form of white nationalism and the exclusion of foreign influences in America.

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