Let’s Retire the Term “Populist”

When it started to become clear that Donald Trump was actually being taken seriously as a candidate for president, the press seemed to be at a loss as to what to label him as his positions seemed all over the map.  They finally settled on the word “populist.”

A definition for “populist” is tough to nail down, but generally it is thought of as someone who is speaking for the “common person” against the establishment or elites.  Those words are often used, especially by Steve Bannon to describe the Trump “movement.”

Now, after nine months in the White House we can see Trump (and Bannon) what what he really is, an extension of the Republican scam.

It was Richard Nixon that created the modern Republican scam with his “Southern Strategy.”  This was simply the flipping of white southern Democrats (who opposed the party that lead the “War of Northern Aggression”) back to Republicans by appearing to oppose the Civil Rights movement that Democrats were backing.

It is not all racism, of course, the Republicans expanded their offerings to now include what we call the “Culture War” type issues, abortion, guns, gay rights, etc.  Basic game plan being, get old white folks riled up about guns or gays, get their votes and when in office back the corporate donors entirely.

Trump ran this same scam, but because he is probably personality disordered, ran his mouth in directions that blew the scam apart.

First, on the culture war side, he went beyond the implied racism of Republicans to actual overt racism.  The “dog whistle” became a fog horn.  But he also couldn’t resist throwing out economic promises that he had no intention (and no mechanism for achieving) of keeping such as “terrific” low price, full coverage health insurance for everyone.

Bannon was quick to label these incoherent ideas “Economic Nationalism” mostly because the first iteration “America First” had strong fascist implications.

Whatever, because when they tried to govern from this swampy morass, the whole thing blew apart anyway.

The racist policy proposals haven’t got to far as they made about as much sense as Trump’s Twitter feed.  We have to ban travel from Venezuela?  Because they gave oil money to government programs?  WTF?  The No-Cost Wall has pretty much been a none-starter.  There have been some shots at gay rights and marijuana, but the number of people willing to get riled about those things are already a minority and shrinking fast.

And economically?  Pure Koch Brothers.  The Obamacare “repeal”, tax “reform” and the budget proposal are all ALEC wet dreams.  They totally contradict Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  Proposals to cut Medicare, millions proposed to lose health coverage, monsterous tax cuts for billionaires.  None of which are popular.  A “populist” with no popularity?

After leaving the White House, Bannon declared “war” on the Republican party vowing to drive out “establishment” Republicans.  You would think in a war, you could tell which side is which, but in this case, I know I can’t.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what kind of country Bannon wants, other than a white one.

So far, there has only been one skirmish in Bannon’s war.  Weirdly, even though the war is supposed to bring Trumpism to the entire Republican party, Trump himself didn’t support Bannon’s preferred candidate.  But there wasn’t much difference between the candidates anyway.

Roy Moore would almost certainly for the whole Koch Brother backed, ALEC authored basket of awfulness: tax cuts for billionaires, millions thrown off Medicaid, huge cuts to Medicare, sinking the EPA (ironically signed into existence by Nixon) and so on.  Pure establishment Republican.  Trump backed Strange, would presumably vote exactly the same way.  Strange would also vote against abortion rights, gay rights, immigrants rights and for gun rights.  And so would Moore.

So what is this war about?

As far as I can see the only difference between the two is that Moore is certifiably insane and wants to trash the First Amendment by establishing his brand of Christianity as the national religion and get rid of the free press.  Notably, Trump is no great defender of the First as well.

So, is the war about who is going to get rid of the First Amendment?  Perhaps followed by the 12th, 13th and 14th?

This is not populism.  This is not demogoguery. This is apparently about removing the pillars of American freedom, our very reason for existence.

That’s not populism — that’s treason.

And we should call it that.


  1. says

    Labels like “populist” or whatever, are ways to manipulate people’s perception by implying that a person shares a certain set of beliefs – yet it’s likely that they share some of those beliefs but probably not others. It’s the old “wolf in sheep’s clothing” strategy: label oneself as a “sheep” and maybe the sheep’s confirmation bias will kick in and they’ll start attributing sheep beliefs to the wolf. It’s a technique for lying, and we should be more suspicious of it than we generally are.

    These people all share a common belief system: they love power. Everything else takes second place. They’ve all got various ways of contextualizing it and justifying it to others (maybe even themselves) I don’t do them the courtesy of assuming they believe anything at all – I just watch their actions and don’t listen to their words.

  2. cgw1951 says

    Indeed – these days it is popular to consider Hillary Clinton a feminist despite her continued collusion with and lack of challenge of her woman abusing husband. Of course it is common and mundane to jump on the Trump bashing bandwagon – very safe. However, hard to think that if one were that supportive of the Obamas and Clintons and so terribly upset at the election of Trump (for whatever reason), it appears less popular to turn one’s criticism against Clinton for letting down her voters so badly, being too smug to put up a decent campaign.

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