Populism Redux

Populism Redux

Populism is all the rage in this political season—an enraged and often outrageous populism. Judging from the last election, American voters have hit the boiling point. They hate taxes, big government, and spending on the poor. They hate the Washington political establishment. They hate the smug, liberal cultural elite. In fact, they hate anything liberal. They love Rush Limbaugh.

The magnitude of the populist fervor caught some liberal Democrats off guard in November, but the populist mood has actually been building for many years—across the political spectrum. From George Will and William Bennett (unlikely populist types) to Jerry Brown and Jesse Jackson, populism has become a sort of master rhetorical trope, available to all and sundry. A generation ago, the fashionable academic wisdom held that Americans were all, at heart, liberals. (Talk about wishful thinking.) Today it appears that an awful lot of Americans fancy themselves as populists, the angry defenders of the many —”us” (whoever “us” happens to be)— against “them,” the privileged, parasitic, deeply entrenched few.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima