On Populism


Populism is afoot in the land.

Populism, taken simply, is a political ideology grounded in the belief that some elite somewhere runs things for their own good, inevitably screwing the deserving groups of society. Populist movements occur when groups of people band together seeking to overthrow this elite in the name of the “people.”

But it turns out the story is more complicated than that. Populism comes in at least two varieties: left-wing populism and right-wing populism. They share important features in common, but differ in politically significant ways.

Left-wing populists believe that society is unjustly run by an elite of corporate and wealthy persons in cooperation with their enablers in government. This cabal of “bad guys” systematically screws over the mass of people—poor, working and middle class people just trying to make a living, build good lives through access to things like public schools and affordable higher education, and enjoy the fruits of labor over the whole course of their lives.

Sound familiar? It should: I’ve just summarized the populist part of the Occupy movement.

Right-wing populism shares a skepticism of government with left-wing populism, but holds a very different group of people accountable for society’s ills. In right-wing populism, the bad guys are society’s unproductive, undeserving groups (the poor, public employees, and others who live on the public dole) along with their enablers in government. This cabal of bad people works to take money from deserving, productive people (the employed and yes, even corporations and the wealthy) to give it to people who have demonstrated their failure as people in the fact of their needing or asking for help.

Welcome to tea party America.

So it turns out that leftists and rightists share a lot in common in American politics. They both sense the good people of society are being screwed over by the bad people of society. They just define each group differently.

Need final proof? Check out the picture at the bottom of this post: it is a mashup of signs from tea party rallies and anarchist rallies against the G-20 and globalization.They say politics makes strange bedlfellows … and this time, they’re right.


Does it diminish the Tea Party’s populist appeal that they are incontravertibly, uncompromisingly wrong?

That they are not a grassroots movement, but a mere astroturf created by the conservative media; living off the rich veins of classism, racism, misogyny and fear of Government in all forms which permeate American society; That their influence pushes conservatism to unforeseen heights, towards caricatures of politicians who, frankly, make Reagan look like a moderate? 

Does it diminish the Tea Party’s populist appeal that they are the direct cultural offspring of Timothy McVeigh? 

(via seriouslyamerica)