Many historians and political writers have identified the Bernie Sanders movement, the Donald trump movement, and the tea party movement, among many lesser movements, as populist movements. This is not a new phenomenon in US history. In fact, populist rebellions have emerged regularly since the founding of the nation.
Mariner has written many posts addressing populism. There are a few common issues that are present in all populist movements: Most common is the belief that ordinary citizens should have authority over the elitist class; the cause is common to many uprisings – Bernie, for example, is a rerun of the 1890’s uprising that protested the existence of an elitist class and income inequality. Donald Trump sounds exactly like the ‘Know-Nothing’ rebellion – in more ways than one. The rebellion was due to immigration and threats of job security.
In the 1880’s corporations were charging excessive fees to farmers and other labor level citizens (an issue that has a familiar ring in today’s world where corporations are excessively hoarding wealth at the cost of salaries in general) a situation that led to the creation of the ‘People’s Party.’ William Jennings Bryan led this movement through three presidential campaigns and is famous for the quote, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
It is obvious that populist uprisings occur when significant change to the culture is necessary. It is also true that at the voting booth, populists always lose – almost always.
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Standing to the side of history and watching populism not as a process but what the impact is on about a fourth of the population, the disruption to stable daily life is not pleasant. To willingly suffer insecurity, a growing doubt about the future and a willingness to physically challenge authority with little rationality suggests maltreatment by the core society that gives them personal definition. Why does this happen? Why does society drift away from fairness and the psychology of teamsmanship?
Many will surmise that it is the innate nature of Homo sapiens to be competitive and possessive – two characteristics that improve security and survival. This suggests that mitigating these behaviors is why humans created governments. There are only three philosophies of government that can pretend to mitigate base behavior: socialism, communism and democracy. There are many cultural variations, of course, but why hasn’t the world mastered any of these philosophies?
Perhaps we never will. But the current conflict of change includes populism, capitalism, democratic authority, displacement by artificial intelligence, environmental constraint and a world population wavering on dysfunctionality. Governments will not reconcile this massive change by next Christmas.
What is new in context is that an informed and personally responsible electorate must take charge. Not the familiar party-driven, lobby-funded, class-defined society thus far. Not the faux citizenry of Robespierre. It will take management by collective population to stabilize government inadequacy. Unfortunately, we who are alive today will not see success in our lifetimes. Nevertheless, continuous improvement toward that day rides on you. Vote wisely.