Populism: What is it? | Letter

There’s progressive populism. Call it personal sovereignty. Moral virtue and power should rest with the ordinary folks — not elites. It is anti-establishment, opposed to the foundations, universities, think tanks and elites — the groups at the top of society. The charismatic leader represents the voice of the people.

There’s authoritarian populism. Strong leadership, strong state, robust in law and order, belief in family values, religion, nationalism and defined by ethnicity and race.

It appears in two clumsy forms — left and right. Cultural values separate them more than economic values. Donald Trump the authoritarian populist. Bernie Sanders the progressive populist.

Populism’s goal is to shatter the status quo. Down with the elites, intellectuals, foundations, think tanks and universities. Populists are against the established power.

Older and less well educated white men have become increasingly resentful of a society they think no longer protects their values and privileges. They have become a new minority.

Gay marriage is strange. We now tolerate homosexuality. Religion now plays a lesser role. Values are shifting. Those who benefit from these shifts gain status and power. The downside? There are latent resentments. Authoritarian and progressive populists can hardly speak to each other.

Trump came on the scene and gave voice to this new, older cultural minority. One thing remains constant. Older people vote. Younger people protest. Thus values of older people dominate politically.

Economic insecurity and cultural backlash may explain it. Trump authoritarians do not wish to buy into multiculturalism. They want to preserve their welfare chauvinism and oppose minorities they think have no rights to social benefits. Sanders progressives are inclusive.

We are being tested. How long do we hang on to the anachronistic, anti-democratic establishment — The Electoral College, which explains for President Trump’s victory?

On the other hand, the courts are doing their job. So is the media. Society is still vibrant. Young people are energized. While our situation may be precarious, Chicken Little is not on the scene.

C. F. Baumgartner

Mercer Island

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