Populists are villains (but their followers deserve to be heard and respected)


Populist demagoguery thrives when large groups of citizens feel that politics is ignoring their values ​​and interests

In Michael Lind

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Populist demagoguery thrives when large groups of citizens feel that politics is ignoring their values ​​and interests

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Donald Trump is the first true demagogue to assume the presidency of the United States. But politicians who claim to be supporters of those citizens who feel powerless to confront Corporation Corrupt historically well known in USA At the state and local levels. As a political form, populist demagoguery tends to flourish when large groups of citizens feel that politics is ignoring their values ​​and interests.

At the end of the next phase of the American Civil War known as the Reconstruction Era, the so-called Bourbon Democrats, who are the elite descendants of slaveholders. prewar And their allies, they controlled the southern state governments from Virginia to Texas. L ‘Bourbon oligarchy All blacks in the South and many poor whites were denied the right to vote with poll tax (a tax levied on people who are allowed to vote), literacy tests, and other means designed to suppress voting. As a result, the Republican Party was nearly wiped out from the South, and the democratic monopoly of political power served to maintain an oppressive version of the plantation economy, based on forms of labor – such as sharing crops and renting out convicts (selling prisoners to employers). Action) – that surrounded both whites and blacks.


The politics of the southern oligarchy produced its opponent in the form of populist demagogues whose political base consisted of small farmers and working-class whites. Despite their elite background, many southern demagogues have been distinguished from the grandiose ruling class by their crude language and their entertainment campaigns. In South Carolina, Governor Benjamin R Tillman earned the nickname “Pitchfork Ben” after attacking President Grover Cleveland in this way: “I’m going to insert a pitchfork into his old stumpy ribs!” at TexasJames Stephen Hugh who weighed 300 pounds (about 130 kilograms) made the pig a symbol of his successful campaign to become a ruler.

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Many southern demagogues used racism to appeal to not-rich whites worried about black competition. In Mississippi, U.S. Governor and Senator James K. Vardaman has called himself the “Great White Leader” and has demonstrated his commitment to white supremacy by dressing in white and riding in a bullock cart. whiteness. On the other hand, others have proven themselves opportunistic. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Tom Watson from Georgia At first he welcomed support for blacks, then he advocated for white supremacy. Generations later, Alabama Governor George Wallace did the opposite, associating his name with supporters of apartheid before turning to black voters at the end of his career, from a wheelchair after surviving an assassination attempt.

Moreover, many populist demagogues denounced urban commercial and banking enterprises, as well as the large corporations, often based in the northern United States, that dominated their countries’ economies. Other demagogues, such as W. Lee “Babi” O’Donnell of Texas, a Hillbilly radio star who became governor of Texas and a US senator, were leading figures in corporations and the wealthy. Southern demagogues generally abandoned their followers and joined the establishment. Sometimes they established family dynasties in state politics. Huey B. Long Louisiana“The Kingfish,” whose motto was “Every man is king,” became governor of the United States and then a senator. Long was killed in 1935, his brother Earl succeeded him as governor, and his son Russell succeeded him in the Senate.

Maggie Benson

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