The word populism has been bandied around a lot lately in our politics. What does it really mean and what evidence do we have that it is a real force in American politics and not just a word co-opted by charlatans to bring people to their side? In his book, ‘The People, No’, author Thomas Frank gives us a history of anti-populism as the impulse to quell the logic of the mob has often superseded attempts to place authority for decision-making in the hands of the people. Historically, there are two divergent strains in our politics: the one captured in our founding documents(‘of the people, by the people and for the people’)and the institutions built to insure that the republic is not a direct democracy in many ways, like the Electoral College and the selection of the U.S. Senate, first by state legislatures and now with equal representation for all states big and small, as prime examples. Those who have amassed great wealth and power historically have had great disdain for the common man, feeling that by birth, pedigree and training they can make better decisions than the masses. At the same time, owing to a slew of bad decisions by so-called ‘experts’, people have lost faith in their judgment. The last true populist president we had, according to Frank, was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He made major institutions, like banks, change their practices to benefit the general welfare of the people. As the word gets more popular in these times, what does populism look like today and which politicians really are practitioners of it? Find out on this podcast.
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