An American populist in the White House


Trump is a particular type of reactionary American populist. The article tracks the history of American populism beginning with the formation of the People’s Party (also called the Populist Party) in 1891 as an agrarian movement based on anger of the Little Man against the western elite. Prairie populism became an abiding influence in American politics, largely because of the successful repression of socialism: working-class militancy was crushed ruthlessly in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century USA. The New Deal was an establishment response to the populist threat much more than to any fear of socialism. Trump is also part of the US huckster tradition, whereby collectivism finds expression in the shape of a self-invented messiah, who assumes the mantle of an anti-system reformer while seeing no problem with mingling business and politics to personal advantage. Trump in power is operating through a kind of right-wing Leninism, with a group of close allies led by Stephen Bannon, who are outside the Republican Party establishment and are prepared to enact radical measures of conservatism and authoritarianism. Defeating this force will require an alliance based on support for American constitutionalism and democratic traditions, and on finding ways to detach white nationalism from Trumpism’s false promises of economic justice.

Soundings 65: Populism and alliances