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posted on 19 December 2016

Recovering America's History Of Progressive Populism

by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds

The elites' toadies, lackeys, shills, sycophants, water-carriers and apologists are desperately hyping the context-free, historically ignorant narrative that "populism leads to autocracy" to protect the existing autocracy of the elites.

There is only one narrative in the mainstream media about populism: it destroys democracy and leads straight to fascism. This is an ignorant and false narrative. Here's a typical example of the mainstream anguish that the elites' preferred narratives are falling apart because they've left the bottom 95% behind: How Democracies Fall Apart: Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy

Granted, this is an international context for populism, but this is no excuse for overlooking America's history of progressive populism. Are the "experts" beating the drum that populism inevitably leads to autocracy so poorly educated about American history that they don't know that populism can be powerfully progressive, or are they being willfully blind to serve their elitist masters?

It's time we recover America's history of progressive populism. It's awfully easy for elites and their toadies (witting or unwitting) to dismiss the citizenry who reject elitist narratives as "deplorables," just as it is easy for them to dismiss populist resistance to their control as being "undemocratic."

This is of course the exact opposite of the truth: populism is the result when the institutions of "democracy"--i.e. the machinery of elite control--have failed to respond to the concerns and opinions of non-elites.

Having been rendered impotent and voiceless in the elite-dominated machinery, the bottom 95% have no alternative but to join a populist movement--a movement that in America often takes the form of a third party or an insurgency in an established political party (for example, Sanders and Trump).

Populism arises as a response to crushing inequality in both wealth and political power. The "free silver" movement arose in the late 1800s as a response of the non-elites to the enormous power and wealth of the Gilded Age financiers and industrialists.

The populist idea was to expand the money supply via minting more silver coins, with the goal being to make it easier for small enterprises and family farmers to borrow the new capital that would enter the economy.

Precisely how does this sort of populism lead to autocracy and fascism? The entire claim is laughably absurd. How can so-called "experts" spew this "populism leads to autocracy" nonsense?

Populism is a response to an elitist dominance in wealth and power that have failed the bottom 95%. Populism is a demand for solutions that work for the bottom 95% rather than just for the top 5%, and progressive populism of the sort that enabled Bernie Sanders to raise immense sums from small donors is alive and well--and would be "democratic" if it hadn't been squelched by the elites of the Democratic Party.

The "economic nationalism" of Trump's brand of populism is potentially progressive for the 95% who have not benefited from neoliberal, financialized globalism. Bringing jobs and capital home is not fascism; rather, it is a movement of economic justice for the bottom 95% who did not benefit from globalism, offshoring and the free flow of financier capital, i.e. the neoliberal version of globalism that has been pushed for the past 24 years through the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies.

To many people, borrowing money to rebuild America's infrastructure is a more progressive use of the national treasure than squandering trillions of dollars on overseas wars of choice and bailing out banks. Does the progressive populism of "come home, America" lead straight to autocracy? The idea that populism leads to autocracy has it completely backward (on purpose): what we have now is an autocracy of financial and political elites hell-bent on maintaining their death-grip on the nation's throat.

This defense of failed, exploitive elites--as if the elites' control has been "democratic" and has reduced inequality--is truly pathetic. Don't fall for the "populism leads to autocracy" propaganda of the elites who are threatened by progressive populism.

Populism is a response to an elitist dominance in wealth and power that have failed the bottom 95%. Progressive policies arise out of the bottom 95%'s resistance to the failed narratives of the elites and their toadies. The elites' toadies, lackeys, shills, sycophants, water-carriers and apologists are desperately hyping the context-free, historically ignorant narrative that "populism leads to autocracy" to protect the existing autocracy of the elites.


Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print). For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.


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