This is an excellent essay by Kurt Andersen, tying together many of the threads about the ugly and recalcitrant nature of populism that I’ve been posting on in recent days. Anderson makes an important point that is, at once, completely obvious but rarely remarked upon: populism became more a right-wing movement in the 20th century because the Democratic Party associated itself with the civil rights and pro-immigration causes.
The intellectual driver of populism is anti-elitism, a valuable force when an oligarchy rises–as the Wall Street oligarchy has risen and distorted American capitalism over the past twenty years. The emotional drivers of populism are anti-intellectualism and, all too often, a suspicion and hatred of The Other–first Catholics, in the early 19th century, when the nativist “know-nothing” party was formed; blacks, with the end of slavery and forever more; Jews, in the first half of the 20th century (ADD: and also southern Europeans, especially Italians); Latinos, most recently.
To repeat, this ugliness has always been with us and always has been defeated by the sane American majority. Those, like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who seek to exploit these fears now stand on the shoulders of…pygmies.
Update: The excellent Fred Kaplan weighs in with appropriate outrage over Palin turning terrorism into a political issue.