Populism for Social Democrats

1 familiar with Thomas Frank’s job –notably his 2004 bestseller What Is the Matter with Kansas? –might expect him to be more circumspect about populist movements. His whole thesis in that book, afterwards, was that conservatives had tricked the common Kansan into voting against his own best interests. It would be reasonable to expect Frank to embrace the position, apocryphally credited to Winston Churchill, which”the very best argument against democracy is a five-minute dialogue with the average voter.” The folks are bigoted rubes who don’t understand what is good for themselves, not as the entire country. 
Nevertheless Frank’s new attempt, The People, No, winners”popular sovereignty and civic participation” as the remedy for our governmental ills. Frank unabashedly celebrates”the populist impulse”: the notion that the working man is due to elites; that a majority of”the people,” rather than the legislation, is the most essential source of governmental authority; which governmental elites’ job would be to perform the majority’s bidding. ‘More democracy!’ Is the clarion call for a better America.
How do Frank be optimistic about”the people” regardless of his familiarity with their right-wing bigotry? His answer can be found in the gap between political substance and political procedure. Right-wing anti-elitist speak-for-the-people-ism, you notice, is not really populism at all. “The English language has a wonderful many solid choices when someone wishes to clarify mob psychology,” he writes. Mob fervor, the basest form of political procedure, is not itself the issue, as long as it’s in the support of substantively excellent ends.
Real populism, he argues, is substantively left-wing as it’s procedurally democratic; it involves distribution of wealth and state interventionism because that is what a majority of the people want.
Even the Pops, as they were understood, gave the term populism”its first significance” and Frank mocks people who would”take this particular sentence back to its Latin origin and…start all over again from there” as”inverting” the proper”historic significance” of populism.
No Authentic Populist, therefore, could endorse deregulation (even though one is knowledgeable about those kosher butcher arrested for violating New Deal regulations testifying that,”within my enterprise, I’m the professional,” a continuation of the common guy if there ever was one) or service strongman rulers. How could it be otherwise, in case the Populists”invented the expression”?
This is a clever sleight-of-hand. People who have cautioned against excesses of flames the”anti-populists” who are really the focus of Frank’s study, who indulged in that which he calls”the Democracy Scare” –in the founding to President Lincoln to today, were correct to be suspicious of politicians who would do anything they felt”the folks” needed.
The need to restrain”the people” –to restrain the worst instincts of a democracy–is still in the core of our constitutional system, representing a healthy skepticism towards pure majoritarianism a century before the growth of the Populists. James Madison worried about populism when he fretted in Federalist 10 about”factions…united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” Majorities of the folks, banded along with some common interest, would trample minorities and the rule of law to get what they want.
In Federalist 51, Madison wrote that”a reliance on the people isalso, no doubt, the main control in the authorities,” but cautioned that the folks could themselves become dangerous. He reasoned that”experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions” to”enable the government to control the governed; and at the next place oblige it to control itself” With these considerations in mind the Framers fashioned institutions, like the Senate and the Supreme Court, which would check the passions of the people inside a democratic system.
Abraham Lincoln embraced an anti-populist stance nicely before the Populists coordinated politically when he resisted the centrality of popular sovereignty into the argument over slavery’s expansion. When masses of individuals gather to reevaluate their will by sheer majority and fail to submit into the mediating forces offered by legislation, they behave as a”mob.” Populism is exactly what we call the removal of this constitutional filter which normally distills and refines popular sovereignty.  
The very exact anxieties –not to mention reform but of governmental directly made solely by majority might– animate today’s anti-populism. Frank misses this point because he won’t phone Trumpism a brand new movement, dismissing the 2016 election for a cataclysm which”only occurred thanks to the Electoral College, an anti-populist instrument from long past.” While that is true in some sense–we don’t actually understand the way the election decided by popular vote would have goneit also downplays the role of mediating institutions like political parties in maintaining rabble-rousers out.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ attempted hostile takeovers of both political parties, allowed by main systems that enable”the people” rather than elites in smoke-filled rooms, were the signs of populism that disturbed the anti-populists. Nevertheless Frank dismisses the role played with deference to the common man in elite-run institutions, like populism could only rear its head in electoral politics. Had Republican gatekeepers defied the majority of the principal respondents and listened to the best interests of their celebration –as they could have performed in a less-democratic past–Trump would not have obtained the nomination. But such defiance is unthinkable at a populist age that prizes the will of those people over all.
Then, on January 6, a mob seized with conspiratorial fervor descended on the Capitol to shoot the public’s house in the elites they thought had struck the election. Even the President, a person who throughout his presidency insisted on speaking as one, egged them on with reckless disregard for constitutional criteria. Frank would contend that this is a totally different phenomenon–he would likely call it”fascist”–however that only eyeglasses fascism as populism shot to its logical conclusion. Regular people, feeling wronged by elites and eager for extreme mass action, spurned the rule of law and the Constitution, insisting that they alone were the legitimate source of governmental power. 
As if to hammer all of populism’s problems, Republicans in Congress were cowed with their constituents into letting President Trump off the hook for his role in stoking the riot. Had the impeachment vote already been anonymous, many Republican representatives would have shrunk Trump into the curb. But fear of reproach in the hands of”the people” –such as that endured by vocal Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney–kept nearly all of them out of voting their conscience.
Frank could counter that any good thing taken too far (or in support of the erroneous ideals) can turn into an issue. Excellent folks, often with valid concerns, may be prone to mob mentality, however there is nothing inherent in populism which leads inexorably to this result.
A motion like populism, which claims there is such a thing as”the people” without perfect unanimity, transforms majorities into totalities.Populism’s defenders would be wrong to make such a circumstance. Locating political power in the terrific masses of the individuals and positioning their interests compared to people of elites naturally encourages conspiracy theories and violence. Only a thin line separates endangering the public’s woes on elites–that our machinations are blatantly made inconspicuous–out of intricate notions about who really controls the banks, the press, and the authorities. “Adversarian” politics, that pits the righteous masses against self sustaining elites clinging to power and privilege, lends itself naturally to ends-justify-the-means violenceto using power in numbers to carry the reins of power at the title of these people. 
“The individuals,” as anti-populists understand well, are not always so virtuous. Majoritarian rule warranted in the name of”the people” often tyrannizes minority groups who rely upon the rule of law for protection against democratically-enacted injustices.
In the title of this Constitution, nor even the rule of law, nor even the dictates of conscience did Wallace insist on”segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” within his 1963 Inaugural Address however”in the title of the best people who have ever trod this ground.” He’d often ground his rankings at a”covenant with all the people” to be their delegate, contrasting his political philosophy to elites who have their”little think tanks” and”who write in magazines”
Frank loves the rhetorical populism of FDR, who”was among all the folks” and”talked constantly about the desperate need to take away power from economical elites and return it to the average American” but refuses to watch Wallace at exactly the same light. (Never mind the FDR’s economic”reforms” were mostly corporatist, bringing enormous business into bed with the authorities for price-fixing schemes and anti-competitive”industrial recovery” measures.) Why are FDR’s words populism in its finest but Wallace’s rhetoric not populism whatsoever? 1 possibility is that, just as Frank suffers a blind spot to mediating institutions, he is crippled by the all-too-common urge to think of politics only on a nationwide scale. The other is that he has gerrymandered the significance of populism around historic figures of whom he approves.
The reality is that Wallace, as much as any other politician, has been an adherent of this mantra allegedly coined by William Jennings Bryan, Frank’s paradigmatic Populist:”The people of Nebraska are all for free silver. Therefore, I’m for free silver. I’ll look up the motives ” (On his deathbed at 1991 Wallace put his segregationism in the toes of Alabamians, arguing he”needed to endure for segregation or be conquered” before pivoting to attack Ronald Reagan’s tax coverage for”unsuccessful…the middle and poor classes.”)
Blend pure majoritarianism with the conceit that some self-interested minority of elites is out to find the common man, and it’s not hard to fashion a debate which the people of Alabama must stand firm in tyrannizing a minority. “The people” are autonomous, and by electing Wallace governor they’ve spoken against the external forces who would endanger them.
A majority, indeed, speaks with a single voice. Anti-populists have picked up with this attribute and criticized populism for being”anti-pluralist.” In other words, it treats”the people” as an”it” –generally personified in a single executive like Wallace or even Roosevelt–rather than the usual”they,” together with dissidents whose rights issue even if they’re a minority.
Frank’s response to this review displays that he doesn’t really grasp his interlocutors’ issues. He mischaracterizes pluralism as the worth of welcoming individuals of different genders and races into the fold then argues that populism is not”racist or sexist or discriminatory.”
What Frank has explained is called”diversity” Pluralism means living in peace among individuals who stick by customs, standards, and values unlike your own. It signifies not imposing one-size-fits-all legislation and standards among a diverse population. Pluralism needs, for example, cognizance which kosher butchers have spiritual requirements which shouldn’t be trampled by national”industrial restoration” policy that a populist President such as FDR believes is good for”the people.” It requires sensitivity involving the methods in which a majority cannot be permitted to talk with a single voice.
A motion like populism, which claims there is such a thing as”the people” without perfect unanimity, transforms majorities into totalities. 49.9% of Alabamians may have detested segregation–many of whom, naturally, endured its indignities–but provided that 50%-plus-one vote for Wallace, the orders of populism need him to talk for”the people” and oppress the minority on behalf of the majority. It is always exclusive. That’s the reason why anti-pluralism is endemic to populism.
That does add up to rule by”the people” But such a mode of politics is not exactly what our Constitution prescribes, and with great reason. Americans owe a debt of appreciation to all those Federalists who ensured that people”empower the government to control the governed; and at the next place oblige it to control itself” Frank’s populism would prefer that it do .