95 Foreign Aff. 17 (2016)
Trump and American Populism: Old Whine, New Bottles

handle is hein.journals/fora95 and id is 1179 raw text is: 




Trump and

American

Populism

Old Whine, New Bottles

Michael Kazin

onald Trump is an unlikely

         populist. The Republican
         nominee for U.S. president
inherited a fortune, boasts about his
wealth and his many properties, shuttles
between his exclusive resorts and luxury
hotels, and has adopted an economic
plan that would, among other things,
slash tax rates for rich people like him-
self. But a politician does not have to
live among people of modest means,
or even tout policies that would boost
their incomes, to articulate their griev-
ances and gain their support. Win or
lose, Trump has tapped into a deep
vein of distress and resentment among
millions of white working- and middle-
class Americans.
   Trump is hardly the first politician
to bash elites and champion the inter-
ests of ordinary people. Two different,
often competing populist traditions have
long thrived in the United States. Pundits
often speak of left-wing and right-
wing populists. But those labels don't
capture the most meaningful distinction.
The first type of American populist

MICHAEL KAZIN teaches history at George-
town University and is Editor of Dissent. He is
the author of the forthcoming book War Against
War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918.


directs his or her ire exclusively upward:
at corporate elites and their enablers in
government who have allegedly betrayed
the interests of the men and women who
do the nation's essential work. These
populists embrace a conception of the
people based on class and avoid identi-
fying themselves as supporters or oppo-
nents of any particular ethnic group or
religion. They belong to a broadly liberal
current in American political life; they
advance a version of civic nationalism,
which the historian Gary Gerstle defines
as the belief in the fundamental equality
of all human beings, in every individual's
inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness, and in a democratic
government that derives its legitimacy
from the people's consent.
   Adherents of the second American
populist tradition-the one to which
Trump belongs-also blame elites in
big business and government for under-
mining the common folk's economic
interests and political liberties. But this
traditions definition of the people is
narrower and more ethnically restrictive.
For most of U.S. history, it meant only
citizens of European heritage-real
Americans, whose ethnicity alone
afforded them a claim to share in the
country's bounty. Typically, this breed
of populist alleges that there is a nefarious
alliance between evil forces on high and
the unworthy, dark-skinned poor below-a
cabal that imperils the interests and values
of the patriotic (white) majority in the
middle. The suspicion of an unwritten
pact between top and bottom derives
from a belief in what Gerstle calls racial
nationalism, a conception of America in
ethnoracial terms, as a people held together
by common blood and skin color and by
an inherited fitness for self-government.

       November/December 2016       17

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