Trump and populism

by Eric on August 25, 2015

In The New Republic, Jeet Heer says that Donald Trump is not a populist, he’s “the voice of aggrieved privilege—of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below, whether in the form of Hispanic immigrants or uppity women.” Or the voice of the white American man enraged at the possibility he might lose his ill-gotten privilege. Heer doesn’t use the f-word, but it’s the elephant in the room.

Hitler elephant
A relevant elephant

For the alleged misunderstanding of Trumpism as “populism,” Heer blames the historian Richard Hofstadter, who in the middle 1950s explained he was interested in “that side of Populism” that sounded to Hofstadter a lot like McCarthyism. Hofstadter was right: there was a side of Populism, and not a trivial side, that sounded like McCarthyism—and Trumpism too.

The Populists, or People’s Party, of the US supported nationalization of railroads and a progressive income tax in the 1890s. You can read about it in the Omaha Platform they composed—where you can also read that the Populists supported keeping out immigrants who competed with American workers for jobs:

we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners; and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.

Note, please: “criminal classes of the world.” A lot of the historiography (which Heer cites) pointing out that the Populists weren’t solely a party of bigotry would today on Twitter be summed up, uncharitably if not entirely unpithily, as #NotAllPopulists.

I am not trying to say that the Populists were fascists. But they were aggrieved white folks who thought they were entitled to something that they then did not get. The party was strongest in the West, where white people went to farm land taken from the Indians, which the US government gave white people for free, which was supposed to be well served by railroad lines subsidized by the US government… and which turned out to be full of wolves, locusts, and monopolists, and not nearly full enough of rainfall.1

Loans the settlers had taken, to improve the land or efficiently to plow it, became burdensome in bad years. As the railroads consolidated, the cost of shipping products out of the prairies soared.

Promised an Eden and delivered a desert, the pioneers rebelled. They blamed railroad monopolies, international capitalists (not always a code for Jews), and international labor, or immigrants.

The Populists were also strong in the South, where the prewar plantation class was once more in the ascendant, slave labor had been restored in all but name, and the poorer to middling sort of white voters felt themselves similarly oppressed. They could be picked off, though, by an appeal to race—which is a major reason the southern states started disfranchising black folks in the early 1890s. The Democratic Parties of the South, by making legal disfranchisement of black voters their cause and appealing to white racial solidarity, could bring white voters back from the Populist Party.

None of which is to say that the Populists—who eventually came under the leadership of William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and joined with the Democratic Party, where they lost, and lost, and lost—were fascists. But the discontent that led to Populism could easily have become fascism, or something like it: and that is what Hofstadter correctly sensed.2 Without the Christian Bryan at their head—with, say, a figure more like P. T. Barnum, or William Randolph Hearst in the saddle of the party… who knows.



1There was an effort to get homesteads for freedpeople under the 1866 amendments to the Homestead Act, or the Southern Homestead Act—but it did not produce a lot of black homesteaders. So I’m referring to white ones, as they were the large majority.

2Now, “status anxiety” as an explanation for Progressivism—that’s another thing.

{ 120 comments }

1

steven johnson 08.25.15 at 3:45 pm

Historically, fascism was an ideology of national mobilization, either in the face of imperial defeat or to establish a new nation in the ruins of empire. This mobilization as an allegedly classless unity hinged upon targeting an Other with a commitment to extra-legal violence in order o remove the obstructions of classic democracy.

Lynching was the extralegal politics of violence that supported Jim Crow. Jim Crow was homologous to Nuremberg laws.

I’m not seeing the sharp distinction between populism as a trend in parties and fascism some people do. Much of the actual Populist movement was anti-imperialist. Bryan himself resigned on anti-imperialist principle, forever earning the contempt of right-thinking folk. Progressives went for the League of Nations/UN/collective security. But small letter populism?

2

Bruce Wilder 08.25.15 at 4:39 pm

Altemeyer’s work on the political psychology of authoritarian followers is essential for understanding the populists, especially in comparisons.

One essential aspect of the political dynamics is that the leaders do not share the psychology of the followers, though the rhetoric is shaped to conform to what works typically to persuade a right-wing authoritarian follower — and the form of what persuades an authoritarian follower is narrowly predictable. Trump may be more willing to make those appeals than most Republicans, because he is personally less committed than the core of the elite Republican Party to petty predation. He does not talk as if stealing Social Security is a priority for him, for example. Which may seem strange for a man identified with Casinos, but there you have it.

As Altemeyer shows, authoritarian followers are not discerning consumers of political rhetoric. They are easily fooled by demagogues, whose political program is conservative in the sense of promoting a privileged elite hierarchy, even though authoritarian followers are instinctively egalitarian, at least for the in-group with which they identify. They are socialists of a kind, who want membership in the society to entitle them to society’s care in return for their loyalty and conformist service.

As Altemeyer also shows, authoritarian followers are made, not born, at least on the margins. Increasing precarity, talk of terrorism threatening the country, security theatre — the Right has spent the last 15 years increasing the proportion of authoritarian followers in the population.

3

rollo 08.25.15 at 4:43 pm

The tools (some presumably unwitting) of the billionaires are exercised over the lone renegade billionaire. It might be a better thing to focus on the world capitalist war to turn the planet into a giant shopping mall made up of atomized people controlled by Hollywood mass culture and consumerism. The “left” is controlled by the billionaires and American Empire state security apparatus. You can see this in its purest form with the antifa.

Someone should ask Hillary (or her apparent impending replacement Biden) why Libya had to be destroyed. Was it another Zionist war of aggression or was something else going on? A bumbler like Biden might accidently say something close to the truth if he knows it.

4

sillybill 08.25.15 at 5:50 pm

Rollo,
At the risk of Eric telling us we’re way OT – I would think you would need to clarify what specific part of the “left” you mean – people, some organisations, politicians? I think I’m a lefty but don’t see how billionaires control me or others – perhaps ‘constrain’ would be a better word?
And the next sentence about antifa is even more confusing. I’m assuming you are referring to ‘antifascist’ groups. Most such groups in the US don’t call themselves ‘antifa’ that’s more of a UK or Euro label, but regardless, if that’s what you mean I don’t see how it applies in a “controlled by billionaires” sense.
Certainly the US security apparatus does all it can (within their own constraints) to keep groups like Anti Racist Action, blac-bloc anarchists or other antiracist or antiwar groups from getting out of hand, but a look at reports and video from any Ku Klux Klan or National Socialist Movement rally will show lots more uncontrollable action from the crowd than you would find at your typical leftist coffee klatsch.
And why would you expect Hillary to give an honest answer to the Libya question?

5

Matt_L 08.25.15 at 6:15 pm

I think its a mistake to use fascism in an American political context. Fascism is really specific to the post WWI European political context where conservatives, liberals, and socialists had to confront an ascendant communist movement that sprang from the October Revolution and the survival of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. Absent a Bolshevik victory there would not have been a Nazi party in Germany. The case for Mussolini would have been different as well. The Italian fascist movement was the product of a victory in world war one, rather than a consequence of its failure.

I just don’t see the Populists as tied to the same political context. Their grievances might have been similar to those of the German farmers and lower middle class, or their Italian counterparts, but the political structures and ideological imagination were very different. The same for Trump and the Tea Party today. The political order in the US hasn’t been discredited in the eyes of the majority of the people, only an aggrieved minority thinks everything that has happened since 2008 is somehow unconstitutional. In Weimar Germany and other parts of post war central Europe the established political order had been overthrown and discredited. The options were either restructuring the old system or overthrowing the whole thing. If you were a radical your choices were fascism or communism. If you owned property you wanted anything but communism. I don’t see the same dynamic at play in the US either back before the New Deal or today.

Let me ask a couple of questions. What kind of analytical leverage do we gain by calling Trump a fascist? Does it offer any political advantage? I think we get the same leverage by pointing to the relevant ugly American antecedents: Populism, the Know-Nothings, and the Birchers rather than trying to tag Trump or any other member of the GOP with the “brown stain.”

6

sillybill 08.25.15 at 6:40 pm

Matt – I agree, calling certain people and groups in the US today ‘fascist’ is just short hand. Nobody really matches the description. Although yelling ‘fascists!!!!” at the Klansmen and Nazis at the rally in South Carolina last month certainly seemed appropriate.

7

Layman 08.25.15 at 7:20 pm

I disagree. The advantage we gain is that we force the comparison: How is Trumpism like Fascism? This in turn puts a spotlight on the points of similarity, a process which can discredit Trump in the eyes of all but the true believers.

As for them, I think Krugman’s NYT post last week has the right of it: There is a sizeable constituency for a racist welfare state. These people want their social security and their Medicare, but at the same time they’re racist, and want to oppress minorities. That constituency used to be served by the Dixiecrats, and they followed their leaders into the Republican Party in the wake of the civil rights revolution. But the modern Republican Party is opposed to the welfare state, opposed to social security and Medicare, etc. That’s fine for part of their base – the wealthy – but poor and middle-class white Republicans don’t actually want to end the welfare state. Trump steps into the gap – he’s clearly not selling the end of the welfare state, and he clearly is selling racism.

8

Harold 08.25.15 at 7:30 pm

I don’t really understand. The Farmer-Labor party *could* have become fascist if they hadn’t been Christian? Um… (?)

9

Harold 08.25.15 at 7:34 pm

Hadn’t been Christian and been descended from a lot of New England abolitionists? Didn’t they have a lot of farmer co-operatives and things like that? It’s been a while since I read anything on this topic and my memory is hazy.

10

Harold 08.25.15 at 7:53 pm

Is it true or not that a lot of/most historians disagree with Hofstadter’s interpretation of the populist movement (I should have said, instead of populist party)? Is it true or not, as Jeet Heer says, that Hofstadter considered himself “as much, maybe more, of an essayist than an historian” and that experts in the field consider his interpretation of the populist movement as anti-Semitic to be unsupported by evidence?

11

Igor Belanov 08.25.15 at 7:58 pm

@ Matt L

I think you’re overemphasising the role of communism in the rise of fascism in the inter-war period. ‘Communism’ in most of inter-war Europe was more of a scare than an actual threat, and was used as a smear in order to discredit social democratic and liberal popular movements that were in effect its real enemy. What gave fascism a massive boost in this era were the fears and prejudices of the declining upper classes, who were willing to dirty themselves by supporting the likes of Hitler and Mussolini in order to shore up their own position. Of course, the base for the fascist movements was provided by the paranoid petty-bourgeoisie, who were radicalised by such economic causes as the German inflation and the Great Depression.

In fact, as well as the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe, in countries like France and Italy the Communists established an influence after the Second World War that they could only have dreamed of before it, but this actually provided an unprecedented opportunity for social democracy.

12

not fascism 08.25.15 at 8:05 pm

Why are we still entertaining social theories of fascism when they’ve been shown to be without any factual basis? Fascism was about national rebirth through violence (and if we insist on making modern day comparisons, its the exponents of perpetual military intervention who most closely fit the bill). It was not about political economy (but if we do insist on a class analysis, its the upper classes that were consistently overrepresented).

I doubt the author really cares about any of the history. In his hands it’s a cudgel to be wielded agaibst anyone who opposes open borders / favors internal solidarity over false promises of global justice.

13

Harold 08.25.15 at 9:01 pm

@5 Matt-L

Bolsheviks responsible for Hitler? Shades of Ernst Nolte — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Nolte

14

Placeholder 08.25.15 at 9:07 pm

I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue but there are a couple of things that struck me from picking this up casually. The only thing I know about them is they ran Fusion slates with the Democrats in the North and the Republicans in the South. I also remember learning about the 1898 Wilmington coup, which was surprising enough but I discovered that none other than the Republican governor of that time, Daniel Russel was elected on a Populist-Republican fusion.

15

rootlesscosmo 08.25.15 at 10:04 pm

It’s been a long time since I read it, but the historian Michael Rogin devoted a book to showing that the electoral base for Joseph McCarthy in 1950s Wisconsin had a very different profile than the electoral base of Populism in 1890s Wisconsin. I recall thinking that it was careful work, and thinking Rogin was doing something worthwhile, i.e. countering what he saw as a tendency among Leftish intellectuals (notably Hofstadter) to blame lower-class Americans for reactionary ideas and politicians. But I also remember thinking there had to be more to it than just petit-bourgeois disdain for working people. I mean, Tom Watson? George Wallace? Even Reagan tapped into the deep reservoir of racism and xenophobia that Trump is explicitly evoking.

16

Norwegian Guy 08.25.15 at 10:40 pm

John Emerson used to regularly write comments on American Populism on this site. Haven’t seen him around here lately, but his arguments can be found at
https://trollblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/what-is-populism-and-why-is-the-democratic-party-so-afraid-of-it/

17

Abbe Faria 08.25.15 at 10:49 pm

“In The New Republic, Jeet Heer says that Donald Trump is not a populist, he’s “the voice of aggrieved privilege—of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below, whether in the form of Hispanic immigrants or uppity women.” Or the voice of the white American man enraged at the possibility he might lose his ill-gotten privilege. Heer doesn’t use the f-word, but it’s the elephant in the room.”

It’s fascinating to see someone take a political movement from the late c19th and early c20th and discuss it by picking up a word like “privilege” and reflexively using it with the meaning given to it by post-90s social justice activism. Actual populists would have seen the privileged as those born to wealth and elite social status; not those getting some benefit by being on the right side of a racial, gender or sexual identity-hierarchy. But apparently Trump can’t be a populist because this doesn’t fit into a social justice rhetoric put together at least a century after populism was. It’s incredible how language absolutely blinds the guy to things that would have been obvious to the 20th century left.

18

Bruce Wilder 08.25.15 at 11:03 pm

rollo @ 3: antifa

What I immediately thought about reading your comment was Black Lives Matter protesting Bernie Sanders. And, also the electoral analysis that says, Bernie cannot win because he has so little appeal among blacks and hispanics. If Trump’s (fake?) populism leads with its racism, even the (genuine?) populism of a Bernie Sanders is (fatally?) tainted. There’s an important dynamic on the flip side from Trump’s populism, in Democratic politics, which I don’t think has even begun to be sorted out.

Norwegian Guy @16: John Emerson seems to have views much like my own: that the Left in the U.S. cannot take or exercise power without making effective use of sincere populist appeals, to take at least some large part of the electorate for whom populist appeals are effective, away from what he calls the Republican fake populists. I wonder if you know, if he ever tackled the problem I raised above in response to rollo?

Abbe Faria @ 17: That use of “privilege” clanged in my ear, too, but I couldn’t articulate as well as you do, the anachronism.

19

bjk 08.25.15 at 11:28 pm

How can a group of people who have nothing but debt and worthless land be entitled or privileged? This is a serious question.

20

jake the antisoshul soshulist 08.25.15 at 11:47 pm

At the risk of going Godwin. I have noticed a similarity in style, if not substance, between Trump and Il Duce.
Is there something about flamboyant buffery that appeals to authoritarian followers?

21

Collin Street 08.26.15 at 12:05 am

> Is there something about flamboyant buffery that appeals to authoritarian followers?

A poor understanding of others driven by organic empathy problems that leads them to adopt easilly-hackable heuristics to guide their interpersonal relationships, is my thesis.

My whole “it’s autism” thing was started by reading the authoritarians and noting that the description of “authoritarian follower” seemed like a checklist of the effects of autism-spectrum conditions.

22

Collin Street 08.26.15 at 12:12 am

How can a group of people who have nothing but debt and worthless land be entitled or privileged? This is a serious question.

Ask the samurai. It shouldn’t be controversial that social status depends on more than wealth; that’s why this is fundamentally about class rather than income distribution.

Or, rather, the reaction comes when the previously-established social hierarchy is threatened by changes in perceptions of status driven by — yes — income shifts: social power has to respond to economic power, because economic power is a form of social power. Formerly-socially-powerful groups lose their economic power first, by-and-large, and “reaction” is largely a response to this: “I’m The Right Sort of Person [privilege], why am I not rich like these Wrong People?”.

[race issues that are not also class issues are pretty uncommon. Belgium, maybe?]

23

Harold 08.26.15 at 12:28 am

People with debt and worthless land — are we talking about the populist farmers?

24

Evan Harper 08.26.15 at 12:31 am

I am seriously confused by your use of the term “fascism” here. Trump and the populists you cite are not radical authoritarians, do not believe the nation had become decadent and needed to be purged of degenerate elements, do not see the state as the proper locus of all social life… I’m afraid I don’t see what they have in common with “fascism,” conventionally defined, other than being politically rightist in a general sense.

25

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 12:33 am

a checklist of the effects of autism-spectrum conditions

Don’t let us hold you back from medicalizing political identification.

I don’t know if I should be offended on behalf of people with autism spectrum disorders or people holding conservative views.

For what little it’s worth, one of the most generous and liberal people with regard to race I have ever known was somewhere in the Asperger’s region.

It might be that authoritarian followers, being followers and economic dependents, do not have much understanding of politics, but do have a lot to be anxious and fearful about.

26

Evan Harper 08.26.15 at 12:38 am

@Abbe Faria

One doesn’t have to use words in the sense that a 19th-century Populist would have used them just because one is talking about 19th-century Populists. In fact, this would be an extremely strange and confusing way of speaking.

As far as I can tell, your actual objection is that you despise “social justice rhetoric” – ie, Left politics that don’t place economic relations automatically above all else – and you’ve wrapped up this substantive complaint in some kind of incoherent babble about the blinding effects of Newspeak language, perhaps because it shields your real concern from direct counter-argument.

27

Anon. 08.26.15 at 12:47 am

Sanders is far worse than Trump on immigration (and xenophobia in general), can we expect a similar blog denouncing him as “the voice of aggrieved privilege”?

28

engels 08.26.15 at 12:49 am

John Emerson used to regularly write comments on American Populism

I’ll always fondly remember this, which contained one of the great Henri Vieuxtemps’ finest comments imho:

@184 (and the like): If perpetrators of institutionalized loot can expect that when caught, they will lose more than they looted, that right there would help tip the balance toward people being unwilling to try it.

But here you already have some rudimentary structural change, some sort of plan. Populist impulse, as I understand it, is to blame Madoff personally; it’s like this: let’s grab pitchforks, storm the castle, break the gate, tear the bastard into pieces, kill his staff, his family, his dog, his cat, – and then back to the tavern; hopefully the next Count will be a nice man. If I am the next Count, my reaction is: “hmm, need a stronger gate, definitely.”

As Pushkin said somewhere: God save us from a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless. Senseless, you see.

29

bjk 08.26.15 at 12:53 am

So Collin Street, these people who had nothing but an axe and a shovel and some worthless land are privileged because they had white skin? This is a serious question.

30

Harold 08.26.15 at 12:56 am

@28 Engles, how does this apply to the American populists which Eric Rauchway describes as “not all bigots” (unlike, say the rest of the American people, say, up until 1963 — NOT!)

31

Collin Street 08.26.15 at 1:12 am

> Don’t let us hold you back from medicalizing political identification.

Have you actually read the authoritarians? Serious question: the label “authoritarian follower” is used not to describe a political identification but a set of mental attitudes, and the text is extremely clear about the claims it makes on that count.

32

Collin Street 08.26.15 at 1:20 am

> This is a serious question.

Sure. But it’s also the same question — same semantic content, close to identical wording — to the question you asked back in #19, without being altered in any respect in light of the information and perspectives I gave you in #22.

As far as I was concerned #22 answered your question: it gave you the tools you needed to work out the answer for yourself. “Here’s a historical example of a low-wealth high-social-status individual; here’s the mechanism that you usually get for this thing to happen.” I can unpack it even further, but I guessed I didn’t need to.

If you say, “Collin, from the information you have given me I am unable to work out what you believe the answer to my question is: can you expand?”, I will. All you have to do is to tell me you need more help and I will help you.

33

cassander 08.26.15 at 1:25 am

@bjk

>How can a group of people who have nothing but debt and worthless land be entitled or privileged? This is a serious question.

That’s easy, you simply define your political enemies as privileged by definition.

>Igor Belanov 08.25.15 at 7:58

>I think you’re overemphasising the role of communism in the rise of fascism in the inter-war period. ‘Communism’ in most of inter-war Europe was more of a scare than an actual threat, and was used as a smear in order to discredit social democratic and liberal popular movements that were in effect its real enemy.

Communism spent the interwar period slaughtering millions of people, actively attempting to undermine non-communist governments, and openly preaching world revolution. How on earth was the most violent political movement in history not a threat? The threat of communism was immensely important to both the worldview of fascist leaders and their appeal to fascist voters. this would have been the case even if communism were not every bit as bloody as its critics were claiming it was at the time.

@layman

>That constituency used to be served by the Dixiecrats, and they followed their leaders into the Republican Party in the wake of the civil rights revolution.

Commonly asserted, but not true. The south stayed the most democratic region of the country until the 1990s. Republicans presidents did alright there, but that’s because they won everywhere. between 68 and 92, republicans won an average of 40 states per presidential election. And the two elections they did worst in, 68 and 76, they did worst in the south. Southern congressional delegations remained overwhelmingly democratic until after 1992, when the gingrich revolution kicked off the START of the southern transition to republicanism, not the end. The southerns who actually saw the civil rights movement first hand mostly voted democrat for the rest of their lives.

34

bjk 08.26.15 at 1:26 am

Great! You’re just the helper I need, Collin. What I took from your first word response that when you invoke “class” then all difficulties disappear, and then you helpfully added that race and class often overlap but are not always the same.

But that response did not answer the question. If I have read your response and the post accurately, the only people in this scenario who are not privileged and entitled are the bankers and the railroads. Do I have that correct?

35

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 1:28 am

Yes, it is a clustering in the range of political attitudes. Not a philosophy, nor a political program, nor, by itself, an ideology. And, certainly not a medical condition or psychopathology.

36

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 2:14 am

Nope. Trump is not about the well-off ‘aggrieved.’ Trump is about ‘people breaking the rules and dumb people with really bad ideas are screwing a great thing up for everyone, but the very richest.’ And a lot of people agree.

Want to know what Trump is about? Watch Trump toss an unruly heckler (who happens to be a Hispanic TV anchor) from his press conference for not waiting his turn. Then watch Trump treat the same guy civilly once he gets back in and agrees to play by the rules. That piece of genius political theater created on the fly is why Trump will win.

Trump attracts all the rest: xenophobes, racists etc because he’s delivering ‘home truths’ in uncompromising language. He’ll win the nomination and then ignore them. Then Trump will win the WH by repeating his ‘I get shit done. Look at my record. Look at the others.” Only Walker has credentials to match Trump’s. What happens if Trump wins and then has to deal with the agents of entrenched interest in Washington is anyone’s guess.

37

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 2:18 am

I suppose that’s when (too late!) we get to find out what things he gets done.

38

Helen 08.26.15 at 2:25 am

Although I’m not a political scientist and hence liable to be slapped down for my relative ignorance, I think Abbe Faria and others are in error seeing SJW concepts as invalid when applied to historical phenomena. SJW may analyse racism and sexism in ways which you may disagree with but that does not mean racism and sexism were invented in the 1990s. I see SJW concepts as attempts to come up with new explanations for old phenomena.

39

Layman 08.26.15 at 2:34 am

“…these people who had nothing but an axe and a shovel and some worthless land are privileged because they had white skin…”

You might want to rethink this particular objection. That’s the whole appeal of racism.

40

bjk 08.26.15 at 2:59 am

So did the bankers eventually get paid back by the privileged and entitled homesteaders? This is a serious question.

41

Harold 08.26.15 at 3:02 am

@40 Bjk — Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

42

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 3:36 am

In the Panic of 1893 and the great depression that followed, almost every bank west of the Mississippi, and every major railroad except one, went bankrupt.

The Republican Party, led by a champion of protective tariffs and a gold standard, swept to undisputed power in 1894-96 in a realignment that made the Republicans the presumptive majority party for the next 35 years.

43

Lyle 08.26.15 at 3:44 am

bjk, do you know what the word “context” means?

44

protoplasm 08.26.15 at 3:54 am

bjk: bankers, railroads, and white homesteaders were all privileged. This is a serious answer.

45

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 4:16 am

for some yet to be determined definition of “serious”

46

Harold 08.26.15 at 4:43 am

But some were more privileged than others.

47

Bruce Wilder 08.26.15 at 4:48 am

@ 42, I was referring to railroads west of the Mississippi going bankrupt, not all railroads in the U.S. — sorry if my phrasing was unclear, should this matter to anyone.

48

ZM 08.26.15 at 5:22 am

Bruce Wilder,

“In the Panic of 1893 and the great depression that followed, almost every bank west of the Mississippi, and every major railroad except one, went bankrupt.”

We had a crash here in Victoria too in the 1890s and the same thing happened with the railroads and the State government took over railroads after this. This was probably good because having lots of railroad companies meant there was not a comprehensive railroad plan for Melbourne and the railroad companies would lay tracks where they thought it would be profitable without looking at the overall public need.

49

gianni 08.26.15 at 6:22 am

“But the discontent that led to Populism could easily have become fascism, or something like it”

I don’t think this is true. The energy behind populism was tied to finance and debt, and when you read the Omaha Platform these sorts of issues outnumber the nativist ones by a wide margin. This is not just some historical accident – that they were led by X instead of Y – it is instead a product of the social conditions that gave rise to the movement.

What would fascism have offered the main constituency of the populists? What is the comparative advantage of fascism compared to – say – a nativist version of social democracy?

What fascism really offers is that it lets you kill that Other. War. Pogroms.

The thing is, in America at this time you didn’t need a new fascist party for this purpose. The Democratic Party was already there for THAT sort of thing.

The Populists were railing against the cross of gold to people in the West. The Democratic Party, in the old South, was leading things like the Wilmington Race Riots.

There was no risk of fascism proper coming from the populists because there was already a home for that sort of violence against the Other in another corner of American politics. It should surprise no one to find that a bunch of rural farmers from the 19th century had regressive views on immigration compared to ourselves. But there were other ways at the time for discontent to be channeled that were far more fascist than that of the Populists, and still the populists kept their proverbial eye on the (economic) ball. Their energy was motivated by a set of issues , and they lost on the national stage because they were unwilling to compromise on those issues, or to transpose them onto the terrain of something like the ‘racial struggle’.

The idea that WJB played a critical role in keeping populist energy from developing into fascism appears to rely on the notion that the majority of Americans of populist persuasion were – essentially – easily duped out of understanding their interests. That is: WJB won them over with his rhetoric, but in his absence they could have been persuaded to give ground on their economics in order to make common cause with powerful white nationalists. I am not sure this is plausible, at least not in an age before the mass media and mass politics that we associate with the 30’s.

50

Collin Street 08.26.15 at 6:25 am

> But that response did not answer the question.

The question:
How can a group of people who have nothing but debt and worthless land be entitled or privileged? This is a serious question.

The answer, in post 22.
Ask the samurai. It shouldn’t be controversial that social status depends on more than wealth; that’s why this is fundamentally about class rather than income distribution.

q: how can a group of people who have nothing but debt and worthless land be entitled or privileged?
a: social status depends on more than wealth

How is this not an answer to the question you asked? What part of “social status depends on more than wealth” is giving you difficulty, here?

51

derrida derider 08.26.15 at 6:57 am

Jake above is right – y’all are over analysing. There is always a big market for flamboyant buffoonery; people really enjoy colour and movement. Trump could propose the immediate socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange and so long as he did it colourfully enough he’d keep lots of his followers.

52

Peter T 08.26.15 at 6:59 am

Fascism was, to my mind, a quite distinct thread in the general right-wing mix. It blended corporatism, a worship of violence and the cult of the strong man. It had its own theorists and drew on a substantial body of thought. But it was only one thread – the fascist Falange were an important but subsidiary part of Franco’s coalition and the leading but never dominant part of Mussolini’s coalition. Trump is obviously all for the strong man (or possibly possum), and his rhetoric has distinct tinges of a liking for direct action, but is the crucial corporatist element there?

53

Igor Belanov 08.26.15 at 7:20 am

@ Peter T

There lies the difference between Fascism and fascism. I think corporatism was always an ideological rather than an actual part of both, and if it did really have a function it was in Primo de Rivera’s pre-Franco dictatorship and in the semi-social democratic states of the post WWII period.

54

bad Jim 08.26.15 at 7:26 am

Everyone’s seen this quote:

Cheryl Burns, 60, was on a road trip from California when she heard that Trump would be in Alabama. She turned her car around and got in line, warning people of what happened to states when liberals took them over.

“There is no more California,” Burns said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.”

Now this (from the Frank Luntz focus group)?

When the group listened to a clip of Trump claiming that as president “the military is going to be so strong” that “nobody is going to mess around with the United States,” nearly everyone registered approval on their dial meters of 100—a seldom occurrence among focus groups.

Everyone knows that Trump is a phony, but they don’t care, because they think everyone else is a phony as well. He doesn’t mouth all the proper pieties, but they don’t care, because he’s a heroic figure.

55

david 08.26.15 at 8:00 am

I thought the Populists lost because WJB’s coalition terrified Catholics and the migrant-dominated urban unions – the crucial swing voters

56

Matt_L 08.26.15 at 12:09 pm

I think Nolte is full of it, but that doesn’t mean the communists weren’t a constituent element of the politics the fascists were operating in. In the 1920s and 1930s there were two new radical political movements that cut their ties with the nineteenth century: Communism on the left and fascism on the right. Everyone else, the monarchists, the social democrats, the liberals and nationalists, they were a broken record. The Communists did not create the Fascists or Nazi parties, but were parallel developments filling an ideological and organizational vacuums on the left and right.

I agree with cassander and Igor Belanov, but only up to a point. The Soviet Union was the greatest threat to its own citizens, but it was also a powerful bogeyman outside its own borders. Real communist putsches in Germany and Hungary justified outlawing the party across Central Europe. But in terms of practical politics, the Bolshevik Revolution split the western European Social Democratic parties, especially in France and Germany. That had real eletoral consequences. See for example Tyler Stovall’s book Rise of the Paris Red Belt (UC Press: 1990) The point I wanted to make bringing up communism is that fascism is a European political phenomenon, not an American one. There might be people calling themselves fascist or nazis in this country, or they are aping the gestures, but not the real thing. Its all about tweaking peoples noses.

Trump in no way has a political platform or constituency for the kinds of things Mussolini and Hitler did. For example, do you think President Trump is going to implement an industrial policy? Or is he going to expand the racialized welfare state? Hell no.

It may be emotionally satisfying to call Trump or others fascist, but that is hardly going to change peoples minds about him. They like him because he is a racist loud mouth and it empowers them to be the same.

57

Peter T 08.26.15 at 12:23 pm

On cassander’s point, the right labels “communist” pretty much any left program (there’s a similar, if weaker, tendency to label all radical rightists as fascist). If you read through what the various right groups were calling communist in the 1920s, it’s pretty much the social democratic state that emerged after 1945. The existence of a radical left regime in the Soviet Union energised the opposition, but the conflict had been ongoing since 1848, with periodic bouts of civil and international war, and more or less constant repression.

58

Placeholder 08.26.15 at 12:40 pm

@gianni: I looked it up and it seems the Wilmington coup was carried out by Alfred Moore Waddel who lost his House seat to Daniel Lindsay Russell who the coup made the last Republican governor of North Carolina until 1972. But not only was Russell a Populist-Republican Fusion candidate but so also was the mayor of Wilmington the coup deposed, Silas Wright!
@rootlesscosmo Tom Watson apparently ran as an anti-segregationist during the reconstruction but became Nativist during the 1900s.

The author wants to paint an sympathy in affections between Fascism, Trump voters and Populists. As a social profile, it seems the populists don’t represent the first working people to turn right, or even the ones who turned at the decisive moment, but were the last to do so. I feel like going on about this because Eric Foner at jacobinmag is talking about “who lost the south” and he sketches out the other side of the equation – he points to the Republicans nixing the new Georgia constitution because it contained debt relief https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/eric-foner-reconstruction-abolitionism-republican-party-lincoln-emancipation/.

59

David 08.26.15 at 12:42 pm

I agree that it makes little sense today to talk about people today as “fascist” – even as a term of abuse it’s stale and tired. But it’s just worth pointing out that what the interwar fascists did (like the communists) was to articulate issues of concern to ordinary people which the establishment largely ignored. This is why in the 1933 election in Germany, the Nazis and the Communists won half of the vote between them. Now of course you can talk about exploiting popular sentiments and cynically manipulating opinion, and its true that in political fact (as opposed to theory) most voters only have a limited understanding of the platform of the party they are voting for. But it also remains true that most voters don’t like being ignored or condescended to, and will react enthusiastically to those who take the concerns seriously.
Which is liberalism’s problem. Since Locke, liberalism has viewed ordinary people with disdain, believing that they need to be led and that their views are of no account. Two hundred years ago, liberals wearily explained to ordinary people (where they even bothered) that such things as infant mortality, unemployment, mass poverty, child labour etc. were part of the natural order of things, and common people should stop thinking there was anything that could be done about them. Arguably, not much has changed in liberal attitudes today. Distrust of ordinary people, and lack of interest in their problems, leaves to field open for unconventional figures from all parts of the political spectrum who take the trouble to visit ordinary people and find out what they think, instead of insulting them.
Liberals, I think, are afraid that even to concede the existence of genuine fears about sensitive subjects such as immigration, is to somehow validate certain opinions about them. Obviously this is not true, but if you limit your response to “immigration is wonderful and unproblematic and if you disagree with me you must be a racialist moron” you hand control of the subject to your enemies, not to mention alienating potential voters who might support you for other reasons. Thus immigration, and similar social issues, become part of the pantheon of elite subjects (the Euro, global free trade, the war on terror, whatever) which are simply not to be discussed, or where only approved and largely meaningless formulae are allowed. This is a free gift to extremists which the latter do not deserve, but will not hesitate to exploit.

60

TM 08.26.15 at 12:51 pm

49: “What fascism really offers is that it lets you kill that Other. War. Pogroms.”

There were pogroms against Chinese immigrants throughout the West in the 1870s. As a result, the first ever immigration restrictions were passed, the Chinese exclusion Act of 1882. Don’t know how these events relate to the populist movement.

61

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 1:02 pm

Vox has every instance of Trump’s racism cold over his long, sick history of racism stretching right back to 1973. Course, once Trump stops being one-time Democrat supporter of single-payer health insurance, protectionist job programs, and enemy of the hedge fund managers, I’m sure a whole lot more instances will surface. So far, the count is like – 6, each pretty weak. And that’s from Vox. Now, Trump might be racist, but I’m not seeing it.

“It may be emotionally satisfying to call Trump or others fascist, but… he is a racist loud mouth…” This was like the best irony meter busting evah!, or least this week.”

62

TM 08.26.15 at 1:03 pm

59: You use the term liberal in an obviously ahistoric way. The 19th century economic liberals, identified with the laissez-faire night watchman state, are the opposite of what in contemporary political US discourse is referred to as liberals.

“liberals wearily explained to ordinary people (where they even bothered) that such things as infant mortality, unemployment, mass poverty, child labour etc. were part of the natural order of things” – this is a pretty accurate description of the present day Republican party.

“unconventional figures from all parts of the political spectrum who take the trouble to visit ordinary people and find out what they think, instead of insulting them.” – you really think Trump is one who takes to trouble to visit ordinary people to find out what they think? Or any prominent right-winger? This isn’t how right wing populism works, and I don’t think it’s how historical fascism worked – can you imagine Hitler canvassing the neighborhood?

63

Lyle 08.26.15 at 1:06 pm

David, your cartoonish depiction of “liberals” had me laughing all the way through breakfast. Thanks for the great start of my day! :-D

64

David 08.26.15 at 1:14 pm

@63. Read Losurdo on the subject and you’ll find it all there.
Liberals have always known what’s best for others, whether in the economic or the social area. I’m not a liberal so I don’t care if they get it wrong. But I do care if through arrogance they leave the field open to much more sinister figures.

65

politicalfootball 08.26.15 at 1:21 pm

Note, please: “criminal classes of the world.” A lot of the historiography (which Heer cites) pointing out that the Populists weren’t solely a party of bigotry would today on Twitter be summed up, uncharitably if not entirely unpithily, as #NotAllPopulists.

I don’t think this addresses Heer’s point, and it tars the original Populists through an unhelpful presentism.

Heer’s point is not that the Populists weren’t racists, but that their racism didn’t stand out from the racism of their era – it wasn’t the Populists’ defining characteristic. (Is Heer right about this? I don’t know.)

As for “criminal classes of the world,” well, yes, that sure does sound like Trump, but that doesn’t mean that it’s proper to compare Trump to the Populists. If tomorrow he says, “I won’t free my slaves, but I do have deep misgivings about slavery,” we’re not going to talk about how he reminds us of Jefferson.

66

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 1:30 pm

@60 Except of course for the Naturalization Act of 1790 here, http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1790_naturalization_act.html and here, http://www.indiana.edu/~kdhist/H105-documents-web/week08/naturalization1790.html

From the 1795 act. “SEC.1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That any alien, being a free white person, may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, or any of them, on the following conditions, and not otherwise: -“

In practice, of course, a whole of Africans and others arrived after 1790. The state and national acts up to 1924 targeted Asians on the west coast and helped convince some Asians (Japanese, in particular) that they’d never be considered ‘civilized’ no matter how many countries they colonized (See- the Philippines, large parts of South America, all of Africa, and most of Asia.)

Racism and slavery were not invented in America, contrary to popular belief. I like to remind my students that Ben Franklin was the most famous English slave-owning scientist in the civilized world up to 1776.

We’re gradually moving in the right direction. Dang!

67

TM 08.26.15 at 1:38 pm

“Racism and slavery were not invented in America, contrary to popular belief. “

That’s exactly what we needed most urgently: another big old strawman, and a troll offering it up as bait. Thanks but takers here.

68

TM 08.26.15 at 1:39 pm

Thanks but no takers here.

69

TM 08.26.15 at 1:42 pm

And now for something useful:
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/the-reactionary-soul/

The Reactionary Soul

Frank Bruni marvels at polls indicating that Donald Trump, with his multiple marriages and casinos, is the preferred candidate among Republican evangelicals. Others are shocked to see a crude mercantilist make so much headway in the alleged party of free markets. What happened to conservative principles? Actually, nothing — because those alleged principles were never real.

70

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 1:44 pm

How Dems roll. Check out this little piece of herstory and then find out what happens if you’re not ‘liberal’ enough. It’s a puff piece by Ferraro’s daughter, but not unimportant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xuf6vBF0ano

Revisiting Dems watch as Ferraro get carved up and crucified to get Drone Strike elected is always instructive.

71

TM 08.26.15 at 1:53 pm

And now for something useful:
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/the-reactionary-soul/

The Reactionary Soul

Frank Bruni marvels at polls indicating that Donald Trump, with his multiple marriages and casinos, is the preferred candidate among Republican evangelicals. Others are shocked to see a crude mercantilist make so much headway in the alleged party of free markets. What happened to conservative principles? Actually, nothing — because those alleged principles were never real.

72

TM 08.26.15 at 1:56 pm

Further to 62: The genius of the Nazis wasn’t that they listened to what ordinary people wanted. Their genius was that they offered them something to want, namely national greatness and racial purity. Fascist ideas don’t come from the grass roots bottom up.

73

Lyle 08.26.15 at 2:05 pm

@David,

Liberals have always known what’s best for others, whether in the economic or the social area.

Every political position is a prescription for what’s best for others. You can’t seriously tell me that say, the conservative belief that women shouldn’t have control over their own bodies isn’t a belief about what’s best for others.

74

TM 08.26.15 at 2:10 pm

75

Plume 08.26.15 at 2:19 pm

Lyle @71.

I’ve observed that passive-aggressive move from conservatives for eons, and it’s patently desperate. It tends to come up when they know they’ve lost the argument. Of course, in all political conversations, all parties are trying to push for their own “things should be like this” agenda, which implies “we know best,” if it doesn’t say it outright. But conservatives tend to be the only side, the only tribe, that pushes the fiction that they’re not pushing an agenda. It’s only “the left,” apparently, that does this.

It’s beyond silly. Even the desire to maintain the status quo is a position. If a person backs the status quo, he or she is saying “we know what’s best.” There is virtually no escape from doing this if one engages in politics at all . . . . or in most other fields. Virtually all acts of criticism, one way or another, are in essence a plea for some “the world ought to be like this” sort of thing.

Conservatives are unique in that they refuse to admit this, while accusing their opponents of being uniquely engaged in “telling others what to do.”

It’s nonsense and they need to grow up.

76

bob mcmanus 08.26.15 at 2:28 pm

70: Fascist ideas don’t come from the grass roots bottom up.

Grassroots Fascism: The War Experience of the Japanese People Yoshimi Yoshiaki 2015 (1987) only $2042.97 at Amazon

77

William Berry 08.26.15 at 2:28 pm

Kidneystones, Why don’t you go ahead and have that operation, instead of crying like a broke-dick dog all the time?

78

William Berry 08.26.15 at 2:41 pm

I apologize for my rudeness, above, and want to clarify my disgruntlement by observing that “cassander”, on the one hand, can be ignored, as he never has anything to offer besides a string of worn-out cliches. “kidneystones”, on the other hand, seems a smart fellow, and should know better.

79

Plume 08.26.15 at 2:46 pm

It’s true that racism and slavery were not invented in the United States. But no nation in history benefited from the twinning of these things like America. And it’s not close. No nation prior to the United States worked so hard to embed its structures, or defend against any attacks on them . . . . and that goes back to the very beginning of the nation. The United States also kept the practice of slavery alive far, far longer than it otherwise would have been, if not for the radical inclusion in the mix of capitalism, in its Americanized form.

In short, no other nation mixed these three evils at the same time like America, institutionalized them, exported them, fought a bloody civil war to maintain the troika.

Good article in Salon about the myths of the Lost Cause, and Trump’s role in bringing the racist cockroaches out from hiding.

I hope some day America will wake up and view the Confederacy as most of Germany now views its Nazi past. They are all too similar, and the Confederate flag is no better than the Nazi swastika, as symbol, as reminder of evil.

80

Plume 08.26.15 at 3:04 pm

TM @62,

Very true. And those “classical liberals” were dealing with a radically different environment. Their desire to “liberalize” economic access was in the face of aristocratic/church control and monopoly. It was a desire to decentralize power in a sense, away from the nobility, from king and queen, from the church/state nexus to allow for more “bosses” to cash in.

(I don’t see this as any great, benign move, as it has sometimes been portrayed, and I think we’ve romanticized that era as well. But the dynamic was incredibly different, compared with today.)

Two hundred years later, righties who try to claim this line aren’t attempting to expand the franchise or decentralize power. They’re attempting to keep their privileges, expand them, expand their hold on economic access, and deny the masses from “below”. Because they’re the “nobility” now, they control the government, they control the levers of power . . . or they work to ensure their bosses do.

They want to pretend that they’re the underdogs, fighting for “the people,” but they’re really the overlords (and their shills), fighting to retain their aristocracy. Trump, a billionaire, sells them snake oil . . . and all too many on the right drink the koolaid.

It’s striking how much a recent HBO series parallels this. Show me a hero is set in Yonkers, back in the 1980s, and revolves around a court order to desegregate housing. Various politicians vie for support, votes, power and promise the white residents this and that . . . . with one sleazy demagogue in particular reminding me of Trump. Not sure if it was written with Trump in mind . . . but the echoes are eerie.

81

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 3:12 pm

@ 77. You know as much about slavery as TM knows about racist immigration policies. But kudos for packing so many errors into that first paragraph. There’s a great deal of easily accessible information on the tubes. Go find some, really.

You’ve got six centuries of East African slavery before Columbus makes it across the Pacific, and that’s if we’re talking about African export slavery. The majority of slaves from Africa who did cross the Atlantic went to Brazil, not the US, nearly 5 million. Slavery ended there in Brazil around 188o something. Slavery in Thailand (Siam) ended in the 20th century (officially), a number of other nations “abolished” slavery much later.
You’re on firmer ground, btw, with your general critique of capitalism, if you add in colonialism, and race, but I’m not confident you understand why.

Hope this helps get you started.

82

bob mcmanus 08.26.15 at 3:15 pm

1) Bit pointless to argue about “fascism,” or Rauchway’s use of “fascism”, ‘cept to watch how he and his allies use it in a discourse with immediate political purposes

2) Jacques Ellul wrote a classic propaganda that has good stuff about how fer instance, Goebbels had techniques and methods to ensure that ideology was created at the dinner table and at the bars. Ellul’s thesis is that you can throw sentiments and ideas at people, but they won’t act unless they feel that the ideas and passions come from inside.

3) Not at all a fan of Altemeyer, and especially not happy with the cult of Altemeyer. There are other…authorities on authoritarianism, like some guy named Adorno. Gramsci.

4) My own position is that most authoritarianism is just justificatory discourse. People may say they follow authority, or obey, or submit, but these public statements or even private delusions are mostly for social purposes, for social approval and group solidarity. From the outside, we should be very very careful about explaining behavior, saying we know why people do what they do.

5) Sumgum, elite organic intellectuals think the masses are sheeple, that can be led with brilliant articulate discourse and seductively expressed ideologies. Feel their power. Gotta do endless battle with those bad intellectuals over there. Happen to think this is a particular problem with secular liberals, who believe in the power of representation and discourse. No surprise they love Altemeyer.

83

Layman 08.26.15 at 3:21 pm

Kidneystones @ 66, you’re conflating immigration control with citizenship. The Act of 1790 did not restrict immigration; it determined which immigrants were eligible for citizenship. It was racist (and sexist, and elitist), but it did not restrict immigration on the basis of those factors. Whereas the Chinese Exclusion Act did restrict immigration on the basis of race, and was the first such act to do so.

84

Plume 08.26.15 at 3:22 pm

kidneystones @79,

Nothing you said refutes my points. You just claim you have and declare premature victory.

Some sources to back my statements:

The Half has Never Been Told

Slavery and Modern Capitalism

Capitalism and Slavery

85

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 3:24 pm

@77 Quick follow-up. Figured I’d better triple-check after mouthing off. Took me about 5 minutes to determine you’re even wronger than I initially surmised.

So, I learned a couple of things, too! Thanks for that!

86

Plume 08.26.15 at 3:28 pm

Kidneystones,

Again, you proved nothing. You supplied no supporting evidence. You just made assertions.

For instance, citing other nations which practiced slavery longer than the United States doesn’t counter what I said about capitalism, especially American capitalism. It confirms it. Probably the best source for that story is the first of my links. But you can google the topic as well. Search for how capitalism increased the shelf life for slavery, worldwide . . . especially after the invention of the Cotton Gin.

87

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 3:32 pm

@ 82 Those aren’t sources. At least one is a book review, another is an interview, and none of them support your claims regarding the US and slavery. Google Curtin, that should get you started in the right direction. Until you do you’re simply advertising your indifference to fact. Gotta go!

88

kidneystones 08.26.15 at 3:37 pm

@ 81 Fair point.

89

Marshall 08.26.15 at 4:14 pm

The Authoritarians was interesting if awfully chatty. People here want to discuss policies, but the thing everybody notices is that the right doesn’t feel a need justification by actual rationalism. Altemeyer describes the Right Wing Authoritarians as motivated by fear as measured by his “Dangerous World” scale. The RWA complex would seem to be a reasonable evolutionary strategy for a band or tribe facing existential stress … don’t think too hard, pull together, enforce boundaries. In a large societies that’s a pathological response, but humans haven’t figgered this large-society bizniz very good yet … we’ve only been at it for ~6ky.

So the thing is, we’ve all been conditioned to think in terms of existential threats lately, last 50 years or so, on the left and on the right, even if things aren’t really end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it bad. On the left there’s climate change activists, anti-gmo’ers, SJWs. Altemeyer suggests that everybody tends to move towards RWA, with the Tea Party/the political right merely the leading group. My kids in NPR-land seem to be dealing with anxiety through conventional Obama support but rejecting actual discussion: tl,dr. On this analysis, what Eigenblick Trump needs to win is just a rising level of free-floating anxiety which he is in a good position to promote.

Learn to grow vegetables, people.

90

Plume 08.26.15 at 4:18 pm

kidneystones @85,

Yes, they’re sources. I provided a review of an important book which is a main source; an interview with several sources in it; and another article with still more sources. Dozens of them in total, plus a book which has won high praise among historians.

And, sorry, you don’t get to set the criteria for what constitutes “indifference to fact,” especially when your posts indicate that is your standard MO.

91

gianni 08.26.15 at 5:54 pm

Marshall, @87
“we’ve all been conditioned to think in terms of existential threats lately, last 50 years or so, on the left and on the right, even if things aren’t really end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it bad.”

Between the Cuban Missile crisis, MAD, and now global warming, we have had our fair share of reasons to think this way. I agree with what you are saying here generally, but at a certain point modern civilization gave birth to technologies actually capable of destroying human civilization as we know it. Like if we were all suddenly handed a gun or bomb, having no prior experience with such a dangerous device. Some of us didn’t even get a weapon, but they are stuck in the same room as the rest.

Basically, things actually are end-of-civilization bad in a way that is historically unprecedented, which is disconcerting because – as you mentioned – it creates a feedback loop with radical right-wing political sentiments.

92

Marshall 08.26.15 at 6:27 pm

Alexander destroyed civilization as it was then known. The world has always been a dangerous place with many existential threats that need to be managed. We are not right now facing a nuclear holocaust; been there, done that, learned how to implement a pretty-good arms control regime (lately a bit decayed). Crime is down although people think it’s up. Shall I tend my beans or shall we go murder the neighbors in preemptive self-defense?

93

Layman 08.26.15 at 6:46 pm

“Alexander destroyed civilization as it was then known.”

Not really. Some soldiers died, and surely there was some collateral damage and property destruction. Then the rulers changed, but everyday life more or less continued as it had before.

94

The Temporary Name 08.26.15 at 6:49 pm

95

TM 08.26.15 at 7:35 pm

I take it that kidney at 08.26.15 at 3:37 pm acknowledges that I was right at 08.26.15 at 12:51 pm. Btw If I had been wrong it wouldn’t matter greatly and I wouldn’t mind admitting to it, except that I wasn’t wrong.

Non-apology accepted and I’m back to my “me not feeding them trolls” policy. (Ok I said earlier that I’m not taking your bait so go ahead and accuse me of mixed metaphors. Go ahead, I don’t care.)

96

TM 08.26.15 at 7:43 pm

Marshall: “Crime is down although people think it’s up.”

That is true but it’s also true that California has been in 4 years of extreme drought and most Americans probably haven’t noticed. Your account is no less simplistic than the ones you criticize so “even-handedly”. Ignoring known threats is no more rational than inventing bogus ones and just because some sort of civilization has survived the last few hundred years doesn’t rationally prove it will continue.

97

gianni 08.26.15 at 8:26 pm

oh now you are being deliberately obtuse.

98

David 08.26.15 at 8:35 pm

Just briefly:
(1) I don’t think anyone has suggested (I certainly haven’t) that what we describe as “populist” politicians are necessarily sincere, or that they simply reflect the views of ordinary people, or even are generally interested in them. But a current crop of politicians in different countries is profiting from their willingness to at least talk about issues, and give voice to opinions, which are usually frozen out of mainstream political discourse. As long as mainstream politicians do not address such issues, they leave the field open to others.
(2) Likewise, it’s obviously not only liberals who think they know what’s best for others (though if you’re not familiar with the tradition of liberal elitism you really belong in another discussion, not this one). But whereas, say, Marxists believe in certain ideas because they are “scientifically” proved, and the Right often clings to tradition because it’s tradition, liberals, whether of the social or the economic variety, have always considered themselves better and wiser than ordinary people, who as Locke argued, are actually closer to animals than to people like him. “Vote for me I know what’s good for you” is not an easy pitch.
(3) For what it’s worth, kidneystones is basically right about slavery. Serious study since the 1970s has relativized the American experience as relatively brief, and relatively limited in scope compared to other parts of the world. I understand that Americans are still obsessed with it, but that’s a different issue.

99

Layman 08.26.15 at 9:01 pm

“liberals, whether of the social or the economic variety, have always considered themselves better and wiser than ordinary people”

This is just ad hominem, however nice the clothes you dress it in.

100

Marshall 08.26.15 at 9:34 pm

TM, there are indeed existential threats and they need to be managed, what I said. Which we’re not doing (ie, tending each their own beans) enough of becuase (as proposed) we’re having panic reactions to chronic stress (real but objectively manageable), not limited to the extreme political right. Peers to me The Donald has the skills and experience to cultivate and surf that wave, God help us. I suppose that would count as a change of rulers and life goes on much as before, from the perspective of a few thousand years. Did I say I was being even-handed, I don’t think so, YMMV.

Obtuse??? Obtuse???

101

Layman 08.26.15 at 9:53 pm

“I suppose that would count as a change of rulers and life goes on much as before, from the perspective of a few thousand years. “

Consequences are in fact potentially much more dire now than they were then. An exchange of arrows isn’t like an exchange of H-bombs. The loss of this year’s crop for a town in the eastern Mediterranean isn’t like the consequences of the Western Antarctic ice sheet sliding into the sea.

102

TM 08.26.15 at 9:55 pm

“Serious study since the 1970s has relativized the American experience as relatively brief, and relatively limited in scope compared to other parts of the world.”

I’m glad we got that sorted out, then. Relativization always helps.

103

Eli Rabett 08.26.15 at 10:29 pm

Berlusconi and the Liga Nord = Trump

104

Plume 08.26.15 at 10:30 pm

David, no, kidneystones isn’t correct about slavery and America.

America advanced the “efficiency” of the slave system a thousand fold, and radically increased the numbers of slaves under its thumb. It applied good old business efficiency and entrepreneurial skills, along with good old fashioned Protestant work ethic to create a living hell for millions, all in the name of the capitalist religion. Technological advancements, organizational advancements, advancements in propaganda, warfare, police, the military . . . . and aided significantly in this process. And no previous country had ever mounted such a successful defense of it, or so fully integrated it into every aspect of life, including education for kids.

A certain kind of American just can’t deal with what this country has done, the horrors it is directly and indirectly responsible for, on all kinds of fronts. So they try their best to minimize things in comparison with other nations or periods, and they always fall flat on their faces. And notice the little game that kidneystone plays above. An analogy:

I say, “John Doe was the most successful football coach in FFL history, leading the Towneville Wolves to a 160 and 10 record over ten years, from 1965-1975.

Kidney responds: “That’s simply not true!!! Don Joe was the first football coach, back in 1895, and led the Villeton Foxes to several championships! You have a major aversion to facts!!!

If a person doesn’t pay attention, they might not notice how he changes the goal posts. But he does. And he did above.

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Bill Murray 08.26.15 at 11:43 pm

Trump and the populists you cite are not radical authoritarians, do not believe the nation had become decadent and needed to be purged of degenerate elements, do not see the state as the proper locus of all social life

Trump, whose slogan is Make America Great Again, does not “believe” the nation has become decadent? trump who started his campaign with Mexicans are rapists and should be deported isn’t trying to purge what he considers degenerate elements?

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kidneystones 08.27.15 at 12:04 am

@77 William Berry. Thanks for the kind words and admonishment. I fear I’m beyond redemption, but I appreciate the thought nonetheless. Apologies to you for confusing @77 with @79 twice, at least, and best wishes.

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kidneystones 08.27.15 at 12:45 am

@83 Apologies to you, too, for mixing up numbers. Tired eyes, it seems. To respond, you’re right to call me on this. I acknowledge your point implicitly when I stressed in my remarks on the 1790 Act that plenty of non-white people arrived in the US after 1790. My point is/was that exclusion based on gender and race, as you note, are tightly woven into the notion of who precisely can be a full citizen of the United States from the nation’s inception.

@67 Re: Strawmen – You mean like this? “It’s true racism and slavery were not built in America. But no nation in history benefited from the twinning of these things like America. And it’s not close… “

@104 You understand, I hope, that you’re waxing eloquent on one of most well-studied topics in modern academia, whilst demonstrating that you’re unaware of any of the core literature on the topic.

There are probably tens of millions of undergraduates who know Curtin, and who are familiar with more recent comparative studies on slavery. And that’s just undergraduates. You, on the other hand clearly can’t be bothered to purchase or read any reputable book on your topic (not book review, I’m afraid), which is ordinarily considered the measure by which real interest is measured. On the basis of your record of wild, frequently wrong statements on slavery and other topics, I’d guess you’ve never read a single African author. There are many and they are worth reading.

In short, you have proven yourself to be both: a/ proudly ignorant of the basic scholarship on the slave trade, and b/ a windbag who wouldn’t get off the couch to open or read a book, yet who insists upon lecturing the better-read, which in this case happens to be practically everyone.

Have I missed anything?

Sorry, if that’s the case. Real work beckons.

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TM 08.27.15 at 3:56 am

This is the statement that I flagged as a gross strawman (67 quoting 66): “Racism and slavery were not invented in America, contrary to popular belief.“

And this is the statement that you kidney (107) quote to defend your strawman:
“It’s true racism and slavery were not built in America. But no nation in history benefited from the twinning of these things like America. And it’s not close… “

See?

I don’t particularly relish the “someone is wrong on the internet” thing but at least with you I don’t have to work too hard…

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Meredith 08.27.15 at 4:48 am

Populism: forgive the classicist’s ear here. I have visions of the Aventine and Circus Maximus vs. the Palatine. But also of my grandfather (Cooper Union electrical and radio engineer, b. 1895) who got the first nuclear power plant license in the US (for what that’s worth!). He always said, if he had to do it over again, he’d be a union leader…. (And a favored family story about him: he could not eat dinner one night in the 1930’s, because he — in a utility, no less — had had to lay off men that day; he went into the bathroom to throw up. I should emphasize, he grew up very poor in NYC. He was also caught, as a recently appointed CEO, scrubbing the bathroom floor because, well, it was dirty. A story for another day.)

Maybe people are complicated, and the way they mix in with “trends” like, say, the industrial revolution, are complicated. But Trump has nothing to do with all that. He is faux, pure and simple.

With love for my grandfather, who had a beautiful singing voice (I don’t remember that, though I do remember his sonorous laugh) and saw his engineering and business as a way for me (among his other grandchildren), who was only 7 when he died, as the fruit of his engineering labors.

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Plume 08.27.15 at 7:29 pm

kidneystones @107,

Your entire argument rests on the mantra that I haven’t “read the literature,” though I have. Well, it does include one other aspect: Repeated name-dropping, and even there you do a very lame job. One. Single. Name.

You actually seem to believe that you can substitute this accusation for a real argument, and you must think the rest of the forum is dumb enough to be confused by your sleight of hand . . . . which basically amounts to junior high towel slapping, and you can’t even get that right. You keep missing.

So, I’ll ask you again. Directly refute what I said. Don’t just say you have, or fall back on “the literature” mantra, which you have yet to even quote. Prove it. Directly. With evidence.

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PGD 08.28.15 at 2:20 am

Plume, how is someone even supposed to refute the wild unsupported generalizations you are making? “no nation in history benefited from the twinning of these things like America. And it’s not close. No nation prior to the United States worked so hard to embed its structures, or defend against any attacks on them . . . . ” — do you have any historical sense for how ubiquitous slavery has been in human history, or the vast number of people who have died in bondage over the many centuries of institutionalized slavery in numerous nations? How are you even going to begin to compare whether ancient Rome, or India under the incredibly dehumanizing caste system, or nations in the early modern Caribbean that were built on the genocidal exploitation of slaves, benefited from racism and slavery more or less than America? And how are you going to apply modern notions of racism to nations which clearly saw slaves as having an inherent, inborn, inferiority to their masters even though the slaves didn’t match up with current notions of racial difference in America, which are myopically focused on Africans vs. Europeans? Just the nature of your rhetoric, which makes it seem like you are more interested in asserting that America wins some hypothetical award for ‘worst nation ever’, seems to indicate that you’re not interested in examining slavery in a serious comparative light. I think if you want to stipulate that American slavery was evil and a moral stain on the nation nobody is going to disagree with you.

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Harold 08.28.15 at 2:51 am

As I recall, the classical historian of the subject, M I Finley, conceded that American slavery — based on race — was much worse than ancient slavery, bad as that was.
According to Adam Hochschild (in Bury the Chains), working conditions on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean were so arduous that most slaves did not survive to reproduce and had to be continuously reimported from Africa to keep up with the demand.

Tobacco farming in Virginia was less arduous, and North American slaves could supplement their diets with produce they had grown themselves and thus were able to have families, though their children were liable to be sold. Still, there was also a high death rate, and even in North America, slaves had to be continually re-imported to replace those who had died. So in a special sense — relative to the Caribbean — yes, slavery in North America was somewhat milder. However, all this changed when cotton farming came in.

If you read the literature Plume is 100 % correct, I historians tell us that new world slavery was much worse compared to old (except for some cases like the ancient silver and salt mines which used enslaved condemned criminals). Kidneystones is incorrect.

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BillWAF 08.28.15 at 4:01 am

Eric,

The next time you try to write about Populism, read the scholarship first. J. Morgan Kousser pointed out in his seminal work “The Shaping Of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910” that in each Southern state, Southern elites turned to disfranchisement in response to an inter-racial insurgency, such as a Black Republican and white Populist alliance (or white Greenback). As I recall, twenty-five percent of white voters were also disfranchised.

The white voters who were targeted had voted Populist or Greenback. I am sure that white Populists voted to disfranchise themselves. Do the work next time before you claim to understand anything.

BTW, Kousser’s book started as his Ph.D. dissertation for C. Vann Woodward at Yale.

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PGD 08.28.15 at 4:08 pm

Harold, waving off ancient slavery in the mines (and presumably agricultural estates) as somehow unimportant is like trying to excuse American slavery because some house or urban slaves might have received better treatment. The fact of manumission for urban slaves in the ancient world, and the high social levels some former slaves rose to, leads some to ignore or discount the condition of slaves held in mines and on rural estates where the majority of slaves were held and mortality rates seem to have been extremely high (Strabo and others describe slaves in the mines as ‘worked to a quick death’). The social role of urban and freed slaves in Rome was different enough from American slavery that writers have constantly emphasized the presence of an ‘open’ aspect to one part of the slave economy where slaves were used in skilled occupations and motivated through reward incentives such as manumission. That is true enough but does not obviate the condition of others used for gang and forced labor.

If you want to look just at mortality rates, it is striking how much lower mortality rates in the US during the 19th century were compared to the Caribbean islands, where slave mortality reached genocidal levels. We have good data on 19th century US slave populations from the Census, and they do not show evidence of large-scale die offs, which makes economic sense given the ban on importation.

Slavery is extremely common historically from the beginning of mass society up through a few centuries ago, and it is always and everywhere a system of violent domination that involves profound violations and injustices (see Orlando Patterson’s magisterial “Slavery and Social Death”). We have very limited evidence on practices of slavery and serfdom in It no more makes sense to say American slavery is the worst form of violent domination ever than it does to say that it’s somehow unusually ‘nice’ or humanitarian compared to other forms of slavery. (A claim frequently made by slavery apologists).

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Harold 08.28.15 at 4:30 pm

It is very unwise to try to quantify suffering and brutality. I certainly didn’t mean to minimize ancient slavery. still I agree with Plume on this one. Or at least that is the impression I get from my reading. The ancient world specialized in crucifixion, human sacrifice gladitorial conflict and other horrors. So there has been some progress.

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Plume 08.28.15 at 4:51 pm

The key to the claim is the combination. Whether or not someone wants to argue that earlier civilizations had worse forms of slavery, or racism, I don’t see another historical case where both are so completely integrated, on such a huge scale, and for so much profit/control/defense of said system. Of course, if a person wants to make excuses for us, they could say, “Well, it’s because we’re so huge and powerful and rich. Naturally we would be #1 in this too.”

A less generous way to look at that would be, “We want to make claims about our exceptional nature, our massive size, reach, wealth, impact on the world, but we don’t want to believe we did anything wrong to get there, and once there, we don’t want to believe we ever harm others. We always wear white hats. We want to take credit for the good while we ignore the bad — all of it. We refuse to accept the responsibility that comes with empire and being the sole superpower, etc. We want to pretend we’re not an empire, and that we didn’t do what it takes to create one.”

What led to that status? What got us there? Genocide of Native peoples, slavery, treating minorities like shit, women like chattel, workers like slaves. Take all of that away and we don’t extend empire beyond the original colonies, and our original landing leads to a far more precarious existence — from the getgo.

In short, we’re big, rich and powerful for a host of reasons. But a huge part of that is the subjugation of the weak, the powerless and the vulnerable. Their genocide. Their internment. Their enslavement.

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Richard Cottrell 08.28.15 at 5:16 pm

I almost wept when reading these responses, principally it seems from Americans. For eg,
Mussolini didn’t work for Franco and he didn’t have a coalition. Nor did he have a parliament for that matter. Two points there picking up on ill thought-out throwaway lines. Fascism is about organising all points of economic and social activity to the exclusion of popular consent (just as Wall Street rules America now, in tandem with the Pentagon). Donald Trump is out of that same loft. He has a ready made constituency waiting for him. Fascism thrives on the populist seed. Thirties Germans never understood Hitler until it was far too late. A warning there, and another concerning the current direction of the UK towards autocracy thanks to the Cameron-Osborne tandem.

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Meredith 08.29.15 at 5:03 am

What Richard Cottrell said (any relation to my fantastic 11th grade history teacher in NJ in 1967)? There is something unpleasantly in the air with Trump. Very unpleasantly, however we choose to define terms like “popularism” or “fascism.”

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lurker 08.29.15 at 9:09 am

@Plume 116
Perhaps you could compare and contrast the US most usefully with other American countries. Like, say, Argentina. Independence in 1810, slavery until 1853, and native genocide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquest_of_the_Desert
Most other slave and/or conquest societies contemporary with the US were just too different, at least politically.

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Trollblog 08.30.15 at 11:35 pm

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