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What Populism Is And Isn't

  • "Il Quarto Stato" by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, 1901

Tags Big GovernmentMedia and CulturePolitical Theory


Here we go again.

Franklin Roosevelt infamously redefined the meaning of the word liberalism in the 1930s to mean more and more government control of the economy. This was in complete contradiction to what the word had meant for centuries, as defined by people like Jefferson: less government control of the economy.

Now advocates of more government control over the economy want to redefine populism as Trumpism. I hope they don’t get away with it this time. My definition of a populist is someone who wants what is best for the poor, the middle class, and ultimately all Americans ( the Latin root of the word means the people). By definition, a populist is someone who is not working on behalf himself or herself or other special interests. Since most government officials are closely allied with special interests, this leaves out most government officials.

Donald Trump is clearly not a populist. When asked why he had praised the Clintons in the past, before bashing them now, he replied that as a successful businessman he had sought to befriend all politicians, because they controlled his fate as a real estate developer. This is the essence of crony capitalism, not populism.

In the article below, Damon Linker not only defines “right wing populism” as Trumpism. He also suggests that the way to help the poor and middle class is not to tear down the crony capitalist system, but to share a bit more of the spoils with them. This is a familiar theme today from many advocates of more and more government control of the economy and of our lives.

Linker like other members of the crony capitalist system wants voters to listen to so-called experts, most of whom are of course well rewarded by the system. And he refers to Trump supporters as a “mob.” This choice of word in particular betrays him for what he is: an elitist, the opposite of a populist. No wonder he wants to redefine the word. He must feel threatened by it.



Hunter Lewis

Hunter Lewis is author of twelve books, including The Secular Saints: And Why Morals Are Not Just Subjective, Economics in Three Lessons & One Hundred Economic Laws, Where Keynes Went Wrong, and Crony Capitalism in America 2008-2012, and has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Times of London, The Atlantic and many other magazines and web sites including Mises.org and LewRockwell.com. Lewis is also co-founder of Against Crony Capitalism, co-founder and CEO of investment firm Hunter Lewis LLC, and co-founder and former CEO of global investment firm  Cambridge Associates LLC. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.

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