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The 2016 Populist Uprising in Perspective: Part 4 - The Future of Populism in the United States

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Frank Islam
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No matter the final results of the presidential elections in November, 2016 will be forever known as the year of the uprising of the populists in both political parties.

{We examine what that uprising means in detail in this series of four blogs. We forecast the future of populism here in this final blog in the series. In the first three blogs: we looked at the nature of populism today highlighting the dramatic differences between the two brands; focused on the development of these two brands over time; and, explored the concept and context for populism historically.}

We first predicted this uprising in our book, Renewing the American Dream, published in 2010. Back then, we wrote, "In 2010, the Tea Partiers appear to be a third party movement that is coalescing to try to gain control of the Republican Party. If that occurs, there is a real question about what that will mean for the American two-party system as we have come to know it."
In 2016, we think we know what it means. It means the Republican Party as we now know it will no longer exist. In fact, as the results of primaries to date have demonstrated, that Party (the party of the business establishment and moderate conservatives) may no longer exist right now.
Through the Ides of March primaries, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (the most conservative and anti-establishment candidate of the elected officials who were running in the Republican primaries), had won a total of 25 out of 27 state primaries. More important is the fact that Trump and Cruz have run second to each other in nearly all of the states that they did not win.
Together Trump and Cruz have garnered a clear and convincing majority of the votes cast in Republican primaries. That tells the story of the status of the Republican Party today.
It is in the hands of the "populists". There is still an outside chance that the Party might go to a brokered convention and that in the third round of voting that John Kasich - or some other compromise candidate - might prevail. But, that chance is extremely unlikely.
Even if it were to occur, it would only be a cosmetic response to a transformative and permanent condition. The Republican Party is now controlled by those who were at one time looked at as interlopers, outsiders, or the fringe.
This didn't happen without the cooperation of many of the Party's insiders and leaders. For the past decade in congressional elections and in the past two presidential election cycles, the elected officials and candidates moved further rightward in an attempt to capture the votes of the disgruntled and dismayed. Instead, they themselves have been captured.
This may seem like an overstatement. But, we believe it is not. We are not the only ones with this opinion.
Amanda Taub in her article on American authoritarianism for Vox writes, "Just look at where the Tea Party has left the Republican establishment. The Tea Party delivered the House to the GOP in 2010, but ultimately left the party in an unresolved civil war. Tea Party candidates have challenged moderates and centrists, leaving the GOP caucus divided and chaotic."
Taub continues that this is now occurring at the presidential level due to the influence of the authoritarians in the primaries. She concludes this will be an ongoing issue that will have "significant political consequences for the Republican Party making it more difficult for them to win the presidency" because of a "struggle to court mainstream voters in the general election."
If the future for the Republican Party is to become but not be renamed the "Right Wing Populist" or "Angry Populist" Party, what does the future hold for the Democratic Party? We calculate that it will be different as well - but not nearly as much so as for the Republican Party.
That's because the Sanders' forces are moving the Democratic Party closer to its roots rather than in a direction that it has never taken. That doesn't mean there is not a need for change. That change must begin with the recognition of the need for change.
As E.J. Dionne states in a recent op. ed., "But progressives of moderate inclinations can't use the right's shortcomings to blind them to their own call for reflection." And, there is absolutely a need for reflection, as evidenced by data presented and Senator Elizabeth Warren's speech at the New Populism Conference sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future on May 22, 2014.
The data from a Russell Sage Foundation survey showed a substantial and significant difference between the elites (those in the top 1% of income earners) and the general public on a variety of issues ranging from environmental protection through health care to social security. The elites were substantially in favor of cuts in all of these areas in contrast to the public which was substantially in favor of expanding expenditures in them.
In her keynote address, Senator Warren explained, "Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well financed front groups. Those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind."
She proclaimed that the New Populism is a "fight over economics, over privilege, over power" in order to ensure the implementation of "progressive values" which are "American values" which would result in programs directed at hard-working families, investment in helping people succeed, and building a future for all of our kids.
These values have been embraced - although in different ways - by both of the remaining candidates in the Democratic campaign for the presidency. As a result, the Democratic Party's national agenda and plaftform will change in 2016. And, we would expect the Party's direction going forward will be driven more by the voice of new populism as opposed to the timid and temorous voice of the Party establishment and elite.
This may not lead to liberalism being rediscovered by the Democratic Party. But, it will certainly lead to progressivism being reborn and rejuvenated in it by the injection of the will and spirit of the people
Senator Sander's refers to this movement as a political revolution. We do not see it as such. Instead, we see it as a devolution - a transfer and return of power in the party to the middle class and their representatives and advocates.
Matin Wolf captures the importance of this reformation in an article for the Financial Times. He writes, "In the US, elites of the right, having sown the wind, are reaping the whirlwind. But this has happened only because elites of the left have lost the allegiance of swaths of the native middle classes."
In summary, in 2016, populism reigns supreme in both parties. But, as was noted at the beginning of this blog, the nature of that populism is radically different in each party.
The populism in the Republican Party is primarily cultural and regressive in focus with an economic patina and a strong distaste for governmental involvement. The populism in the Democratic Party is primarily economic and progressive with a cultural patina and a strong desire for governmental intervention to correct societal ills and inequality.
What does this mean for our American democracy and the future of the country and its citizens? This is very difficult to forecast. In the short term, it will inevitably mean a clash between the two brands of populism.
But, as Chris Lehman commented in a Newsweek article in the Summer of 2015 before any of the primaries began in 2016, "You don't have to sign on with the Trump and Sanders crusades in all of their particulars to see that in today's money driven, elite-dominated political scene, more and more ordinary voters feel legitimately left out - and fed-up."
The primary results in both parties through middle-March of 2016 have proven the accuracy of Lehman's statement. The economic positions and planks of Trump and Sanders are similar but not identical and they both appeal to "ordinary voters." Many of those voters are neither as conservative on the Republican side as the traditional Republican voter nor as moderate on the Democratic side as the traditional Democratic voter.
What this could mean in the long term, if the Republican Party stays mired in the cultural aspect of its populism and does not put forward policies to make things better for the working class, is that those voters who are driven by economic considerations will move toward the Democratic party. They then will become a lever for winning national and state elections and a one-sided struggle will continue and inevitably lead to some small victories and modest progress on the working class front.
If on the other hand, the Republican Party recognizes that the way to retain its new converts is to advance policy positions that benefit the middle class and the working poor, there will be a new day dawning in American politics and policy making. A platform for compromise and collaboration and working across the aisle with Democrats will be put in place.
It is unlikely that there will be New Deal or New Society-type laws, but is highly likely that there will be New Populism laws. Those laws will greatly benefit the majority of "average" Americans who have gotten the shorter end of the stick under the current system.
The United States as a nation is at a pivot point. What is required for that pivot point to be addressed constructively and consistently is "positive populism."
We described the nature and need for positive populism in our book, Renewing the American Dream. We believe the words we wrote then are as - possibly even more- relevant as when they were penned in 2010. Therefore, we repeat them here:

These are the circumstances. Economic times are tough and getting tougher. People are on edge. Populism presents both an opportunity and a threat. The threat is that populism can be used for purely political purposes and to turn groups against one another. The opportunity is for positive populism.
Positive populism is based on the understanding that the answer to America's future lies in its citizens and not in Washington, D.C., or the Fortune 500. Positive populism begins with the recognition that we are still all in this together - whether you are at the top or the bottom of the heap, you're still part of it.
Given this recognition and understanding, positive populism can be used to channel and harness the energy and talents we all have by getting more involved and working together on the issues that are most relevant and important to the American community at all levels. Positive populism compels engagement in the search for solutions instead of the placing of blame. Positive populism enables the replenishment of our social capital accounts.

Positive populism. We hope it will prevail. We fear that it may not.
But, we place our faith in hope. That's because, as Studs Terkel put it, hope dies last.

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