Crazy Politics: Populism and Paranoia in America

Crazy Politics: Populism and Paranoia in America



my name's corn up flavouring the director of the folding Institute and normally I wouldn't subject you to having to listen to me and have our coffee and politics is instant but I've been doing a public lecture around the state for Humanities to Washington as part of their speaker's bureau program on populism and paranoia in our politics fits nicely into our events that we scheduled this semester on the Trump administration so we've got someone you might be interested in hearing this lecture ago and it goes about an hour I'm gonna try to cut some of it out but it goes longer than our normal events so we may not have a lot of time at the end for questions and answers my topic today Quade crazy politics actually came to me when I was giving a different lecture for Humanities in Washington on political polarization incivility federal politics and oftentimes in discussions on that lecture people would say well it's not just our politics or part of a civil instance they're so crazy there's all this anti-establishment rhetoric and all these conspiracy theories where does that come from and so that got me to thinking about a classic book written by one of our great American clicklist where's Richard Haass tenor in kind of a paranoid style in American politics he wrote this back in the 1960s he was talking about then groups like the John Birch Society and others and he argued that and using the term paranoia he wasn't using that in a clinical sense but rather he was using it to get at a style of discourses centered around heated exaggerations suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasies so he wasn't really interested in lunatics or people who are disturbed but rather otherwise normal people who sometimes laugh seen in this kind of paranoid form of discourse and believed about politics so I want to do a couple of things first of all I want to talk or define what I mean by crazy politics and here I want to talk about two different styles of discourse and ways of fun one is populism the other is paranoid and I'm going to talk about these explain how they're different but also how they're related and why you oftentimes seep into history secondly I want to talk a little bit about the nature today's crazy politics who engages them we believe it there no one put that to a broader historical context and ask the question they'll be more crazy today than in the past and then finally if I have time I'll get to some of the reasons why I think we're seeing a surge in population in conspiratorial and paranoia and our politics today and when it can't threaten democracy so let me begin with a caveat and my caveat is I'm not talking about truth today Golda Meir who is the Prime Minister of Israel was having a conversation with Henry Kissinger at the time about the arab-israeli peace negotiations and Kissinger accused of being a paranoid for not giving enough negotiations she turned to Kissinger said you know dr. Kissinger even paranoids have real enemies and I'm gonna stipulate upfront there are conspiracy theories that often turn out to be true watergate's a perfect example of that Russian hacking of our election this last election is an example of that there's also lots of economic unfairness inequality in America today and that's what populist who speaks to and rightly so so I'm not were you going to be talking about the truth of political claims but rather the way certain I twiddle ideas are believed and communicated and so we begin by talking about what I call crazy politics I'll start by defining populism and often times when people talk about population they're talking about a period in American history in the 1880s and 1890s the populist period we had a populist party or the People's Party back then I'll come back to that period of a minute but right now I just want to focus on what I mean by the idea of populism what do we mean when we call somebody a populist political leader or a popular style Canada and Michael Cassidy who wrote a really terrific book on the history of American population said populous is a style of discourse or a set of ideas about democracy which embraces a manic or dualistic to you of politics it embraces a view of politics of a global struggle between an evenly on the one hand and a virtuous America and on the other hand two core ideas he said are involved in hotness thinking and popular discourse the first isn't the people and these people are called different things by different populist leaders you'll call the silent majority Richard Nixon calling the silent majority Dom Trump today talks about the Forgotten man or the real Americans they are oftentimes equated with good or virtue he leads on the other hand the elite can be an economic and lead they can be a politically they can be a cultural elite they are equated with evil and malevolence populism is also a set of ideas about popular sovereignty it exalts the idea of the majority milk that is seen as virtuous any opposition to the majority will as seen as suspect in the level of so that's what I mean by populism it's this dualistic manichaean way of thinking about politics as a struggle between their virtuous majority virtuous American people and an evil to lead so what do I mean by paranoia so here I'm going to use the definition that Hostetter used when he said the paranoid style is a style of discourse whose central image of politics is of a vast and sinister conspiracy of elites who seek to undermine and destroy the American Way of life paranoids traffic in the birth and death of whole political orders and systems of cultural values like religious millennia lists they often think they are living through the last days just waiting the apocalypse right so populism paranoia are distinct ways of thinking too steep forms of discourse but they are related where they're related as they both embrace this manner way of thinking about politics is a struggle between evil elite in a virtuous majority where the paranoid goes a bit further is they also embrace a conspiratorial and apocalyptic mentality they're fixated on secretive forces that are out to undermine the very way of American life and we oftentimes have the sense of impending doom or on the the edge of teetering over and losing our country to losing the American Way of life so that's why I need my crazy politics let me turn today to the style of crazy politics today and I think what we can all agree about is we are surrounded by populist leaders and populist causes I felt the political left on the political right on the political right we have leaders like Donald Trump Sarah Palin we have movements like the Tea Party movement but these right-wing militia movements are all populist on the political left we have leaders like Bernie Sanders a list of Warren movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement the anonymous movement are also talking to snoop us so it raises a question that is who do these leaders and you would speak to are Americans really populist apart as well and a group of political scientist actually did a major study of this a couple years ago they asked a series of questions that tapped into populist attitudes questions like do you think politics is ultimately a struggle between good and evil or do you think politicians should nearly always follow the will of the people or do you think a few special interests prevent us from making progress on most major issues or do you think the people rather than politicians should make most important policy decisions all these are populist attitudes and what they found is the vast majority of Americans agree with almost all of these eighty percent think that politicians should nearly always follow the will of the people three-fourths think that a few special interests prevent us from making progress than most major issues two-thirds of Americans think people not politicians should make most important policy decisions so Americans are very populist the attitudes that they hold now if we're all populist it's also true that there are different styles of populism and populism on the political left is very different than populism on the political right and the difference is how they define who are the virtuous American people and who are the evil Indies so you think about populism on the Left they oftentimes populist talk about a political system controlled by corporate elites and Wall Street bankers they talk about an economic system that's rigged against workers in favor of the wealthy oftentimes in 1% when they talk about immigrants and minorities they oftentimes talk about them as part of the exploited real American workers and they're somehow being scapegoated by elites so typical of left-wing style populism today was Bernie Sanders understand the economy is rigged today I'm working longer hours for low wages they're worried about the future on their kids it's supposed to be about democracy where billionaires Wall Street corporate America can contribute unlimited sums of money into super PACs and in some candidates so that's a good example of today's left-wing style of populism on the political right when you hear populist of talk they often time to talk about a political system controlled by a corrupt corrupt politicians are corrupt as a political establishment it's basically an anti status or an anti government form of rhetoric they oftentimes complain about the media and our culture being controlled by liberal elites when they talk about immigrants and minorities they oftentimes talk about them as stealing jobs from real Americans typical of sort of right wing style populism a is done at Trump's inauguration address for too long a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost Washington flourished but the people did not share in its well politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed the establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country their victories have not been your victories their triumphs have not been your trials and while they celebrated in our nation's capital there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land okay so that's right so we're surrounded by Papa shredders populist leaders on both political left on the right it's also true that we're surrounded by paranoia in their politics today right you have leaders like Sarah Palin who famously warned about the death penalty a terror act or my favorite one is Michele Bachmann's back in 2011 simple I wish the media would take a good look at the people in Congress and find out are they pro-america or anti-america well I won't the media investigate this it's just striking I mean here she is insinuating that you know members of Congress are anti-american and involved in this conspiracy this immediate covering that up and don't Trump on him to come back to him because he's the king but we also have a lot of terminally on the Left you know Hillary Clinton was famous for talking about the vast right-wing conspiracy it was out to get her her husband when he was president in 1990s Bernie Sanders often times talks about billionaires conspiring to control not only the economy but also our political system you have Democratic senators like Bob Graham who believes in the truth or conspiracy that the Bush administration was involved in the 9/11 attacks and it covered it up without questions the king of conspiracy theorists today and paranoia in our politics is Donald Trump The Washington Post is keeping a list of the conspiracy theories he's publicly embraced that's well over 60 at this point everything from the birth or conspiracy Obama wasn't born in the United States from truth or conspiracy he believes that too that the best Bush administration was involved in the 9/11 attacks that Obama was involved in the murder of Justice Scalia the Ted Cruz's father was involved in developing assassination that the CDC lies about Ebola that the government lies about the link between vaccines and autism the climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China and that the government was covering up the real unemployment rate which he said was 42% lash the most recent one of course is that there are more than three million legal voters in the last election which is why he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton you can hear the paranoia and on Trump's political discourse by this campaign commercial that he himself produced some rain the establishment the median the special interest the lobbyists the donors they're all against me I'm self-funding my campaign I don't know anybody anything I only owe it to the American people to do a great job they are really trying to stop me everybody knows that everybody sees it we're gonna win we're gonna win it for the people we're gonna win it for our country we're going to make America great again so you can hear the paranoia also raises questions or Americans perfect we believe these this stuff Joey you sense key and gentle parent wrote a terrific book two years ago entitled American conspiracy theories up in fact we just had julius in ski out there a couple of weeks ago talking about paranoid political thinking and conspiracy theories they found that more than half of all Americans believed one or more conspiracy other so if you simply ask do you think that the government wasn't involved in 9/11 attacks twenty eight percent of Americans think so thirty one percent of Americans believe Obama was not born the United States thirty six believe that global warming is a hoax twenty eight percent of Americans believe that there's a secret elite conspired to create a one-world order 22 percent believers that the government's hiding the link between vaccines and autism forty four percent believe the administration intentionally mislead the American public about weapons of mass destruction fifty one percent a majority of Americans still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was part of a broader conspiracy despite what the Warren Commission found not only that what they found is ninety two Americans many Americans believe in conspiracy theories many of us also have what they call a paranoid predisposition is to say we hold attitudes that predispose us to believe particular conspiracy theories when we hear of them so they asked us series of questions like do you agree that much of our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret or do you do you think that even though we live in a democracy only a few people really run things or do you believe that people who really run the country are not known to the voters or do you believe that big events like Wars recessions elections are controlled by people work in secret against the rest of us and you found that almost half of Americans believe most of these statements not only that but it runs across the ideological spectrum so liberals and conservatives Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to hold this kind of a paranoid predisposition it predisposes us to believe in conspiracy theories now even though many of us are have a paranoid predisposition and believe in conspiracy theories which ones we believe much like our views of a popular are deeply structured by our pre-existing political identities needs our partisanship and our ideological identity liberal conservative Republican or Democrat so you take the birther and truth or conspiracies equal numbers of Americans believe both of these that Obama was not born in the United States that the Bush administration was involved in the 9/11 attacks just so happens the vast majority us who believe the Obama conspiracy are Republicans the vast majority of believe in the truth or conspiracy are Democrats this is the same with many conspiracy theories you can take global warming whether it's a hoax or not 35% of Americans think it is but only 15% of Democrats think it is whereas 58% of Republicans think it is or have you asked the Bush administration intentionally mislead about weapons of mass destruction 44% of Americans overall think we they did but 74% of Democrats do there's only 27% of Republicans do so here's what we know about today's crazy politics the vast majority of Americans pulled populist attitudes and many see politics in this kinu of dualistic ways a struggle between evil weak and virtuous majority or real America out there the vast majority of Americans also believe one or more conspiracy theory and many of us hold conspiratorial predispositions that predispose us to believe in conspiratorial politics which conspiracy theories how we think about populous who's the evil elite out to school real Americans is deeply structured by our partisan and ideological identities okay so that's what we know about crazy politics today let me try to put this into a broader historical context and I think a lot of Americans have a mythology that there was a period in American politics that was more sane more civil and less paranoid than today that's the myth that reality is really something quite different you sinski a parent write in their book that Americans historically have been quick to anticipate tyranny despotism and a whole spectrum of apocalyptic scenarios and I've got to try to hurry through some of these earlier periods of populism and paranoia in American politics but clearly the American Revolution is a period of deep populism and paranoia you know you have it's a populist rhetoric like Tom Paine saying the duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from its government or Patrick Henry give me liberty or give me death you ever read the Declaration of Independence all the way through you realize pretty quickly not only is it a populist document talks about the Equality of all they need to get past that knee of equality of all part at the beginning and then lapses into a list of conspiratorial claims that Thomas Jefferson lays out about the British government that you know the the king has refused as assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good the king has called together legislative bodies at places unusual uncomfortable and distant from the public records he has erected a multitude of new offices and sent swarms of officers to harass people are eat out their substance he has plundered our seas ravaged our coasts burned our towns and destroyed the lives of our people now there's no doubt that the colonists had some legitimate complaints with the British Parliament in King George this is clearly heated exaggerations and conspiratorial fantasies if you want to put it in those terms too much of these claims Thomas Jefferson was clearly a populist leader often times used populist rhetoric in his campaigns he was often ridiculed actually for his populism you know this is a cartoon entitled the anti-federalist Club the Jeffersonians supporters this is sort of the forum under of the basket of deplorable –zz I mean you know these are all certainties unsavory types you know people peeling off in disguise because they're astrologers or drunkards this is you know slaves it's you know slightly satanic if you're sitting down here and Jefferson was also linked to lots of conspiracy theories the most prominent of this time was the so-called Illuminati conspiracy theory the Illuminati was a group of Freemasons out of Austria they were a typical sort of enlightenment-era organization to believe that there should be less influence of religion in government but they were seen as as a you know a deep conspiracy to bring down on Christianity but all forms of republican government and we jumpers often lead to that that cartoon on the right depicts Jefferson and the embrace of Satan pulling down the pillars of republican government this one here it's even more clear in its allusion to the Illuminati you have y'all seen hand up here and you have Thomas Jefferson it's called the providential detection being prevented by the American Eagle from burning the Constitution on the altar of gain of despotism which was a an illusion conspiracy this was such a widespread conspiracy theory at the time even George Washington believed that we have a letter in the Library of Congress where he talks about the Illuminati trying to bring down Republicans Jackson was clearly a populist leader he was actually considered the first outsider president because he didn't come from the patrician families of either Virginia or Massachusetts he ran on the people's ticket once he got elected you know he opened up the White House and you had these famous paintings of show the unwashed masses coming in and being drunk and dancing and cavorting on the White House lawn once he was in office he made good on many of his populist policies even Ollie did he give the franchise to people who didn't own property for the first time but he also disestablished the National Bank which he's claimed was that an instrument of what he called the moneyed interest in the United States you may also ridiculed for his populism is often times called Andrew jackass or never unless he was also linked to all sorts of conspiracies and most of these had to do with his membership as a freemason he has the cartoon depicting you know his cabinet all in there Freemasonry gowns and aprons this actually led to the first American third party anti mason party which was basically an anti Jackson party concerned about the secret conspiracy the Masons had to bring down Republican forms of government I'll skip by the Civil War I was also prepared to poppies and lots of conspiracy theories Brazil more complicated with the slavery issue though I go straight to the Gilded Age and the era of populism the 1880s and 1890s in the United States this is clearly a period of wrenching economic and demographic change with nationalization of the economy industrialization of capitalism with waves of immigrants and it led to tremendous polarization of incoming wealth the working conditions of average Americans in the inner cities in particular which is simply Dickensian in nature on the other hand you had lives of oculus with these dynasty dynastic families like the Rockefellers the Morgans Carnegie's and others led to a lot of populist rhetoric in our politics this is a cartoon over here depicts the US Senate is a bunch of school of children being awarded over by big corporations and trusts this one here depicts labor and burdened down with debt that was an allusion to the gold standard which was seen as you know hiking up interest rates and making it impossible for workers employment to pay off with this he's looking the laborer is looking at a tombstone here that says here lies American prosperities assassinated and stabbed in the back by President Grover Cleveland in other traders in Congress this of course led to the establishment of People's Party before the real populist party group got together in Omaha Nebraska 1892 phenomena James Weaver's our first presidential candidate they dotted the platform if you read through this platform you will see echoes above Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in this you know it begins by saying we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral political and material ruining the people are demoralized borders intimidated businesses prosthetic homes covered with mortgages and labor impoverished it sounds an awful lot like the carnage that surrounds us that Donald Trump talked about during his inaugural address then it goes on the toilet millions of stolen to build up colossal forces for a few and the possessors of these in turn despise the Republic and in danger from the same prolific loom of government and justice we breed two great classes tramps and millionaires it sounds an awful lot like Bernie Sanders the most famous populist of that period was William Jennings Bryant he was nominated to run as president in 1896 and again in 1901 the populist party ticket but also the Democratic Party's ticket it was a fusion ticket and the Democratic establishment viewed William Jennings Bryant much the same way as the Democratic establishment Bernie Sanders in this last election as a hostile takeover the party they just trusted this is a cartoon depicting him swallowing the Democratic Party his opponent in those two elections was William McKinley McKinley was depicted as sort of a tool and instrument of big corporations in the big Wall Street that money power here he is sitting in the hands of big money lots of conspiracy theories during this period the most popular one at the time was the so-called gold conspiracy theory it was the idea that the gold standard was a conspiracy of Jewish international bankers to extract money from American workers and others this is a depiction of Jewish bankers actually putting a crown gold on American labor it's led to Wayne Jennings Bryant's most famous speech the so called Cross of gold speech at the Democratic convention in 1896 now I got that buddy one place in 61 1930s Franklin Roosevelt was a populist candidate and a populist leader will often use populist themes in his campaigns and had populist policies of the New Deal was a populist set of programs now spreading the wealth taxing the wealthy more progressive income tax structures in order to create a social welfare safety net typical where cartoons like this one this shows FDR shaking hands with this it says right there the forgotten man the SUV needed me this is a depression-era piece of art that depicts strengthen those oppose the patron saint of America a vert America and workers you can hear the emergence of modern left wing populism in Franklin Roosevelt's political speeches we could also hear the paranoia in his political speeches when his famous speeches in 1936 he talks about the forces arrayed against now before in all our history I mean stomping feet so you might in ok one candidate is make bound today they are a unanimous is matt peake for me and I welcome their hatred so clearly a populist and also a little bit paranoid but as populist as Franklin Roosevelt was he was actually attacked on both the political right and the political left by other popular trends father Charles Coughlin was a famous radio broadcaster and then in nineteen thirties and thank you for she actually started as a supporter of more than Roosevelt's but but eventually broke from him because Roosevelt was not populist and right bringing enough for him Coughlin started something called the National Union for social justice because he's so distrusted establishment politicians you in the beginning you start to hear the beginning of modern rightly anti-establishment anti-political anti-government rhetoric in his speeches he was particularly exercised about Roosevelt's the support of Roosevelt by Jews and he oftentimes railed against the federal reserve which he thought was a conspiracy of Jewish bankers to to oppress American workers he gave a famous speech in 1934 where you know he lays out this broad conspiracy about the Federal Reserve System I'm gonna play the portion where he starts to talk about establishment politicians is the enemy of America [Applause] [Applause] so that's hoppiness I'm on the right attacking goes but also attack on the political left Huey Long was the governor of Louisiana senator from Louisiana he's by far my favorite populist do you see why in just a minute I play one of his speeches you know all the king's men Robert Penn Warren great political classic was based upon year-long he had a he was basically really a sort of a socialist his platform is as she called her share our wealth platform which he proposed that we should camp American income and asset so no family could earn over over a million dollars a year or have more than five million in assets and after that he tax and redistributed he came up in this famous speech in 1935 and I want you to listen to speech because it sounds like a speech that could be given by Bernie Sanders so you see the crystallization starting to take place at deputy populous America crystallization of right-wing populism interesting line up begins really earth takes place in 19 cities there's populism on both the political left and the right of the night rustic side on the left you've got pockets leaders like Robert Kennedy Eugene McCarthy populist causes like modern civil rights movement and moderate and modern women's rights movement ghosts have populist leaders on the Left Barry Goldwater George Wallace but by far the most important populist to emerge in the 1960s because he later becomes our president is Ronald Reagan he emerges the first time is a powerful force in national politics and the speech he gives in 1964 advocating the election of very Goldwater it's called the time for choosing speech and here you can see modern right-wing populism identifying government as the enemy of America and also sort of this apocalyptic view that works you know teetering on the precipice of losing the real America this is the issue of this election whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant Capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves you and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right what I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as the left or right there's only an up or down [Applause] employees number two and a half million and federal state and local one out of six of the nation's workforce employed by government these proliferating bureaus with their thousands of regulations have cost as many of our constitutional safeguards how many of us realize that today federal agents can invade a man's property without a warrant they can impose a fine without a formal hearing let alone a trial by jury and they can seize and sell his property and auction to enforce the payment of that fine what does it mean whether you hold the deed to the or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property and such machinery already exists the government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute every businessman has his own tale of harassment somewhere of perversion has taken place our natural unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government and freedom has never been so fragile so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment you and I have a rendezvous with destiny will preserve for our children this the last best hope of man on earth or will send us them to take the last step in $1,000 here both the populism and the paranoia there so let me turn finally to talk about why I think we're seeing a surge in pocket ISM again today two broad developments I think we reported one is to understand that both populism and paranoid political discourse are for losers they appeal to losers and what I mean by that is they appeal to people who feel like they're coming out of the losing end of economic cultural demographic shifts and changes in our society there are ways to explain why people like them the real Americans are losing out the other thing that's happened is changes in our mediating institutions and what I mean by mediating institutions are those institutions that link people to political power to put up a policy leader so the two most important of these mediating institutions are political parties and media and they both changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years so let me just briefly touch on some of these developments so clearly there have been major economic changes taking place the American economy over the last 30 to 40 years we've gone from a national economy to a global economy trade automation has dramatically impacted the way Americans work and the distribution of income and wealth in our society there are real winners and losers in this process this simply shows you the the household incomes of different quartiles of American populace once you look up the chart here on the political right and in particular if you look at that but you'll see is that the top 20% of Americans since 1980 have had real income gains the top one percent have had staggering income years the bottom 80% of Americans have actually lost in terms of real income since the 1980 and it's that sense of losing out that people look for for explanations there must be some elites might do Wall Street bankers and my vision corporations it might be the corrupt politicians creating these trade deals or shipping are good jobs overseas why they're losing out we've also had dramatic demographic changes in immigration over the last thirty to forty years we have more foreign-born Americans today than any time since the turn of last century and immigrants of course create all sorts of dynamism in our economy and in our culture the same time they raise deep issues about national identity leaving some Americans to feel like they are now becoming a minority in their own country and in fact they are within the next two or three decades they will be a minority majority country and many Americans see this as losing out in terms of their identity and cultural heritage there of course have also been massive social and cultural changes in the last 30 or 40 years the changing role of women and changing role of gender in general in our society the changing way we think about different groups of Americans like gay Americans the changing way we think about the relationship between religion and our public institutions all this has left many Americans feeling like I'm gonna steal a title from a sociologist book out there right now they're strangers in their own land that they the values and cultures of real Americans are being lost out and the leaks are foisting their cultural values on them and they look for explanations for this who are the elites doing this to them now if there have been these major changes in our economy in our demographics and in our society and culture there have also been shifts in these mediating institutions I talked about earlier so political parties quite interesting they've simultaneously have done two things one is we become very polarized in our political parties at the same time our parties have become very weak as instead I mean by that so this is simply the polarization index in the House and the Senate and an easy way to think about this not entirely accurate wouldn't talk about it everyone is this is basically a measure of bipartisanship are Republicans willing to vote with Democrats Democrats willing to vote with Republicans and the higher you are on this index the less likely you are to see that take place now that chart goes from the 1870s all the way up to 2013 the blue line there is the Senate the red line is the house and you'll see that our political parties are more polarized today than any time since we've had these two particular political parties our parties have pulled fallout apart on all sorts of policy issues and that's also mirrored by the way in the American public in terms of how Republicans and Democrats think about most policy issues what this leads to is what a political scientists call aspect of polarization meaning it affects the way we start to think about each other as Americans so this and there's lots of data on the sector's pull this went out of the Pew report done a couple years ago they simply asked this question do you think that the policies of the other party are so misguided that they are a threat to the nation's well-being I want you think that know I said you know you think the other party's wrong do you think they are a threat to the nation 27% of all Democrats think the Republican Party's the threat to the nation's well-being 36% of all Republicans think the Democratic Party's a threat to nations will be if you look at Democrats who are consistently liberal in their views one and two think that the Republican Party is a threat to nation's well-being like this is much higher math here like election of Trump 66% of Republicans who have consistently conservative use think that a Democratic Party will answer explanations will be well you can see when we get polarized like this we see the other side is not only wrong but it's actually threatening our security then this man a keen way of thinking about politics really starts to take hold our party represents the real Americans the other party represents the community evil elite who's out to undermine why we become more polarizing partisans it's also true that our parties have become linked as institutions over the last 30 or 40 years lots of reasons I won't go into all of them two major reasons is the shift from caucuses to primaries and choosing candidates but also the shift in how we run our campaigns it used to be that if you wanted to be a candidate you had to have a deep support within the party because it was the partisans who went out in canvas for you and rang doorbells and went on street corners today that's not how you get elected today you get elected by going to a special interest group getting money producing a television ad and beaming that into people's homes you can bypass the party entirely well the effect of these types of changes is parties cannot control who are their candidates any longer they are now opened up to outsider challenges to popular style candidacies like Bernie Sanders like Donald Trump both of them were seen as as really hostile takeovers of the party by the party establishment the party of these parties by the way tend towards the middle they tend towards much more consensual style candidates because that's who they they where their voters are outsider candidates tend towards the more extreme oftentimes populist Lincoln's in paranoid thinking about politics so our parties have changed also our media has changed dramatically it wasn't long ago that I still remember I remember there were basically three networks and maybe a handful of papers in any major metropolitan area the news you received was heavily filtered through the editorial process editors made sure that information that wasn't factual that wasn't true wasn't published and printed they also tried to assure some balance in their coverage that's not the case today there's literally thousands of quote news outlets on the web on cable television all of this is virtually unedited unfiltered they can publish anything they want they don't care about balance and once it gets printed or published of course it gets spread on social media like a wildfire millions and millions of Americans are exposed to it overnight in fact we know in the last election in 2016 26% of Americans said they got most of their news about the election on social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter well this point out what does fake news is not news fake news has been around before this is from their first populist era newspaper editorials talking about fake news and the threat it poses to our democracy this is actually a news clip from a Connecticut newspaper where they actually proposed legislation to punish to prosecute people who put who spread false or fake news cause a fake news so it's been around before but the the degree of it the way it spreads today is very very different than in the past so let me finish up by asking this question is this style of politics a threat to American democracy and walter berns who was one of my we're political theorists in the 1969-70 the question is not whether we will be governed by a lease but rather which means will govern us now once you think about that Donald Trump became an elite as soon as he was elected key Bern said a challenge for Republicans to make sure we are governed by board the organization so one thing I think should be clear for my discussion about the history of populist and paranoid in American politics is that these are not necessarily undemocratic many of our great presents have actually had populist themes and populist platforms many of them also had some paranoia involved in their ways of thinking about politics as well but there is a tension there's a tension at the heart of populism with democratic pluralism and that's because pop is impa's it's that there's a moral clarity in majoritarian opinion and it characterizes dissent or opposition to the joy terrian opinion as at least suspect and maybe malicious Democratic Parliament thinks of differences in political opinion not only as inevitable but is desirable democracy what you want in a democracy is a clash of ideas a clash of use and so democratic pluralist societies try to protect minority rights minority viewpoint and enshrine them in things like individual rights protections so that's the tension the problem in terms of democracy is when populist ideas and populist ways of thinking especially as Manichaean wave just be dualistic we're seeing everything is a virtuous majority against an evil leads when those ideas get linked up with other anti pluralist ideas here I'm talking about ideas like nativism racism religious bigotry authoritarianism and the reason is is because populism gives these other anti pluralist ideas a sheen of democratic legitimacy by equating them with the will of the majority and I can quickly go through some previous where this happened so Jackson was clearly a populist exhausted even racist he didn't think that Native Americans were part of the real Americans and he engaged in the process of relocation of Native Americans from their tribal lands resulting in the deaths of thousands of Native Americans along the way no nothing moved in the 1850s deeply populist movement also deeply nativeness and also religiously bigoted they this was a section that you know nothing flags its native americans period beware of foreign influence you know they were very very fearful of immigrants but especially immigrants from Catholic countries as of the cartoon 250 German immigrants in a beer barrel Irish immigrants entwistle federal is stealing the ballot box Tom Watson was probably the most famous and important populist in the populist spirit he was the vice presidential candidate for William Jennings Bryant and then became the presidential campaign People's Party 1904 deeply deeply racist he did not think that Americans included racial minorities in fact he 1792 the 1904 campaign white men made our American government they founded our country and religious system and white mentioned maintain America for Americans similarly George Wallace and caucus in the 1960s had similar racist exclusionary views about who counted as real Americans and famously when he was inaugurated as he and as the governor of Alabama he said you know I'm gonna draw the line and dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny by which he meant the federal government it was terribly the tyranny and say segregation now segregation tomorrow segregation forever and you can see the result of when populism and paranoia get mixed up with other nativist ideas in the McCarthy era you Senator McCarthy Joseph McCarthy saw deep conspiracies everywhere in our government communists were infiltrated everything at one point said I have a list of 200 names of State Department officials for communists claiming that leads to very exclusionary and draconian measures like the the subversive Control Act that was passed in the 1950s it leads to terms like a John Birch Society that saw traitors everywhere in our government they accused Eisenhower of being a secret communist traitor they accused John F Kennedy as being a secret communist conspiring against the American people in fact this was a pan bill they passed out on the streets of Dallas in the morning that John Kennedy was assassinated accusing him of treason and being a secret communist conspirator so let me conclude so I've argued that populism and paranoia both embrace a mannequin or a dualistic view about politics at their part neither of these forms of discourse or thinking are new to our politics they've both been around a long time they've both been important forces and their politics in the past many Americans today hold both populist and paranoid attitudes and these are shaped by our pre-existing political identities in very powerful ways which conspiracies we believe in how we think about the evening Li is deeply structured by our partisan and ideological identities I've also argued that we're seeing an upsurge or Not Taken populism femini today because of changes in our economy changes in our demographics changes in our culture and also changes in the mediating institutions those institutions are bleak link people to political power and decision makers and then finally have argued that populism permanent are not necessarily undemocratic but they become undemocratic or can become undemocratic when they get linked with other anti tourist ideas like nativism races and religious bigotry authoritarianism okay yeah no question in fact next next year in fact here's just a couple of populist leaders overseas right now marine lepen is probably the most important one she's right now leading and you know they have a presidential can't imagine coming up she's now the leading contender there likely will be a front-runner when they have a runoff election but you also see populist leaders like Nigel Faraj and Nick Party in Britain he hangs around the fact he was at the speech last night no accomplished he came in campaign he was on the campaign well for Donald Trump he's the one who led the brixon brexit vote in great britain norbert hopper is a you know right-wing populist to the freedom party in hospital there's was electing populist alexei dis para see that was a syriza party prime ministers was a left wing populism and they refused to you know to cooperate with the EU and Germany in particular always the restructuring the debt problem but it was a very populist campaign they ran in the popular platform again so populism yeah is spreading throughout the West right yeah does it tend to moderate or do we just is the pendulum just swing from one end populace spectrum to the other well I don't think there's any I don't think there's any pad to win populism emerges and he seems but again a way to go back to why I think we're seeing populism emerge again today it has to do with deep divisions in our society about really important problems you know our economy has fundamentally restructured itself and that has led to millions and millions of Americans working harder and harder for less and less and the question is what did we do with it how do we respond and Americans are deeply divided over that question and tell we resolve that question populist rhetoric that says the people to blame are the evil bankers or it's the evil politicians who cut these trade deals that's going to be very appealing the people who are out of work or people who are working at service industry jobs that barely pay a wage they can live on you know that's that's you know those are real issue the issue of political identity and immigration I mean again it it's immigrants grim all sorts of vitality to our country but they do raise these questions about how do we think of ourselves as Americans and until we have a conversation about that and work through that problem to build a consensus you know populist appeals in nationalist are going to be attractive to many Americans so so I what I would have us focus on is is less the candidates in the causes and more on the underlying issues that are giving rise to this style of thinking and so I don't make predictions I predicted Donald Trump would never be President you know I thought actually prior to the election I thought well you know the Republican Party has become so divided internally divided that it either has to fundamentally reform itself or it will cease to exist as a party and a third party will emerge to take a piss you know parties exist for one reason that is to get people elected if they cannot get people elected then they cease to exist and they either fundamental reform themselves or a new party emerges to take their place you know the Democrats look like they're the ones in trouble right now I think that's a more appearance in reality I still think the Republican Party has their deepest divisions within the party these are going to become more and more exposed as they have to govern now rather it's easy to be united in the opposition very difficult to be united when you're actually governing and making policies and I think if you see that deep division and there's a deep deep division between the populist wing of the Republican Party represented by Trump in banner right now versus the establishment wing represented by people at Mitch McConnell and speaker Ryan they have very different views about things like trade infrastructure spending tax reform immigration and as they try to address these issues those divisions have been getting more and more exacerbated now does that lead to a collapse of the Republican Party I doubt it but I do think that the Republican Party has to move one direction or the other and that might make it less or more competitive and more coming the question I would draw maybe a little brighter line than even between paranoid civil rights was a popular some of the most important things that have gotten done in American societies were populist ideas right so so maybe I wouldn't connect populism to the paranoia Quakers but we asked you the question now in contempt how many of these populist leaders believe Huey Long really believe that stuff what was it all an act who helped just like asking has Donald Trump I don't know I don't know I mean you know do I think the end of a if you look at someone like but let me just go back to your first one you know I I don't see paranoia and populism is the same that's why you see them together often times in the history of history and it's this embrace of this mannequin way of thinking about politics and once you start seeing everything is a struggle between an evil unique however you wanted to find that and but virtuous American people that's what leads you down the road of populism but also Billy differences whether or not you think they're doing it in secret or not but Bernie Sanders I don't call him necessarily paranoid because he thinks that corporations are screwing the American people you think you're a conspiring necessary know not to do it you know sometimes he does talk about them conspiring and so but and that's when you cross the line into authoritarianism and democracy and so I'm wondering why you haven't brought demagoguery into that well again I you know demagoguery is to me it's warm what kind of demo god you are so if you're a populist demagogue what makes them interesting from my perspective is their pockets you know it's not left-wing right-wing it's about how do you see the democratic system and when you want to work and I would say Trump is more of a demigod a populist em about because he does not understand what democracy is and he doesn't really undermines I don't think I think I think I think there's a majoritarian and he thinks he represents the majority and he thinks that the majorities will embodied in him his election thought the government now yeah you call that undemocratic which you know I think it's certainly an idealistic and you could say he's not doesn't really represent the majority which is probably true but in his mind I think he represents the majority he's the embodiment of the majority will and he thinks opposition to that is why you think you know my views about him as a person about he Key's a greater danger in terms of his authoritarian and how you respond to opposition to the majority really there seems to be the majority rule and that's where the rhetoric about the media being again and give the American people notice how he said the media is not my inner enemy of the American okay well we probably let you go I got you for thanks for coming

5 thoughts on “Crazy Politics: Populism and Paranoia in America

  1. When you have a very high percentage of working class or lower middle class in a population that was and is given seemingly endless consumption, high religiosity, LOW education attainment, you have the perfect conditions for populism and paranoia. You have people who believe they are inherently special with their low skill existence, that the Indian or the Mexican who does the job overseas is undeserving… and that God will surely fix it…. voila…. you have a large of group of people who will take populist talking points. People in America were screwed over by their overall shit education systems, they were trained to have skills that are disappearing due to technological advances. American citizens cannot compete unless we get serious about how we teach, why we let dipshit stupid people teach students when they cannot teach, how we allow Universities to spit out Mickey Mouse degrees, how we're allowing high school students to be imbeciles upon graduation.

  2. This just seems like another attempt at gas lighting the people… I just do not think they understand how the majority of us are living

  3. People who believe in any conspiracy theory can be funny, no doubt about it, but true idiocy lies with those who learned to laugh at any suggestion something the government is trying to tell you is not true.

    And BTW, "a threat to muh democracy" — why would anyone care if one of the most stupid ways to govern is threatened? The US was established as a Republic. Democracy is one of those populist ideas which sound good, but in reality are worth nothing. Rather funny to see academics worried about it. 🙂

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