‘The Populist Explosion’: New Book Explains Rise of Trump, Sanders, and the Populist Future

1.  Populism: Right, Left—and Together?  

Whither populism?  Is the insurgency associated with Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders a flash in the pan, or is it something real?

 

The answer to that question, of course, depends on who does the answering.  Most of the Republican establishment, along with the Democratic establishment—which some describe as the “Uniparty”—would prefer to believe that the populism of Trump and Sanders is temporary, that is, a nightmare from which they will soon awaken.  Meanwhile, the Trumpians and the Sandersistas see themselves as part of a long-term force, even the winning force, within their respective parties.

Yet now comes an author with an arresting argument: He believes that the Trump and Sanders groups, currently in different political parties, might yet find themselves fighting on the same side—perhaps even in the same party.

Yes, that’s the conclusion of veteran journalist John B. Judis, in his new book, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics Judis is emphatic that populism—under the banner of Trump, Sanders, or others—is here to stay. 

Judis himself is an interesting figure.  He is undeniably a man of the left, and yet he is a man of the old left—the left that feels closer to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and the proletarian consciousness of mid-century America, as opposed to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the new breed of liberal billionaires. 

That old left felt genuine affection, even admiration, for the “horny handed sons of toil”—that is, the blue-collar workers and small farmers who paid the taxes, fought the wars, and generally upheld our society, even as they tried to make it better.  To the old leftists, such working-class concepts as community and solidarity—including labor unions—were not only meaningful, but are worth preserving.   

So as we can see, Judis is badly out of step with the new Democratic Party, the party of the Clintons, which is more interested in financialism, multiculturalism, and green Malthusianism, and which sees factory workers, for example, as “retro” and “not progressive” at best, and as carbon-dioxide-producing beneficiaries of “white privilege” at worst.  

Indeed, as both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said (in speeches to fundraisers, where they seem to feel most comfortable and thus most free to speak their minds), the working-and middle class is either to be pitied as “bitter clingers” or else scorned as “deplorable.”  Yet in Judis’ book, there is none of that sort of condescending hostility.

Instead, Judis examines populism on both the right and the left, with a focus on finding the strengths and unities within both.  And so while Judis favors left-populism, he is sympathetic to much of right-populism.   Indeed, what’s most refreshing and persuasive about his book is its “ecumenicalism”—that is, the author’s ability to identify the underlying commonalities of right and left populism.  In his mind, identifying those similarities is the key to building a majoritarian populism—a populism that can win. 

In his opening, Judis gets right to the point: 

Populist parties and candidates are on the move in the United States and Europe.  Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination.  Bernie Sanders came in a very strong second to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.  And these candidacies came on the heels of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.  In Europe, populist parties in France, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland are contending for power or are already part of the government. 

Indeed, the news is moving so fast—faster than the publisher’s deadlines—that were Judis able to update this book with the latest populist developments, he would probably have added Germany, where the Alternative for Germany Party has done well in recent elections, and Iceland, where the Pirate Party (yes, that’s really its name) has surged and toppled the incumbent government.  

And yet while the history of European populism composes roughly half of Judis’ book, we can confine ourselves, here, to the other half, concerning the United States. 

Judis starts with the basic question: What is populism? “The logic of populism,” he answers, is “the concept of a ‘people’ arrayed against an elite that refused to grant necessary reforms.”  

We can note immediately that such a conception of populism is race-neutral.  In US history, populists have often built trans-racial coalitions, although, sadly, on other occasions, populism has sunk into the dismal swamp of racism.  As Judis also notes, across our history, such regrettable behavior has been thoroughly bipartisan. 

And yet as the author makes clear, the ultimate point of populism is about economics, not race.  Thus it was that the 1896 Democratic Platform, for example, denounced “foreign pauper labor.” That is, as the platform language makes clear, the Democrats were against low-wage labor, wherever it might come from.

Moreover, the author’s focus on economics leads him to zero in on issues that have the potential to unite people of all races.  One such economic issue is hostility to free-trade agreements; as Judis explains, on trade, the elites have gone one way, while the masses have gone the other way:

In the United States, both parties’ leaders embraced “free trade” deals only to discover that much of the public did not support these treaties.

Thus already we can see part of the explanation for Trump’s sudden rise in 2016: While most of his opponents were embracing an increasingly unpopular pro-trade orthodoxy, Trump, on his way to the nomination, was un-embracing it.  We can add that a similar process took place on the Democratic side: Hillary Clinton probably staved off Sanders only because she flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.   

2. The Populism of the 19th Century 

Next, Judis explores the history of American populism.  Although some might argue that populism goes back to the American Revolution—or at least to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-1794, or to the election of Andrew Jackson to the White House in 1828—Judis situates its origins more recently: to the rise of the People’s Party in 1891.  

Judis chooses the late 19th century as his starting point precisely because he is so focused on the economics of populism.  Indeed, he links the rise of populism to the emerging public demand for a major economic-policy shift—that is, for a new response to new conditions.  

And at the end of the 1800s, such big economic shift was happening.  Those years saw the industrialization of much of the country, in particular, the rapid rise of the railroads.  In those days, the railroads were central to the economy; that is, before autos and air, the rails were the only significant form of national transportation.  Yet at the same time, they were a series of local monopolies, barely touched by governmental supervision or regulation.  And as we all know, monopoly power, unchecked by any sort of countervailing force, is a formula for abuse and exploitation.  As Judis explains, “The rise of the People’s Party was the first major salvo against the worldview of laissez-faire capitalism.”  

Moreover, the farmers of that era were having a particularly hard time.  In addition to suffering at the hands of the rapacious railroads, farmers were hurting because prices for their crops had been falling since the 1870s, in part because of the federal government’s deflationary monetary policies.  

Here we can pause to note that deflation might sound nice, insofar as falling prices are nice for consumers, but deflation can be ruinous for producers.  

Moreover, because farmers typically had heavy debt as they borrowed to pay for their land and to harvest their crops, many hard-working agriculturalists found themselves slipping into debt peonage.  And yet because of deflation, they had an even harder time paying back their debts, because as the price level fell, they found themselves forced to pay back in “more expensive” money.  The result was a wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures across the Farm Belt; in Kansas, for example, the banks ended up owning 45 percent of the land.  

The populist policy prescription, therefore, included enough inflation to get the price level back at least to where it had been two decades earlier; their preferred policy lever to raise prices was the additional coinage of silver as a way of getting more money into circulation.  Since the US was already on the gold standard, this proposed addition of silver was known as “bi-metallism.” 

Yet the People’s Party had other goals, too, on its agenda.  These included railroad regulation, of course, as well as other causes, such as limits on immigration, the direct election of senators, and even an income tax.

Amidst this gathering economic and political crisis, the presidential administration of Democrat Grover Cleveland was coldly unsympathetic: As Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture, Julius Sterling Morton, pronounced, “The intelligent, practical, and successful farmer needs no aid from the government.  The ignorant, impractical, and indolent farmer deserves none.” By some abstract and austere economic criterion, such a philosophy might make a cruel sort of Darwinian sense, but it was disastrous politics, because farmers have more votes than bureaucrats. 

In addition, the Cleveland administration, joined by the Republicans of that era, was firmly on the side of the gold standard, and gold only.  

Meanwhile, the farmers were organizing—organizing beyond the farm.  As Judis explains, the People’s Party (more commonly known as the Populist Party) extended its reach to the cities. That is, the Farmers Alliance, active in the South and West, joined with the Knights of Labor, concentrated in the East and the Great Lakes.  As the Texas Farmers Alliance put it, there is a “perfect unity of action” between rural and urban. Thus the Populists agitated against incumbent Republicans in Republican areas, and against incumbent Democrats in Democratic areas. 

We might pause to observe that such cross-regional cooperation has always been hard to achieve, and just as hard to sustain. And yet as as a matter of electoral mathematics, the various regions needed each other—they could’t win if they weren’t united.  

This same logic, we might add, still applies today.  And this is a point that Judis dwells on: For populism to win, it has to be us against them—and as a matter of numbers, there must be more us than them.  Yet at the same time, this is not a formula for violence or revolution; neither the Populists then, nor Judis today, are revolutionaries.  Instead, it’s a formula for political victories.  If there are, in fact, two Americas—the big and the small, rural and urban—then the small need to be able to see their situation clearly, and to explain their situation clearly to others.  That’s the essence of peaceful political change through the democratic process.    

So yes, in the context of the time, the Populists were demanding a radically different policy agenda.  And yet in important ways, they were conservative.  After all, in the farm areas, they were themselves property owners—albeit barely hanging on to their property.  They were simply men and women who wanted a better deal from the system, not the overthrow of the system.  As Judis observes, “Except for a few scattered leaders, the populists were not socialists. They wanted to reform rather than abolish capitalism.” Indeed, the head of the Socialist Party back then condemned the Populists as “bourgeois.”

In fact, most Populists saw themselves as hard-working people who were threatened from both above and below.  That is, they felt squeezed from above by predatory plutocrats who finagled the system at their expense, and squeezed from below by itinerant tramps, who would work for lower wages—when they weren’t trying to steal.   

Moreover, a strong Christian faith animated many Populists; in the rural areas, they were mostly Protestants, and in the urban areas, mostly Catholic.  Yet in both locales, clergymen were often leaders of the movement; they were godly fighters for economic justice for their flocks. 

In July 1892, the Populists, convening in Omaha, nominated James B. Weaver of Iowa, a former Republican Congressman, as their candidate for president, and James G. Field, the former Democratic Attorney General of Virginia, to be the vice-presidential nominee.  As Ignatius Donnelly, a former Republican Congressman from Minnesota, wrote in the party’s platform, “We seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of ‘the plain people.’”

So the platform was moderate enough, although sometimes, in the heat of the fight, the Populists’ rhetoric grew apocalyptic: In the fiery words of Tom Watson, a former Democratic Congressman from Georgia, “Never before in the history of the world was there arrayed at the ballot box the continuing forces of democracy and plutocracy.”

In November 1892, the Weaver-Field ticket won the electoral votes of five states: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, and North Dakota.  Meanwhile, Democrat Grover Cleveland won a second term in the White House. 

Then in 1893 came a severe recession.  And after that, populism took off.  Indeed, the Populists became so powerful that they soon took over the Democratic Party, wresting control from President Cleveland and the Democratic establishment.  At the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a 36-year-old former two-term Congressman from Nebraska, William Jennings Bryan, delivered a barn-burning address to the delegates, ending with these resonant words: 

Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Those closing words, “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold”—that is, Democrats must embrace silver, too—so electrified the convention that Bryan, young as he was, swept to the nomination.  Yet there was still a ceiling on Bryan’s popularity: He lost that November to Republican William McKinley. 

Still, Bryan, dubbed “The Great Commoner,” was so popular with Democrats that he received their presidential nomination twice more after 1896—in 1900 and 1908.  

And while Bryan never won the White House, he stands as one of the most influential figures of the early 20th century, because he transformed the Democratic Party in a populist direction and thereby influenced the direction of the country.  To be sure, the rival Republicans were dominant back then, and yet the only reason they stayed dominant is that President Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley in 1901, adopted many of Bryan’s reformist ideas. 

Meanwhile, the Populist Party soon withered away; in a sense, it was destined to fade because it had fulfilled its mission.  It had taken over one of the two major parties—the Democrats were now the populist party.  As has been said of third parties, they are like bees: They sting once to make their policy point, and then they die. 

3. Populism in the 20th Century 

Three generations later, another Democratic populist, George Wallace of Alabama, found himself in a somewhat similar position to that of Bryan.  That is, he ran for president three times—as a Democratic insurgent in 1964, as a third-partier in 1968, and again as a Democratic insurgent in 1972—until he was shot and grievously injured, forcing him out of the race, 

So while Wallace never gained the White House, he is nonetheless to be remembered as a transformative figure.  He transformed one of the two major parties—only this time, in the late 20th century, it was the other party, the Republicans, that he changed.  

Without a doubt, Wallace was a racist.  He first came to national prominence—make that notoriety—in his 1963 gubernatorial inaugural address in Montgomery, when he roared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” And there was also the provocative way that he pronounced the word “negro,” taking it up to the edge of that other “n” word.  Judis clearly chronicles, and clearly laments, this defining characteristic of Wallace, as should we all.

However, it’s also true that Wallace struck a chord with many voters, many of whom were not themselves racist—they were justifiably angry.  The 1960s were, after all, a decade in which the crime rate soared, in which government spending ballooned, in which the big cities burned, and in which it seemed as if the federal government, under Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, was actively siding with the most radical and militant black groups, notably, the Black Panthers.

So when Wallace spoke out against government-subsidized Great Society chaos, he found a wide audience.  That is, if the Democrats were no longer interested in—or hostile to—the concerns of ordinary voters, well, the Republicans were interested.  In 1968, Richard Nixon, who had a positive record on civil rights, was elected to the White House on a platform that included “law and order.”  To be sure, liberal critics jibed that Nixon’s phrase was racially coded, but to most Americans, it was simply race-neutral common sense: our cities should not be war-zones.

So that was Wallace’s major effect: to move Southern Democrats into the Republican Party.

Yet at the same time, as Judis details, Wallace was anything but a conservative—he was never, after all a Republican.

Indeed, on most issues, fully reflecting his Alabama heritage, he was, in fact, an unapologetic New Dealer; that is, he ran on the traditional lunch-bucket issue of good jobs at good wages.  For example, Wallace extolled the dams built by the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority.  The TVA was revered in the South because it had brought relief from floods and water-borne disease; in addition, the inexpensive hydropower that the dams generated had attracted industry and jobs.  It is this part of Wallace—the economic part—that Judis obviously admires.

Meanwhile, Wallace displayed the sort of class-consciousness that one might expect from an old-line Democrat, plus the newer realization that the middle class was carrying too much of the governmental load.  As he said:

We’re sick and tired of the average citizen being taxed to death while these multibillionaires like the Rockefellers and the Mellons and Carnegies go without paying taxes.

Indeed, as Judis notes, Wallace was such a New Dealer that he was even friendly to labor unions—not always a popular position in Right-to-Work Dixie.  In 1967, when asked who he might appoint to his Cabinet if elected president, Wallace mentioned the heads of the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers.

So while Wallace was, in many ways, a loyal Democrat till the day he died, he was deeply out of sync with the national Democrats on civil rights.  And amidst the political convulsions over his presidential candidacies, most of his supporters shifted from the Democrats to the Republicans, at least at the national level.  In 1972, President Richard Nixon won a 49-state re-election landslide; probably every living Wallace voter pulled the lever for him. 

Yet even so, pro-Wallace populists across the country stayed mostly Democratic, at least for a while.  Thus in his quest for the 1972 Democratic nomination, the Alabaman won many Democratic primaries in Southern states, but also won in Maryland and Michigan.  (And then, of course, he was shot and forced to leave the race.) 

To help explain this ticket-splitting phenomenon, Judis introduces us to another important figure; although a professor, not a politician.  That would be the Michigan sociologist Donald I. Warren, who, in the mid-1970s, studying the blue-collar workers in the Wolverine State and taking note of their suspicion of both parties, coined the phrase “Middle American Radicals” (MARs).  These MARs felt alienated from both the Democrats and the Republicans.  That is they, despised contemporary Democrats for their stance on such issues as school busing and gun control, and yet they revered the old Democrats for their emphasis on jobs and Social Security. (No wonder Judis, old-line leftist that he is, feels such sympathy for MARs.)

Moreover, like the Populists of the previous century, the MARs felt unfairly squeezed from both above and below—that is, to use the parlance of that era, by “limousine liberals” and by “welfare queens.”  As Warren explained, the MARs believed that “the rich are giving in to the demands of the poor, and the middle-income people have to pay the bill.” Warren estimated that MARs, nationwide, represented about 25 percent of the electorate.  

And so here we can pause to make the same point we made about the Populists: In a pluralistic country, in order to win, a faction must unite with other factions.  Yes, 25 percent is a big number, but it is not the 50.1 percent needed to win an election.  So the MARs needed allies elsewhere in the electorate.  (And to the extent that the MARs are the ancestors of the Trump vote, the same point holds: a movement doesn’tt just need to be big, it needs to be big enough to win. 

In that same decade of the 1970s, as Judis deftly chronicles, labor unions, long a main pillar of the Democratic Party, were facing new pressure—and getting virtually no help from national Democrats.  

Most notably, this new pressure was coming from international competition.  By the 70s, the countries that had been devastated in World War Two had been rebuilt—typically with generous assistance from the US.  And now, those same countries, notably Japan, were burgeoning into significant economic rivals, taking away market share, and thus jobs, from America.  Thus it was that in 1971, the US ran a trade deficit for the first time in the 20th century—and we have had a trade deficit virtually every year since.  Indeed, the cumulative trade deficit over the last 45 years has totaled more than $12 trillion.  

And what has the impact of that trade deficit been on US economic growth?  Well, the standard formula for gross domestic product (GDP) is private consumption spending, plus savings, plus government spending, plus (or minus, as the case may be) the balance of trade.  And so we can see that our cumulative trade deficit has subtracted $12 trillion from the US economy since the 70s.  That’s a lot of lost jobs.  

Yet the policy response to his import-surge was interesting—and not at all what the unions, so loyal for so long to the Democrats, had been hoping for.  As Judis ably describes, the Democrats’ response was the new emerging doctrine of “neoliberalism”—that is, a greater faith in free trade, with little or no concern for the trade deficit.  A synonym for “neoliberalism,” perhaps more familiar to Breitbart readers, is “globalism.” 

Yet if the American economy, as a whole, was being diminished by chronic trade deficits, different sectors were faring differently—and some were faring quite well.  For example, many multinational corporations were taking advantage of this new neoliberal policy regime by moving their factories overseas to build their wares at lower wages.  This trend accelerated dramatically with the opening of China in the 1980s.

And yet American labor, of course, was not mobile.  That is, the factories could go overseas, but the workers couldn’t—they were simply left stranded.  Thus began the dolorous slide in domestic manufacturing, and, of course a similar slide in jobs and wages.

So it’s little wonder that free trade—and its close cousin, open borders for immigration—were popular with owners and unpopular with workers.  

This top-down split led to some curious situations, as the leaders outmuscled the led.  Judis recalls attending (as a journalist) a Christian Coalition meeting in the 90s, in which Coalition honchos Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed pushed the organization to endorse the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), even though rank-and-file members were opposed.  As Judis reports, opposition among the plebeians was “universal.” (The Christian Coalition no longer exists.)  

Indeed, national polls from the 90s showed pluralities of Americans opposed to NAFTA and also opposed to most-favored-nation trading status for China.  And yet both of those trade deals, as well as others, sailed through the Republican-controlled Congress, to the delight of a Democratic president.  One might be tempted to say, The Fix Was In.

And because of accelerated international trade, domestic American businesses were under yet more intense competitive pressure—they had to cut costs to survive.  Even a kindly or sentimental boss who wanted to keep the company workforce together might soon be booted by money-minded shareholders, dictating decisions from some faraway financial citadel.  

Thus in this wave of cost-cutting and union-busting, the whole support system for a middle-class lifestyle for millions came undone.  For example, here’s how, in 2001, The New York Times summarized the fate of meatpacking workers: 

Until 15 or 20 years ago, meatpacking plants in the United States were staffed by highly paid, unionized employees who earned about $18 an hour, adjusted for inflation.  Today, the processing and packing plants are largely staffed by low-paid non-union workers from places like Mexico and Guatemala.  Many of them start at $6 an hour.  

Out of such wrenching economic damage, it’s easy to see why the ranks of the populist MARs were increasing. The only thing missing was political leadership—and we’ll get to that. 

Yet as Judis details, if the former middle class was losing ground, other sectors and classes were gaining ground. One triumphant sector was Wall Street, which profited enormously as financiers financed all the offshoring and outsourcing to other countries.

So even as blue-collar Americans were becoming more Republican, white collars were becoming more neoliberal or globalist, and so, as a consequence, becoming Democratic—that is, Clinton/Obama-style  Democrats.  Indeed, as more Americans made their living from the global economy—or simply felt that they wanted to be “citizens of the world,” focused on such issues as human rights or “climate change”—they felt less and less connected to such “old” concepts as citizenship in the United States.

So we can see the makings of a new neoliberal/globalist consensus at the top.  Leading Republicans supported it because it served the interests of outsourcing corporations, while leading Democrats supported it because it served their “one world” ideology—and oh yes, also because it served the interests of those same outsourcing corporations, which were themselves becoming increasingly Democrat-friendly.  And, of course, both party establishments were backed up by their respective retinues of Beltway courtiers, journalists, and think-tankers. 

As a result, according to Judis, recent elections—intensely fought as they might have been—were curiously silent about the biggest issue, neoliberal globalism, for the simple reason that the two parties agreed.  As Judis puts it, 

Electoral battles would almost invariably leave the heights of the neoliberal approach untouched, and focus instead on social policies such as abortion or gun control and on relatively marginal differences over social spending and taxes.  

In other words, whichever party won, the same not-too-popular policies of trade and immigration would nevertheless remain in place.  

So again, we can see where populism comes in.  Back in the late 19th century, the leaderships of the two major parties were united in their support for the gold standard.  And then, in the late 20th century, both parties were united in their support for globalism.  In both instances, the fuse of populism was lit.

Indeed, in the 1990s the populists were on fire.  The year 1992 began with the insurgent candidacy of Pat Buchanan, who sounded William Jennings Bryanesque as he challenged President George H.W. Bush in the Republican presidential primary: 

As transnational corporations compete ever more ferociously, First World workers become expendable.  . . . What has global competition done for the quality of life of Middle America?  What, after all, is an economy for, if not for its people?   

Later that same year came another populist, Ross Perot, who also made opposition to NAFTA a centerpiece of his independent bid. 

Continuing with his history, Judis next walks us through a discussion of the Tea Party.  The origins of the Tea Party might have been libertarian—mostly, opposition to Obamacare.   And yet more recently, as many Tea Partiers have become Trump-ized, the movement has taken on a new focus: opposition to both oppressive Big Government and globalist Big Business.   

And oh yes: Perhaps the hottest single issue of the last decade has been opposition to unlimited immigration and also to Beltway-spawned  “comprehensive immigration reform.”  And it’s that anti-immigration stance, Judis notes, that also animates right-populists all across Europe. 

4. Populism in the 21st Century 

Speaking of prominent populists, now Judis comes to Donald Trump. The author doesn’t hide his disdain for the man, describing him as “bigoted,” even as he empathizes with his supporters; Judis clearly sees the movement as more important than the man.  (Meanwhile, Trump supporters, of course, will disagree with Judis’ characterization of Trump.) 

Still, Judis carefully assesses the overall arc of Trump’s career, observing that populism has always been a part of his persona.  Back in 2000, for example, he dismissed both George W. Bush and Al Gore as “establishment politicians.” 

Indeed, as with Wallace, Judis allows that Trump could be a paradigm-shifting figure, whether or not he wins the White House.  As Trump said earlier this year: 

Five, ten years from now—different party.  You’re going to have a workers’ party.  A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.

Here I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Judis also devotes considerable attention to the evolution of left-populism, culminating in the 2016 candidacy of Bernie Sanders, to whom Judis is sympathetic.  Yet as he notes, for all of Sanders’ talk about “democratic socialism,” he isn’t really a socialist—at least not any more.  As Sanders has said:

To me socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything by any means.  It means creating a nation and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.  

We might observe that that’s the language of a social democrat, as opposed to a socialist.  That is, while Sanders is assuredly on the left,  he’s not on the farthest left—he’s no collectivist.  For his part, Judis probably more akin the social democrats of Europe—although, again, he is also sympathetic to the right-populism of, for example, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party.

By now we can see that Judis’ purpose in writing this book is to envision a future unity between the Trumpian populist right and the Sandersian populist left.  Indeed, some elements of a possible new synthesis are already present: Sanders agrees with Trump on trade, and, in the past at least, before he was shouted down by the open-borders activists, has said hawkish things about immigration.  

In any case, Sanders is 75 years old.  The real issue is not what he thinks, but rather what his supporters think.

Looking at the Sanders coalition, we can stipulate that the politically correct “Social Justice Warriors” are hopeless—that is, hopelessly in love with crazy schemes that Judis, also, doesn’t seem to have time for.  

Yet at the same time, one can look elsewhere in the Sanders coalition and see potential allies.  That is, the young Starbucks baristas looking for their first real job—the job that will empower them to, say, buy a house.  

Meanwhile, pro-Sanders blue-collar workers—the ones who are probably mostly voting for Trump—are  looking to keep their jobs.  

So those two latter groups, the baristas and the blue collars—joined by, for example, Uber drivers, and others struggling in the “gig” economy— might be potentially amenable to some sort right-left populist fusion.  And that’s the synthesis that Judis hopes to see: the marriage of Sandersism and Trumpism.

But will it ever happen?  Beyond the vagaries of this current presidential election, Judis argues that neoliberalism can’t survive, and so it will have to be replaced by something else:

The circulatory system of trade deficits, recycled dollars, and private and public debt that sustains neoliberalism won’t go on forever, and when it does cease, or fray to the point of breaking, there will be a reckoning, for which the Perot,  Buchanan, Sanders, and Trump campaigns will have prepared the way.  

But we must ask: The populist insurgencies of recent years have prepared the way for what?  Well, that is the mega-question.  And the short answer is that nobody knows, exactly, how a 21st-century populist will govern.  

Yet in the meantime, Judis makes a strong argument that the near future will, in fact, be shaped by populism, not elitism.  Probably a lot of Breitbart readers would agree. 


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