In 1980, H. Ross Perot warned of a “giant sucking sound” of jobs leaving the US. Now, it’s a different sound we need to fear.
One of the things I enjoy about walking the dog so very early in the morning is that in the quiet of that hour we can hear sounds from miles away. The Coca-Cola bottling plant is closest as it accepts deliveries n the middle of the night. PraxAir occasionally deafens us with the sound of its giant drying engines. Then, we hear traffic out on the Interstate and building supplies being loaded some eight to ten miles away. The sounds pierce the dark as a syncopated rhythm to the night.
This morning, however, one sound dominated the others. This hasn’t caught my attention before in quite the same way. We often hear trucks and heavy equipment backing up, but this morning there were four going at the same time, from different places, and at different tones. The sound was harsh and anything but harmonic. The cacophony only lasted for a few seconds, but felt as though we had suffered for hours by the time it finished.
There is a parallel to be drawn here. One vehicle in reverse sounds a necessary warning but does so with resolute purpose. Multiple vehicles, however, going backward at the same time, is chaos, distracting, and potentially damaging should the vehicles actually collide. Even worse, if everyone’s going backward, then no one is getting anywhere. No progress is being made. This is the condition I see much of the world at the moment. Too many countries, including the United States and United Kingdom, are moving backward at the same time. As they do so, they open a void likely to be filled by the very fascism and communism so many died to prevent just two and three generations ago.
Populism As The Anti-Progress
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is only the latest of a string of populist events that have been sweeping the globe. Britain experienced an unexpected bought of populism when it voted to leave the European Union, a move that many warn could lead to economic disaster. The Philippines then flexed their populist muscle by electing the murderous Rodrigo Duterte as their president. Duterte ran on a strict anti-drug platform. As a result, some 4,000 people have been killed in the Philippines without benefit of a trial simply because someone accused them of selling drugs. Populism is also being felt in Greece, the Netherlands, Austria, and France.
What’s the problem? Isn’t populism supposed to be more directly “of the people?” Why is populism moving everyone backward rather than forward? David Rovella, in an article for Bloomberg, explains it this way:
Populism—ostensibly a belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people—often requires a bogeyman, be it an existing government, the supposed cultural elite, the media, or a particular ethnic, racial, or religious group.
See how the pattern plays out? In Britain, the populists are Nationalists who fear that the EU has too much control. In the Philippines, it is the drug trade that was severe enough for people to be okay with Duterte’s extra-judicial killing. In the United States, it is a dwindling population of whites, especially white men, who fear losing control of a system that has always granted them privilege. So, they elect an old white man whose very success is steeped in privilege.
Every step of the way, populism pushes people backward. For Britain, it reinforces a sense of uncooperative and dominating nationalism that country hasn’t seen since the days of the Empire. They don’t like the feeling of being dominated, but they’ll damn sure dominate everyone else if given the chance. For the Philippines, it takes them back to the authoritarian rule of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos who imposed martial law in 1973. For the United States, it takes us back to the post-WWII era when racism was rampant, white power groups radiated throughout the South and Midwest, and civil rights were practically non-existent.
Seeing The Alt-Right For What It Is
The populist movement in the United States currently falls under what is recognized as the alt-right, a group of organizations and media who are not merely conservative in the traditional sense, but go much further than that with a stated hatred for anyone who is not white. Richard Spencer, who runs the alt-right’s National Policy Institute, told Republicans attending the GOP convention in July, that they needed to support removing not only Muslims, but African-Americans, Hispanics, and Jews from the United States.
You see, these people who want government to be “back in the hands of the people” are only referring to a portion of the people, specifically, those who look and think exactly like them. While rhetoric changes focus somewhat from group to group, if they all were to get their way, these are only a few of the reversals we would see in US law and society:
- complete removal of the Affordable Care Act
- total reversal of all Civil Rights law, starting with the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- segregation of all public life according to race, including schools and the military
- persecution and imprisonment with forced conversion therapy for anyone publicly exhibiting LGBTQ behaviors
- strict anti-abortion laws that would charge those facilitating abortion with murder
- stair-stepped expulsion of anyone who cannot demonstrate Western European or Native tribes heritage
- forced religious association and involvement
This is how alt-right populists define the president-elect’s slogan to “Make America Great.” The most apt metaphor I can imagine is putting every vehicle in the FedEx terminal in reverse at the same time with no one actually watching where they’re going. Not only is there no progress, but the end result is a massive crash the likes of which have never been seen.
Fighting Populists for Progress
By now, I’m sure at least one or two readers are wondering what in the world the pictures we’ve selected have to do with the topic at hand. The answer, in my mind, is rather easy. The photographs in this article are what we refer to as implied nudes. They hint at and may even seem to promise a certain level of openness, transparency, and the potential to reveal everything. However, just like populism, they never deliver on that promise. The nipples and other implied areas of eroticism remain hidden. There is no real transparency in these pictures. Like populism, everything is just a tease.
Populism has been a factor in US politics for a long time but, has never actually delivered on its promises. In 1873, populist opposed the adoption of the gold standard and used a variety of tactics to get the measure overturned. Populists were responsible for many of the Jim Crowe laws that still linger across the South. William Jennings Bryant, who lost his bid for the presidency three times, was a central figure in the populist movement before becoming head of the Democratic party in 1896 in what was, to that date, the most expensive presidential election ever. They enjoyed the support of rural and Southern Americans who were feeling left out of Washington’s policies. However, the populists have never been so well positioned as they are now.
Herein lies our challenge. Populism promises much and delivers little, if anything. This means that there are going to be some very angry and resentful people looking for answers as the movement once again collapses (as it did after the 1896 election). We can help them.
As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders showed us during the primaries, the line between populism and progressivism is not terribly wide. The primary difference is that progressivism moves us forward, embracing immigrants, women, people of all faiths, the LGBTQ community, and everyone else who feels marginalized by the establishment. By moving forward, the needs of real people are finally really addressed. It was progressivism, not populism, that resulted in the election of FDR and the dramatic shift forward that the country enjoyed during his administration. Likewise, the Democratic party and those who care about offsetting the backward movement of populism need to embrace progressivism like never before, bringing young people into the party, listening to their ideas, helping them move their concepts forward and themselves into a position of leadership.
We who believe in moving forward do not have to suffer through four years of the chaotic noise of everyone moving backward. Keep walking forward. Oppose that reverse movement whenever and where ever you can. This cacophony does not have to last forever. We are the solution.