In the past, ideas dangerous to those with cultural influence have been subject to direct and purposeful exercises of redefinition. It’s not so easy to see that this has in fact happened in the past outside of inherited folklore: a ‘fog of lore’ settles down over history, which is constantly unfolding under a blanket of narrative forces. But artifacts of redefinition can be seen – no doubt ‘invisible hand’ (which was coined by Adam Smith to mean ‘keep ownership of national resources inside a country’) has left some artifacts on the trail it has taken since to meaning ‘sell ownership of national resources in third world countries to superpowers’. The revolutionary terms ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ have similarly been made to mean ‘liberalism’.
It’s a rare and potentially educational opportunity to be in a position to see this happening as it unfolds with clarity and to have the opportunity to document it.
“Sanders and Trump: Two Populist Peas in a Pod?” the National Review writes. NPR authors a program titled “Nativism And Economic Anxiety Fuel Trump’s Populist Appeal,” though the content and URL both reference Bernie Sanders. Other titles include “Donald Trump Is a Plutocrat Populist From Hell” (HuffPo). These are the first three search results I received searching ‘trump populist’ online. I myself was guilty of adopting the term – writing about the weird inconsistencies in Trump’s platform in which I referenced to it as ‘right-populism’.
The mainstream media equivocation of the term during these elections is to equate ‘populism’ with elements of social welfare, to socialism, or to liberalism. Pressed to describe the populist elements of these candidates’ campaigns: their support for single payer healthcare is cited. For Trump a rejection of migratory peoples. For Sanders his embrace of migratory peoples. Somehow, Trump’s tax cuts to the rich are populist. As is Sander’s calls to end Federal regulation of marijuana.
But these don’t resonate with what it means to be a populist at any point in history nor in any part of the growing international populist movement today. Populism around the world today and throughout history has meant a call for national sovereignty. The recent crawl of populism into the consciousnesses of first world countries has turned the word into “a rise of people’s interests over those of the elites.” (Indeed, this is what Western Wikipedia editors seem to think it means.) When the petty-bourgeoisie think that populism means that it’s unfair that they should be so petty – that they too should be elites, they’ve got it all wrong.
A quick check on Trump’s and Sander’s foreign policy show that they do not believe in national sovereignty for the people of the world. They believe that, or at least retort during debates that, the American people need to be given a real chance to become the elites that take the foreign sovereignty from the majority of the world.
“We’re going to make America strong again.”
There may be hope. While Obama calls for Middle Class Economics – the nicest way to rephrase Reaganomics – eventually American commoners will realize that the elite are a class you are either born or graduate from the Chicago School into, that they can’t be the elite, that democracies don’t make good empires, that “Corn and Superbowl” isn’t that much better than “Bread and Games”, and that they have 6 billion allies around the world who do want to make democracy work.
If Sanders believed that people around the world should be represented as political and economic equals to United States citizens he would never be a candidate for the Democratic Party. Trump wouldn’t get away with saying he thinks Mexicans are hard working people, much less good people or subject to equal political expression and opportunity.
In the 1910 Supreme Court Case “Weems v. United States” it was decided that colonies of the United States (such as the Phillipines under discussion) were not the United States, and therefore colonial subjects inside of these colonies were not subject to the Constitution, and therefore (as written in the Declaration of Independence) these colonial subjects do not have unalienable rights.
This Supreme Court Decision has not been overturned today. Sanders is not proposing to overturn it. Trump is not proposing to overturn it.
We can ask ourselves: who would Venezuela vote for in this election if they could choose an American president? Cuba? Who would Bolivia vote for? Haiti? Honduras? The Middle East and North African countries? Papao? The people of the Philippines?
Amid discussions about political transition in Syria not involving any Syrians. Amid discussions in Washington that recognizing Taiwan as Chinese territory could be a nice superpower bargaining chip. Amid planning to reunify the Korean Peninsula, even if it takes a false flag operation.
What client state of the United States would want United States flavor of populism? What populist country on Earth would want United States flavor of populism?
When our equivocation of populism means ‘slightly left of center in America, slightly right of center everywhere else’ it hardly is a good definition for the political struggles the rest of the populist world faces. For the rest of the world ‘populism’ mans to have a government that represents their, rather than colonial cronies’, interests.