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Dear Media Elites, Here’s How You Have Trump Completely Wrong

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Dear Media Elites, Here’s How You Have Trump Completely Wrong

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Donald Trump Speaks at Rally in Ohio

Published with permission from AlterNet.

Being a muckracking political writer often makes me feel like a custodian in a horse barn, constantly shoveling manure. It’s a messy, stinky job — but on the bright side, the stuff is plentiful, so the work is steady. Indeed, I’m now a certified equine excrement engineer, having developed a narrow but important  professional specialty: cleaning off the horse stuff that careless politicos and sloppy media types keep dumping on the word “populist.”

As you might imagine, in this year of global turmoil, I’ve been especially busy. Populism — a luminous term denoting both an uplifting doctrine of egalitarianism and a political-economic-cultural movement with deep roots in America’s progressive history — has been routinely sullied throughout 2016 by elites misusing it as synonym for ignorance and bigotry:

When right-wing, anti-Muslim mobs in a few European nations literally went to their national borders to block desperate Syrian war refugees from getting safe passing into Europe, most mainline media labeled the boisterous reactionaries “populists.”

Flummoxed elites in Great Britain, frantic over Brexit, blindly blamed their people’s vote to exit the European Union on the “populist” bigotry of working-class Brits.

When in the United States, the unreal reality show “The Donald” spooked representatives of the corporate and political establishment, which denied that Trump harnessed public fury toward them, smugly attributed his rise solely to “populist” bumpkins who embraced his demeaning attacks on women, Mexicans, Muslims, union members, immigrants, people with disabilities and veterans, among others. Indeed, the power elites sneeringly branded Trump himself a “populist.”

Excuse me, but if that bilious billionaire blowhard is a populist, then I’m a contender in his Miss Universe contest.

Populism is not a style — and this is important to note in this moment of “The Donald” — nor is it a synonym for “popular outrage.” Populism is a historically grounded political doctrine that supports ordinary folks in their ongoing democratic struggle for power over their lives.

This past June, I was pleasantly surprised that out of the blue a major player in this year’s presidential race gave me a big helping hand in cleaning the manure off the democratic ideal of genuine populism. “I’m not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist,” said my fellow scrubber. He added that a politico doesn’t “suddenly become a populist” by denigrating people of other races, cultures, religions and nations.

“That’s not the measure of populism. That’s nativism or xenophobia or worse. Or it’s just cynicism. So I would just advise everybody to be careful about suddenly attributing to whoever pops up at a time of economic anxiety the label that they’re a ‘populist.’ Where have they been? Have they been on the front lines for working people? Have they been [laboring] to open up opportunity for more people?”

You tell ’em, Bernie! But wait. That wasn’t Sanders. It was Barack Obama delivering an impromptu tutorial on populist doctrine at a June 29 press conference.

Granted, Obama himself has hardly been a practicing populist. But he was nonetheless right about what populism is not. He also noted that real populists embrace the inclusive democratic values of egalitarianism and pluralism, which are presently under a ferocious assault by a horde of faux populists led by Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, and other foam-at-the-mouth immigrant bashers.

While the incitement of anti-immigrant prejudice for political gain is shameful and socially explosive, it is certainly not new or uncommon in our country. Nor is it unbeatable. For more than two centuries, the U.S. has experienced periodic eruptions of such ugliness from within our body politic, yet generations of Americans have successfully overcome the xenophobic furies of their times by countering the bigotry with our society’s prevailing ethic that all people are created equal. And after all, almost all of our families came from somewhere else.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of the book Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Wiley, March 2008). He publishes the monthly Hightower Lowdown, co-edited by Phillip Frazer.

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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25 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila September 12, 2016

    Populist themes, as well as prejudice, hate, fear, and overt examples of cynicism and hypocrisy, are just some of the tools being used by Trump as part of his overall political strategy, in part to deflect attention from his ignorance of relevant issues, and lack of a realistic agenda that would appeal to mainstream Americans.
    The sad part is that he has managed to convince millions of fellow Americans that his candidacy, in spite of his narcissism, arrogance, infantile behavior, and his business record, which in addition to multiple bankruptcies includes massive outsourcing, means empowerment for his followers, and evidence that he, and only he, can make America Great Again.

    Reply
    1. FireBaron September 12, 2016

      Dom, if his favored “poorly educated” supporters would actually look at his proposals, they would realize they will be worse off under a Trump Administration than under any other candidate in the field (well, maybe with the exception of the candidate who is unaware of what Aleppo is or where it is).

      Reply
      1. Dominick Vila September 12, 2016

        Unfortunately, many of them consider ignorance of relevant issues, and related experience, positive assets.
        No wonder they don’t see anything wrong with giving Saudi Arabia a free pass, after their Wahhabi citizens planned, financed, and carried out the 9/11 massacre, and remain convinced that invading a punishing Iraq was the right thing to do.
        Ignorance, showmanship, and pneumonia, are the only things keeping Trump afloat.

        Reply
        1. Blueberry Hill September 12, 2016

          Fortunately, Hillary’s pneumonia can be cured in a week or so; but there is no cure for the Trump Trash.

          ..

          Reply
        2. idamag September 13, 2016

          I really believe Bush was going to find an excuse to attack oil rich Iraq before 9-11.

          Reply
          1. Dominick Vila September 13, 2016

            Cheney for sure. Bush had a bone to pick with Saddam, as a result of an alleged plot by the Iraqi dictator to kill Bush I. Cheney was consumed by a desire for a vendetta after Saddam declined contract proposals submitted by Cheney and Rumsfeld, on behalf of Bechtel and Halliburton, and awarded the contracts to French and Russian companies. He signed his death sentence when he did that.
            The claim that not all the WMDs that the Reagan administration had given to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war, was just an excuse that only the most gullible believed, especially after Ambassador Wilson expose that con job, with devastating consequences to his wife.

            Reply
          2. idamag September 14, 2016

            Very well said. We, as a nation, harbored war criminals.

            Reply
          3. dpaano September 14, 2016

            And we STILL harbor them….I don’t see Bush and his cronies sitting in jail for the insane and uncalled for murder and maiming of many of our young men and women, nor do I see him and his cronies suffered for the many unnecessary citizen deaths in Iraq that he caused (or the subsequent growth of the Taliban and ISIS)! I also certainly don’t see them sitting in jail for lying to the American people, for failing to heed the declarations about an upcoming terrorism plot that they were advised about when they came into the White house (and the subsequent deaths from 9/11), nor do I see any of them in jail for erasing e-mails (but they are QUICK to accuse Hillary of lesser crimes)! They all need to be put away for a ton of things that went on during the GWB regime!!! But, we don’t see that….so yes, we still harbor war criminals!!!
            The most we can hope for is that when Hillary is elected president, she takes up the banner and takes them all down!!! There’s no time line for murder, and they should ALL go down for this!

            Reply
          4. idamag September 15, 2016

            You are right. It seems like we have laws for everyone but the Tpublicans. We are in great danger of losing our Democracy.

            Reply
          5. Blueberry Hill September 14, 2016

            Me too! I think that was his plan when he decided to run for President and said so. He wanted revenge “for my daddy”.

            Reply
          6. idamag September 14, 2016

            Read Dominick’s post, below, he sums it up very nicely.

            Reply
    2. Blueberry Hill September 12, 2016

      Well said, and I can only add that he will not make America Great Again, it is already great. He is out to destroy America, and enrich himself in the process, that is all he knows how to do.

      ..

      Reply
      1. idamag September 13, 2016

        Hitler was going to make Germany great again.

        Reply
        1. Blueberry Hill September 14, 2016

          We need to stop this Nazi fan before he tries any of that on us.

          ..

          Reply
  2. Faith5640 September 12, 2016

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    Reply
  3. dbtheonly September 12, 2016

    Very well put.

    I can only shudder at what the real Populists of 100 plus years ago would think of Trump.

    Reply
  4. Rich September 12, 2016

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but American populism has often been infused with racism and bigotry. Southern populists in the early 20th century were out and out racists who supported and promoted Jim Crow laws. Right wing populists like Father Coughlin in the 1930s based a big part of their message on anti-Semitism. Louisiana governor Huey Long was a populist demagogue who was more a corrupt politician than a bigot, but certainly shared some aspects of Drumpf’s populist demagoguery.

    Where the media has gone off the rails is not in calling Drumpf a populist because, in multiple ways, he fits right into one particular segment of American populism. The media has gone off the rails in its sorry attempts to create false equivalencies between Clinton’s errors in judgment and Drumpf’s out and out corruption. While she was Secretary of State she accepted donations for the Clinton Foundation to help millions of people around the world. Drumpf’s Foundation gave an illegal bribe to Florida AG Pam Bondi to influence her actions. One is a minor error in judgment. The other a violation of tax law and the felonious offer of a bribe to an elected official in order to avoid legal action. As part of its efforts to gin up interest in an electoral horserace the media has refused…with only a few notable exceptions…to press Drumpf and his surrogates when they lie, obfuscate, and avoid answering tough questions.

    Reply
    1. Blueberry Hill September 12, 2016

      Amen! I have been wondering if the media is being paid off by the Trump Trash, or are they afraid of him? I, for one, certainly do not see him as anywhere near entertaining. Then again, I am not entertained by lies and this crook, or bigotry or hate or his disgust of women or his treasonous behavior with Putin, etc., etc.

      ..

      Reply
      1. plc97477 September 16, 2016

        I have been wondering if drumpf or his voice, faux snooze could have some dirt on media to make them toe the line. In other words, blackmail.

        Reply
        1. Blueberry Hill September 17, 2016

          Yes, somehow he has a strange lock on the news, or maybe they have just become that biased and stupid. When his ugly face comes on, I change the channel. Cannot stand his BS. He should be in jail for all the crimes he has commited. Notice how he blames Hillary for the nasty stuff he does? That is what a sleazy coward does.

          ..

          Reply
    2. jrw September 12, 2016

      Well said. Hightower is taking the no true Scotsman position; if racism is involved, then, by golly it can’t be called populism. I think the challenge for him would be to find populist movements in American history that weren’t racist.

      Reply
      1. Paul Anthony September 13, 2016

        JFK was a populist.
        But that was before some of you changed the definition.

        Reply
    3. A. D. Reed September 12, 2016

      Rich, I tend to agree with all your points, but you fall into the careless writing mode in one particular.

      Hillary Clinton did NOT accept donations for the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State.

      There was a clear line, which she did not cross. She completely separated herself from the Foundation, which had Bill and Chelsea on its board (unpaid) and which solicited and accepted donations from around the world. Hillary had nothing to do with that. And when a few donors tried to ask for favors from the State Department, they were rebuffed.

      I know it sounds picky, but the right wing is relentless about twisting anything and everything against Hillary, Democrats in general, progressives, and all the others who challenge them. So it’s essential that we be precise in addressing even the most trivial matters.

      I know I sound like a third-grade teacher (I’m an editor by training and trade); but it truly does matter. 🙂

      As for your other points, all excellent!

      Reply
  5. pics fixer September 12, 2016

    Messing around with language to make words that describe things mean the opposite or something other than their true meaning is an old method of cults and in this case the Republican party to confuse people into supporting things that go against their own best interests. Just look at the book 1984! Now the media is a willing participant in all that for the reason of creating bigger ratings for themselves at the cost of the rest of us. That is extreme short term thinking to the point of crazy for some extra bucks and extra votes for who knows what.

    All that is happening because “we the people” failed to vote and this is the result of that. We have Trump as a nominee for President of the United States from a major party. Talk about unintended results…………Low turnout made that happen.

    Reply
  6. Elliot J. Stamler September 12, 2016

    Sorry Mr. Hightower, but being as I am both a staunch centrist Democrat (not as you are a leftist Democrat) and an avocational historian, what you have wrote is historical BUSHWA. I learned all about populism when it first arose in this country way back when I was in high school more than 60 years ago..about Tom Watson, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, and many others. Populism isn’t some kind of well-meaning progressivism as epitomized by George W. Norris and Teddy Roosevelt- it was AND IT IS demagogic and exploitative of class warfare, racial prejudice, religious bigotry and opposition to the basic principles of the constitution. Franklin D. Roosevelt was not a populist, Mr. Hightower…the miscreants I named above were! And so is Bernie Sanders who is an outright socialist albeit not prejudiced.

    Reply

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