Posts tagged with: Populism

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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BernieTweetIn this week’s Acton Commentary I weigh in with some reflections on the US presidential results: “Naming, Blaming, and Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election.” I focus on much of the reaction on the Democratic side, which has understandably had some soul-searching to do.

The gist of my argument is that “the New Left forgot the Old Left and got left out this election cycle.”

For further elaborations on this theme, I recommend the following: “The Real Forgotten Man Of 2016 Was Bill Clinton,” by Ben Domenech; “Rust Belt Dems broke for Trump because they thought Clinton cared more about bathrooms than jobs,” by James Hohmann; and “Bernie Sanders, In Boston: Democratic Party Needs To Focus On Working Class,” by Simón Rios.

The only coherent way forward for the Democratic Party in America is to embrace an Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders-style approach to material inequality, to return the Old Labor vision of progressive politics. To paraphrase Sen. Sanders, going forward the Democratic Party has to be much more Piketty and much less RuPaul.

Winning in politics, as in sports, can make things seem like they are better than they really are. For the GOP, it could be that holding both houses of Congress and taking the White House ends up preventing the kind of reflection and reformation that really needs to happen. In that vein, I conclude the piece by pointing out that Trump’s economic message, which resonated among certain voters this time around, has its own problems and shortcomings.

White working class voters have suffered materially to some extent. The benefits of globalization and economic growth are not spread evenly, and there are some tradeoffs. The Right has largely been unwilling to acknowledge even short-term domestic losers in the global, free enterprise system.

But perhaps even more importantly than material losses, working classes have experienced suffering in a subjective and psychological sense, which includes feelings of isolation, purposelessness, and disrespect. Donald Trump became the vehicle for expressing this disaffection, while Clinton was the embodiment of a cronyist, corrupt Washington establishment.
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Radio Free ActonOn this edition of Radio Free Acton, Jordan Ballor – Acton Research Fellow, Director of Publishing, and Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets and Morality – talks with Benjamin Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, about the current populist moment in American politics, the roots of American populism, and what the possible outcomes of the current populist uprising may be for the United States.

For more from Ben Domenech, be sure to check out The Federalist Radio Hour, and subscribe to The Transom. After the jump, I’ve included video from Domenech’s excellent Acton Lecture Series address, which is well worth your time if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to check it out.

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On October 13, the fall 2016 Acton Lecture Series continued with a timely address from Benjamin Domenech, publisher of The Federalist and host of The Federalist Radio Hour, who spoke on the rise of American populism.

Domenech looks at the history of populism in America, from Andrew Jackson to William Jennings Bryan, and traces that strain in American politics straight through to the rise of Donald Trump. According to Domenech, the roots of the current populist uprising in America can be traced to the failure of elite institutions to address or even acknowledge the problems and needs of average citizens:

Today, big government and its partner big banks, business, labor, ag, and their armies of lobbyists represent a common enemy to both communities and individuals. Organic communitarianism depends on individual agency and autonomy in the market and in civil society. The breakdown of the ability of our neighborhoods to self govern is collateral damage brought about by the left’s war on individual liberty and the rise of an illiberal technocratic left, those who seek to absorb, marginalize, or extinguish institutions of civil society which compete with them and the state.

Domenech’s address can be viewed in full below.

Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon last Thursday to discuss the ongoing crisis of populism in Latin America, and the Vatican’s perspective on the region’s economic and social unrest under Pope Francis. Gregg notes that while institutionally, the Catholic church in Latin America has largely maintained its institutional integrity, regional leaders – and indeed Pope Francis himself – have an affinity for what is known as “teología del pueblo” – a “theology of the people” – that makes it difficult for the church to criticize the populist movements that cause so many social problems.

The whole interview is well worth your time, and is available via the audio player below.

Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

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Pope Francis in Bolivia | VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty

Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote a piece for The Stream about Pope Francis and his visit throughout Latin America. This part of the world is dominated by “leftist-populist governments.” Latin governments often combines left-wing politics with populist themes. Leaders’ rhetoric generally consists of anti-elitist sentiments, opposition to the system, and speaking for the common people. Gregg argues that this sort of talk generally puts one group against another: the rich against the poor, foreigners against nationals…etc. This is especially true in Chávez’ Venezuela where it has caused countless problems:

Contrary to the protestations of Hollywood celebrities, Venezuela is simply the most advanced down the path of out-of-control inflation, price-controls, shortages of basic necessities (such as toilet paper), the systematic use of violence against regime critics, and complete contempt for rule of law.

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