Today’s idea: American political life has long been marked by mutual incomprehension and outright hostility between liberalism and populism, an essay says. Today is no different.
History | In Boston Review, William Hogeland writes that liberalism and populism may be “fundamentally American” ways of thinking, with one thing in common: “rhetorical rejection of the other.” He draws a line from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party back to William Jennings Bryan, the turn-of-the-century, Democratic populist disdained by the elite “with no less ferocity than today’s liberals disdain the right-wing kind.” Elite condescension is a common denominator galvanizing populists then and now, he writes:
When liberal language can be as paranoid as the right-wing kind, paranoia can’t fully explain populism’s right-wing allegiance. … [H]istory suggests that American populists’ rejection of liberalism is a matter of principle, not of interest. Liberalism has long defined itself from a position of expertise and wisdom that it justifies as meritocracy, and for which it keeps reflexively congratulating itself. Whether lampooning populist farmers as rank yokels, or giving way to a thrilling panic about coast-to-coast violence, or patronizing millions of people’s supposed misguided tropisms, or even … subjecting right-wing enthusiasms to the reflective, nuanced consideration identical with today’s high-quality journalism, liberal claims to a monopoly on knowledge may be even more undemocratic than conservatives’ policies for distributing wealth upward. In America the deadlock between liberalism and populism may be unbreakable. [Boston Review]