Six Blind Social Scientists Examine the Populist Elephant in Some Detail

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This morning Thomas B. Edsall, opinion writer for the Washington Post and professor of journalism, calls our attention to a Harvard Kennedy School working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, Trump Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. The article, and the scholarly work it describes, complement and contrast with other recent efforts to get our arms around populism in Europe and the United States.

What I have to say is a second hand account of a second hand account, so please go read the original if the topic interests you.

The learned authors, it appears, label progressive thinking of the contemporary sort as “postmaterialism,” evidently because we contemporary progressive folk are said to be more co ncerned about cultural issues than about bread and butter issues.

 “Postmaterialism,” they write, “eventually became its own gravedigger.”

The rise of postmaterialism here and in Europe, Inglehart and Norris argue,

brought declining social class voting, undermining the working-class-oriented Left parties that had implemented redistributive policies for most of the 20th century. Moreover, the new non-economic issues introduced by Postmaterialists overshadowed the classic Left-Right economic issues, drawing attention away from redistribution to cultural issues, further paving the way for rising inequality.

Again, I don’t pretend to do the article full justice, but the essence appears to be that the Left took its eye off of economic inequality and the plight of those whose jobs were lost or threatened, causing the latter to manifest whatever racist, xenophobic, and cultural fears they already had in latent form.

Aardvark is confident that the documentation for all this is helpful, but from a bird’s eye level, it strikes me as the painful elucidation of the obvious.

What’s less obvious is how to fix it. Some seem to think it would help if Harvard professors go down and drink beer with the longshoremen. An even better approach would be to find a way meaningfully to address the valid economic concerns that many of the Trump supporters—a significant number of which, after all, voted for Obama in previous elections.

On Paul Krugman, and a Little Bit o’ Populism

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Paul Krugman weighs in today on the subject that has to be uppermost in the minds of progressives: why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own interests?

Was it because of our message? Or because they didn’t hear our message because the news media didn’t convey our message? Because they have hate in their hearts? Or because, in their delusion, they bought into Trump’s magical thinking and his cult of personality? Some of all of these things?

Krugman concludes on a tepidly pessimistic note:

One thing is clear . . . : Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.

Aardvark begs to differ. He is unaware of the identity(ies) of those who “pretend that a big more populism would solve the problem.” My opinion is that the only course of action that might work is full throated advocacy of a program to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Not, in other words, a bit of populism, but instead, a lot of populism.

Let’s war game out the alternative, folks. Krugman focuses on coal country, where Trump has promised magically to bring back the mining jobs that he has no way in hell of actually bringing back.

What happens who he fails, and the former miners grasp that their savior has deserted them? “Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment,” Krugman writes. I don’t know whether he can do that, but I am highly confident he’s going to try–aided and abetted by his buddies in the Kremlin, who will ramp up their already successful fake news program.

Resentment? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The question is which way the mob will march, and who will be in front of it.