Corporate media calls Trump a populist because corporate executives won’t let reporters call him what he is — a fascist who has embraced hyper-nationalism, admires authoritarian leaders, cuts regulations for corporations and puts former executives and lobbyists in charge of the agencies that are supposed to regulate corporations, and he suggests violence may be used in politics if he doesn’t get his way. He also has had mob ties throughout his career as a real estate developer.
There are clear differences between populism and fascism. Populism is a movement that rose in the late 1800s as a reaction to the rapid industrialization of the US during the Gilded Age. It called for the government to protect working people, farmers and small businesses against monied interests, particularly railroads and what were then called “trusts,” which we now know as corporations. The little guys needed protection against the plutocrats and oligarchs who own and control the corporations (and the government).
The Populists started in the 1880s, and appealed to farmers and merchants in the South, Midwest and Western states to unite in an attempt to regulate the railroads and trusts.
The People’s Party put up candidates for state and national offices in more than 20 states in the 1890s but after the election of 1896 moved into the Democratic and Republican parties and had an influence on their progressive wings of those national parties. The Populists had called for collective bargaining, federal regulation of railroads, an expansionary monetary policy and a Sub-Treasury Plan, which called for federally controlled warehouses to aid farmers, as well as a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, a shorter workweek and establishment of a postal savings system.
You can see those elements in the accomplishments of the Progressive Era of the early 1900s and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930s, through the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. The Populists also supported public schools and universities and sought diffusion of scientific and technological knowledge so farmers could make use of it. The Populists also tried to form coalitions between white and black farmers in the South, which resulted in a backlash by white supremacists that brought about the Jim Crow laws in the 1890s.
Trump has demonstrated the Grand Oligarch Party’s tilt toward fascism, but the GOP has been moving in that direction since American plutocrats, who had been looking for an opportunity to overturn the New Deal since the end of World War II, put up Ronald Reagan to run for president in 1980.
The Republican Party under Reagan expressed contempt for “liberal” media and, once elected, his National Labor Relations Board undermined organized labor and his Federal Communications Commission in 1987 did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which had been established in 1949 to require broadcasters to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. The doctrine was designed to encourage diversity of opinions and prevent the control of broadcasters that allowed fascist governments to consolidate their hold on power in Europe in the 1930s.
Since radio and TV stations no longer are required to provide balanced coverage, talk radio has come to be dominated by right-wing voices, particularly in rural areas, where one can drive most of the day without hearing a good word about liberals or Democrats on the car radio. That may be one reason rural areas increasingly vote Republican. Air America Radio was established in 2004 to provide a liberal alternative to right wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. At its height, Air America’s most popular show, The Al Franken show, was carried by 92 affiliates and had 1.4 million weekly listeners before he was elected to the Senate in 2008. The Rush Limbaugh Show was carried by more than 600 affiliates and had between 14 million and 20 million weekly listeners.
With the decline of local newspapers, that leaves struggling periodicals like us and the Internet as refuges for progressive views.
As House Democrats move toward impeachment of Trump, Republican members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees have offered little substantial defenses, mainly complaining about the process, making procedural objections and dilatory motions and demanding record votes on routine actions to obstruct the flow of the hearings.
Republicans won’t support the impeachment in the House and few, if any, Republicans will vote for Trump’s removal in the Senate trial. But Democrats must do their duty, and they should go ahead and throw in the obstruction of justice charges Robert Mueller’s report proposed. Trump is corrupt to the core and Republicans carry guilt by their continued association.
Ultimately, voters will decide if Trump is fit to be president, and if his Republican enablers are fit to remain in Congress. Trump remains unpopular, which is why Republicans want to limit who makes it to the polls. Make sure you and your friends are registered.
When it comes to actual populists running for president, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren effectively carry progressive populist positions and progressive Democrats should support one or the other of them in the upcoming Democratic primaries, particularly with the Iowa caucuses coming up Feb. 3. We’ve heard many Democrats express misgivings about voting for Sanders or Warren, fearing if they don’t nominate a centrist it might give Trump an advantage next November. Don’t believe it. Voters want government to help them, and Medicare for All, which both Sanders and Warren are proposing, would be a great deal for most businesses as well as workers and their families who will pay less than they now pay for insurance that require deductibles and co-pays. Both Sanders and Warren propose to expand Medicare so it pays nearly all health costs for every American without deductibles, with wealthy tax dodgers would pay the balance.
Medicare for All was overwhelmingly popular among Democrats and independent voters, and even among Republicans, before the health industrial complex started spending millions of dollars to spread disinformation about what Medicare for All would do. Polls have shown a drop in support for Medicare for All, but progressives need to get the truth out — the current US system costs twice as much per capita as Canadian health care, and that’s with the US sytem leaving 87 million Americans uninsured or underinsured. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2020
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