Easy terms such as “populism” inevitably lose their original historical roots, becoming shorthand references, then shortcuts to thinking, and finally smear terms used in talking points. Bill Moyers talks with Jim Hightower to explore the meaning of populism, and what the populist solution to the crisis looks like. According to Hightower:
Here’s what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that’s one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can’t say, let’s get rid of government. You need to be saying let’s take over government.
At the end of the interview, Bill Moyers offers his concluding thoughts that relate the goals of populism to our current economic situation:
This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year.
So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.
Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs.
So along with Jim Hightower and Iowa’s concerned citizens, and many of you, I am biased: democracy only works when we claim it as our own.