From the prophetic author of the now-classic What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, an eye-opening account of populism, the most important—and misunderstood—movement of our time.
Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake.
The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party—the biggest mass movement in American history—fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.
Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.
Political commentator Frank (Rendezvous with Oblivion) urges liberals to reclaim "the high ground of populism" in this fervent and acerbically witty call to action. Mischaracterized today as bigoted demogoguery, the term populism, Frank notes, originated with the rise of the egalitarian and racially inclusive People's Party in the 19th-century Midwest. Reeling from an economic crisis, Democrats nominated populist Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryant for the presidency in 1896 instead of their own incumbent, Grover Cleveland. Though Bryant's loss to William McKinley set the high-water mark of the People's Party, it influenced such policy reforms as the direct election of U.S. senators and women's suffrage. New Deal programs harkened back to the Populist Era, according to Frank, but also elevated a new kind of antipopulist elite to the top of the U.S. government: the technocrat. Frank claims the populist badge for civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who proposed a massive housing and employment program for African-Americans, and documents pushback, from both the right and the left, to populist advances, including LBJ's Great Society reforms, Democrat Fred Harris's "spectacular low-budget campaign" in the 1976 presidential election, and the recent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Frank blends diligent research with well-placed snark to keep readers turning the pages. Liberals will be outraged, enlightened, and entertained. (July)
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Read this instead spoonfeeding from Fox or Facebook feeds
Well written work that doesn’t surrender to the righteous class or the right-wing proto goons. A book for the times we are witnessing.