Fear the Right-Wing Coopting Economic Populism

On its face, maybe the title of this piece sounds ridiculous. How could the party who has counted on and been dominated by the interests of billionaire super donors ever carry the torch of populism? However, it is not as farfetched as it might sound. For one, the Republican Party, who is frankly just better at politics that the Democratic Party, is smart enough to recognize which way the electoral wind is blowing and that wind is blowing towards economic populism. It may seem like a drastic change for the GOP to move from the worship of wealth to economic populism, but we have witness great tectonic shifts in GOP party politics before. Let us not forget that the party that now rallies around the central theme of white nationalism was once the party of Abraham Lincoln and abolitionists. Political parties are by nature survivalists and are without capable of change. We are already beginning to see Republican talking heads and stalwarts of the right-wing wink at left wing populist themes. In the last week, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson dedicated an entire segment attacking the wealth accumulation of Walmart and Amazon, while former 2016 GOP presidential front runner Jeb Bush tweeted out article about the crushing debt of student loans. The GOP moving in on this turf should make the Democratic Party nervous.

While Donald Trump’s administration governs in the interest of the wealthy elites and special interests that fund the Republican Party, he ran his 2016 campaign on a platform of left wing populism. Trump embraced ideas that were once thought of as antithetical to the Republican party orthodoxy. Upon the referendum of the GOP presidential primary, those ideas turned out to be highly popular. Trump promised to never cut Social Security or Medicare. He promised that everyone would have healthcare. He defended Planned Parenthood. He promised to renegotiate NAFTA, which had been a disaster for blue collar American workers. He said wealthy people like him should have to pay more in taxes. He said we should close the carried interest loophole, a special tax rate that benefits hedge fund managers on Wall Street. Donald Trump campaigned on issues that typically were on the left end of the spectrum of Democratic presidential primaries. He embraced left wing populist ideas, won the GOP primary and went on to win the general election.

Obviously, Trump is not an economic populist, but the future GOP leaders will heed the path he took to the White House. Economic populism is no longer antithetical to the positions of the right-wing base and moreover it is popular across party lines. It doesn’t seem like a stretch for a GOP politician to connect “fiscal conservativism” with a healthcare delivery system that costs Americans almost half per capita of what the rest of the world pays, i.e. Medicare For All.

The real terrifying danger in the GOP coopting economic populism and socialist policies is not just that Democrats will be unable to win elections. It is that the GOP would be combining that very popular set of policies with a dangerous ideology that is white ethno-nationalist. An ideology that has already led to virtual concentration camps housing ‘undesirable’ children on our southern border. You don’t have to go too far back in your history book to find examples of world wide atrocities committed by ethno-nationalist socialist parties. This danger is real.

The torch of economic populism is up for grabs and the leadership of the Democratic party is doing everything it can to avoid grabbing it. The Democratic Party has lived off of the goodwill it earned from the passage of FDR’s New Deal for decades, but the New Deal Democrats of the 1930’s are long forgotten by this new group of voters, the millennials, who are generations removed from those politicians. The current leadership of the Democratic Party is playing chicken with the idea of economic populism. They are fighting against an insurgent campaign, led by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, to remake the party in the semblance of the New Deal Democrats, while also ceding that ground to a fascist Republican Party, daring them to take it.

The Democratic Party leadership needs to step aside or fully embrace economic populism. We must not lose the race to the torch of economic populism. The consequences are dire. 


Popular Posts