A New Populist Era

Anand Giridharadas thinks we have entered a new progressive era in American politics. It is worth remembering that the populists were their opposition back in those days.

The following excerpt comes from Michael Kazin’s book A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan:

“Bryan never forgot that he was speaking to a gathering dominated by people, both on the floor and up in the gallery, who agreed with him. What they craved was a memorable statement of what they already believed – one they could wave over their heads in battle against the mighty “hosts of error.” His voice – clear, robust, and sincere – gave it to them, in rhythmic phrases that countered the arguments of the arrogant with the sentiments of the masses.

In counterpoint, Bryan mocked, “You come before us and tell us that we are about to disturb your business interests … We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application.” This began as stirring a defense of “the common man” as had ever been uttered in American politics. But it was a Jeffersonian’s plea for moral equity, not a radical’s demand for power:

“The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer, the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day … and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the board of trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs and bring forth their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world.”

No other passage in the speech, until the famous peroration, drew more applause. From the gallery came shouts of “Go after them, Willie” and “Give it to them, Bill.” …

Bryan then stepped forward a few inches and straight into the headlines of American history. “Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere,” he declared, before raising his hands to his temples and stretching his fingers out along his forehead for the penultimate phrase, “we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” As he spoke the final words, Bryan stunned the crowd with an inspired gesture of melodrama. He stepped back from the podium, pulled his hands away from his brown, and extended them straight out from his body – and held the Christlike pose for perhaps five seconds.

For several “painful” moments, the Coliseum was silent, as if thousands of people were all holding their breath. Bryan left the stage and walked slowly toward his delegation. Then it exploded. The floor of the convention seemed to heave up,” marveled the New York World. “Everybody seemed to go mad at once … the whole face of the convention was broken by the tumult – hills and valleys of shrieking men and women.” …

To demonstrate at least a shred of autonomy, the Populists nominated their own candidate for Vice President, Tom Watson of Georgia, and asked the Democrats to embrace him as their own. Bryan quickly telegraphed his refusal to dump Sewall from the ticket, and the snub made little difference in the delegates’ decision. Asserting there was “no middle ground” between “the allied hosts of monopolies, the money power” and “all others who produce wealth,” the Populists vowed to help put Bryan in the White House. …

Bryan always encouraged voters to view his politics as a reflection of his character and his faith. From his first campaign for Congress to the great contest of 1896, he had lived frugally, spoken indefatigably, and framed nearly every position – from the tariff to the income tax – as a conflict between the venal and the moral. Bryan was not a prig, and he never brought up an opponent’s personal life in a debate. For him, character revealed the soul of a public man – to adhere to one’s political principles, no matter what the odds of victory, was to side with the angels …

At its zenith, the paper could claim a readership larger than all but a handful of other political weeklies in its era. If one takes account of the increase in population over the last century, The Commoner would have more than double the circulation of any contemporary journal of opinion, from The Nation to the New Republic to the National Review. Unlike the proprietors of such magazines, then and now, Bryan refused to take ads from big corporations, which he always equated with trusts. Liquor and tobacco firms were also taboo. He paid his employees – many of whom were female – union wages and required them to work no more than eight hours a day.”

The three legs of the “populist stool” that Bryan built in his own image – foreign policy restraint, economic fairness and social conservatism – are exactly what is needed now as a counter to woke progressivism.

About Hunter Wallace 12387 Articles
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  1. HW. I know its what you are paid the big bucks for, but there are simpler pressures than all this abstract stuff that are going to push populism and the populace away from whatever “progressiveism” is.


    This is very basic stuff. Take a look at the current deliverable months futures contract price of the big three food grains. They are nearing 10 year high prices for a multitude of reasons, and we are well into planting season.

    This is causing food inflation. That one single thing will ramp up anxiety over social equity. Foreign countries are buying our supply of food out from under us and stealing the bread from little Whitey’s plate!

    If there is one singular problem manifest in Der Movement, its the tendency to sperg out to the nth degree down various autistic rabbit holes, losing the plot all the while.

    Stay close to reality for a bit. Think about how you would feel if you were an average IQ White woring class guy and gal (high school diploma) with 5.75 children to feed.

    Write about stuff that would resonate with that level of Maslow’s hierarchy for a bit and stay in the present tense.

    Populism is going to be fuelled by the mundane.

  2. I think we are not in a new progressive era. This is more like the big progressive “fad ” early progressives were interested in economic fairness, that improve people’s lives primarily. This “progressive” era, is only interested in fringe fad’s, that only a modest number of people really believe in. Transvestites, Big Gay, lesbian cat ladies, bullies among the corporate class, BLM antifa etc, hardly make for a sustainable, movement. Unlike the first time, this just repulses people. “progressive woke” just isn’t appealing as a political movement, to anybody but well off progressives in a few blue cities

  3. William Jennings Bryan certainly is a fascinating character in US history.

    I think his major flaw though was his views on tariffs. Major cringe.
    When the Heritage Foundation is praising that viewpoint Bryan had, you know you’re in the wrong.

    Granted the tariff debate 120 something years ago was much different than today and I think Bryan would have become a protectionist if he saw America today and all the ill effects that protectionists like McKinley had fortold.

  4. It’s pathetic that most Americans are too ignorant and idiotic to choose available alternative parties outside one party that’s been taken over by Cultural Marxists and neoliberals and another that’s been acquired by plutocrats and religious extremists.

    But when the far right says MAGA and it was better back in the good old days, they mean it’s preferable when women and minorities were second class citizens and denied equal opportunity. It is a persistent irony of the right: despising modernity yet blindness regarding it as the source of their pleasures, technologies, and social status.

    The 1960s, 70s, and 80s were a blessing to this country and the world at large because they allowed for necessary societal changes and thank the gods they happened. There’s been no perfect time, but the country and world are a much better place for anyone who appreciates fairness and cares for things outside his inner circle.

    The days of white Christian straight male privilege are over and we’re not returning to that era.
    DEAL with it, weaklings!

    • @Going forward Not backward

      > “they mean it’s preferable when women and minorities were second class citizens and denied equal opportunity.”

      Oh – look at this! Another refugee from “the left” is sniffing around, curious about all the naughty “racists” her Zionist pimps have warned her about. What happened, did they kick you out of your SJW Facebook club because you balked at showering with a transgirl?

      “The days of white Christian straight male privilege…”

      > “What, you aren’t going to force me back in the kitchen and give me a spanking are you? That’s unfair to wahmen!”

      Don’t worry, hon, no one here is interested in oppressing you and face it you probably can’t cook anyway.

      So don’t worry about it, no one cares that much about you.

  5. Wignats really need to stop lionizing unions.

    The decline of union have had very negative effects on the working class but unions as they exist today are just tools of radlib woke ideology and should frankly be abolished.

  6. Hope all the attention you are giving Bryan doesnt give our wokesters the idea to deplatform him The largest hospital and a school in Lincoln bear his name.

  7. Conservatism during this time period…which lasted up until the onset of WW2… was very non-interventionist….xenophobic…and very suspicious of Corporate Power. Then Bill Buckley came along and redefined Conservatism(‘read America First! By Bill Kauffman).

    I caught the last 60 seconds of the Ingrahm Angle last night. Utterly despicable to see Laura Ingraham and Raymond Oroyo calling for a continuing occupation of Afghanistan…Their appetite for silver coffins containing the bodies of White Working Class US Servicemen comming back to grieving White Working Class American Mothers knows no bounds.

    Raymond Oroyo with his faggy sounding voice is the superstar of EWTH TV…Mother Angelica’s Catholic Channel broadcast out of Alabama.

    Iaura Ingraham ….unmarried biologically barren childless Gen Xer…represents the dying days of the Reagan Youth Creepies…very creepy and very weird…..didn’t Laura fuck Apu when they were students at Dartmouth…?


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