I enjoyed this old episode.
I listened to it on the road yesterday.
A populist is nothing more than an angry, usually rural or small town Jeffersonian who is trying to protect his community from a relentless assault by arrogant metropolitan progressive elites.
This is a useful definition of populism from Clyde Wilson:
“In order to understand the conflicts and tendencies in American society from that time to the present moment, I think we need to clearly grasp the differences between Populism and Progressivism.
Populism was weighted toward the South and West, a product of the culturally most conservative parts of American society. It was backward looking, even reactionary, like most normal societies throughout history. New forces had brought new conditions which seemed unsettling and unjust—according to old dispensations. Populism was, and is, a defensive attempt to correct these new forces.
Progressivism was weighted toward the North and East. It was a phenomenon of the most educated, modern parts of American society—a philosophy of the urban professional. Far from rejecting modernism, Progressives embraced it as an opportunity. Its evils could be brought under control by Progressives—by planning, expertise, organization. Such planning, of course, translated into wealth and power for the Progressives, what became the Liberal Establishment. The long term result has been an endless series of expensive, unproductive social plans, like the “war on poverty.” Expensive and unproductive, except to their managers. Morality has almost come to be defined as holding the proper attitude toward Progressive programs, and it is bad form to point out the interestedness of their proponents.
Populism is not an agenda, but a reluctant impulse of self-defense. Seldom have real Populist leaders sought to make themselves into a new elite. What they have sought to do is to protect their people from oppressive officials. This certainly characterizes the American Revolution, and the history of political assertion that preceded it. It characterizes the much-discussed phenomenon of the Christian Right currently. According to alarmed Liberals, bigoted fundamentalists are out to construct a police state and break down bedroom doors to impose their morality on more enlightened thinkers.
But, of course, what has actually happened, is that millions of decent sincere, often simple Christians have been provoked into action by militant obscenity, blasphemy, and atheism (not to mention wholesale child murder) invading the public sphere and officially sanctioned by the ruling elite. They are quite right. Separation of church and state in American tradition has not meant banishing of all Christian values to the closet. All that is really desired is to restore the status quo ante.
Where the People’s Party put forward specific measures they were corrective—the direct election of Senators, cooperatives, free silver, regulation of railroads and banks in the interest of producers and consumers, income tax on great wealth—they were not forwarding a socialist society but reacting to abuses of state capitalism. The Republican party did not and never had favored an open economy. By free enterprise it meant private ownership with government support and subsidy. This is the only kind of free enterprise the Republican party has ever favored. And by charges of socialism levelled at the Populists, Republicans meant government acknowledgment of the complaints of agriculture and labor, which is the only kind of “socialism” the Republican Party has ever opposed.
To the extent Populism was ideological it rested not upon an agenda of the future but upon a vision of a past golden Jeffersonian age of widespread private property and limited government. It was simply old-fashioned American republicanism. Now it may be that this kind of thinking is merely nostalgic and sentimental and idealistic, as some of my socialist friends think and tell me. Sin we have always with us, and the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. But I do not think it is only nostalgic to believe that there was a time when America had a more honorable class of leaders and a higher sense of public ethics than we do now. …”
This age old conflict is now understood by the “journalists” who are deeply ignorant of American history which they see as a parade of horrors and evils as the rise of “fascism” vs. “anti-fascism.”
American populism has always been and remains to this day deeply antiwar and anti-imperialist though. It has always been and remains to this day racially and culturally conservative. It has always been and remains to this day supportive of a broad distribution of property. It has always been and remains to this day supportive of civil liberties and deeply suspicious of concentrated political or economic power.
Note: In this conflict between “fascism” and “anti-fascism,” the “fascist” side generally supports American monuments and the Constitution. It is the “antifascist” side which supports censorship and believes in their right to engage in violence against other people and property.