Populism and Its Discontents

Then-President Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
Those who deplore the consequences of populist movements should pay more attention to their causes.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE ‘P opulism” is a term that has accumulated a slew of negative connotations. In common parlance, the populist is a pseudo-charismatic leader, a demagogue who channels the infernal passions of the unintellectual populace, a wannabe tyrant who plays with the prejudices of “deplorables” for personal gain. Beyond these anathemas, however, proponents and opponents are mostly unable to define what populism entails, perhaps because it is nothing more than a deep-rooted sense of dissatisfaction vis-à-vis a disconnected elite. While populists may not share many programmatic positions, they all see politics as a zero-sum game, a gladiatorial contest between a virtuous “people” and

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