Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Populists

I'm reading Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform because I'm a great big nerd.  Plus, Fargo doesn't start for a couple of weeks and Game of Thrones isn't on until freaking July.  So, Hofstadter, it is.

I'm wrapping up his examination of the Populists, and he half makes a point that is clearer today than when he wrote back in the 1960s.

The Populists were radical visionaries, with an agenda that largely defined the later Progressive Era.  However, Hofstadter has always argued that the Populists were not true revolutionaries, but rather harassed small businessmen.  I think they WERE perhaps revolutionaries, but as mechanization and urbanization both increased their markets, they moved from being a Jeffersonian agrarian force for democratic accountability to basically a version of the Southern Lords of the Plantation.  They went from harried subsistence farmers on their 300 acres to agribusiness men on 2000 acres.  The less fortunate farmers were pushed off the land into cities or tenancy.

For a long time and even to this very day, the stranglehold that demographic distribution gives to rural voters has basically empowered a retrograde force in American politics.  For a moment, there was the Kansas rebellion that Thomas Franks writes about, but that was only a moment.

The sticks have always been the sticks - not much interested in social progress, thank you very much.  They care about their economic interests, as everyone does, and for a few years that meant embracing some fairly forward looking ideas.  But as "they got theirs" under Wilson and FDR, the farmers sank back into their natural conservatism.

And then Pennsyltucky gave us Trump.


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