Category Archive 'Populism'

03 May 2017

Trump’s Presidency Is Reviving Jacksonianism

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The Democrat Party today is Progressive meaning Statist and Elitist rather than Populist. No wonder its traditional Jefferson-Jackson Dinners, honoring that party’s founders, are being cancelled all over the country. For democrats, there is an imaginary Jefferson, a slave-holding ogre who raped Sally Hemmings. And, for democrats, there is an odious Indian-killing, slave-owning Andrew Jackson.

Jackson today belongs to the Republican Party which has elected an authentic populist president, one specifically eager to take up the legacy of Old Hickory and enforce it.

Robert W, Merry, in American Conservative, has a nice tribute to Jackson making clear his extreme pertinence to today.

Andrew Jackson helped shape a political philosophy that has rippled through the American political firmament for nearly 200 years. Call it conservative populism—an aversion to bigness in all of its forms, including big government, and a faith in the capacity of ordinary folks to understand and to act upon their own interests. Conservative populism includes a natural aversion to entrenched elites, who always fight back against conservative populists whenever they challenge elite power. Republicans of today who tout the leadership of the last great GOP president, Ronald Reagan, should know they are touting the 20th century’s greatest exponent of Jackson-style populist politics.

And when today’s Americans lament the rise of “crony capitalism,” it’s worth noting that their complaint has a political lineage that goes back directly to Jackson, the country’s first great warrior against public policy allowing a favored few to cadge special emoluments from government. He despised any kind of cozy symbiosis between government and private enterprise, and if he could be pulled back into our own time he would look around with the famous scowl that always attended his displeasure and declare, “I told you so.” …

Jackson … harbored no impulse toward economic equality or societal leveling. His aim merely was to ensure that the levers of government were not used to bestow special beneficence upon a well-positioned few. “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government,” he said. “Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law.” Thus did Jackson declare that government should not interfere with any citizen’s pursuit of wealth and, further, that government had an affirmative obligation to protect the rich from the forces of envy bent on taking their wealth away. The general harbored no redistributionist sentiments.

This expression crystallizes the difference between conservative populism and the liberal version. Liberal populism sets itself against the rich and corporate America. It wishes to bring them down, largely through governmental leveling. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders distilled the essence of liberal populism, stirring considerable excitement among many Democrats. But Jackson, by contrast, harbored no ill will toward society’s winners. He merely hated government action that favored the wealthy or gave favored citizens special paths to wealth. His message continued: “but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers—who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.”

RTWT

22 Apr 2017

A Populist-Nationalist Revolt is Coming in France, Too

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Christopher Caldwell, in City Journal, discusses the untranslated three-book oeuvre of French commentator Christophe Guilluy, a specialist observer of French demographics, real estate, and economic developments, who describes the development, in France, of a similar practical separation and conflict of interests between the prosperous urban community of fashion elite and La France périphérique, the Gallic equivalent of Fly-Over America.

[T]he urban real-estate market is a pitiless sorting machine. Rich people and up-and-comers buy the private housing stock in desirable cities and thereby bid up its cost. Guilluy notes that one real-estate agent on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris now sells “lofts” of three square meters, or about 30 square feet, for €50,000. The situation resembles that in London, where, according to Le Monde, the average monthly rent (£2,580) now exceeds the average monthly salary (£2,300).

The laid-off, the less educated, the mistrained—all must rebuild their lives in what Guilluy calls (in the title of his second book) La France périphérique. This is the key term in Guilluy’s sociological vocabulary, and much misunderstood in France, so it is worth clarifying: it is neither a synonym for the boondocks nor a measure of distance from the city center. (Most of France’s small cities, in fact, are in la France périphérique.) Rather, the term measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants. …

Top executives (at 54 percent) are content with the current number of migrants in France. But only 38 percent of mid-level professionals, 27 percent of laborers, and 23 percent of clerical workers feel similarly. As for the migrants themselves (whose views are seldom taken into account in French immigration discussions), living in Paris instead of Boumako is a windfall even under the worst of circumstances. In certain respects, migrants actually have it better than natives, Guilluy stresses. He is not referring to affirmative action. Inhabitants of government-designated “sensitive urban zones” (ZUS) do receive special benefits these days. But since the French cherish equality of citizenship as a political ideal, racial preferences in hiring and education took much longer to be imposed than in other countries. They’ve been operational for little more than a decade. A more important advantage, as geographer Guilluy sees it, is that immigrants living in the urban slums, despite appearances, remain “in the arena.” They are near public transportation, schools, and a real job market that might have hundreds of thousands of vacancies. At a time when rural France is getting more sedentary, the ZUS are the places in France that enjoy the most residential mobility: it’s better in the banlieues.

In France, the Parti Socialiste, like the Democratic Party in the U.S. or Labour in Britain, has remade itself based on a recognition of this new demographic and political reality. François Hollande built his 2012 presidential victory on a strategy outlined in October 2011 by Bruno Jeanbart and the late Olivier Ferrand of the Socialist think tank Terra Nova. Largely because of cultural questions, the authors warned, the working class no longer voted for the Left. The consultants suggested a replacement coalition of ethnic minorities, people with advanced degrees (usually prospering in new-economy jobs), women, youths, and non-Catholics—a French version of the Obama bloc. It did not make up, in itself, an electoral majority, but it possessed sufficient cultural power to attract one.

It is only too easy to see why a populist and nationalist revolt against the elite urban community of fashion is an international development.

A must-read.

08 Mar 2017

Whispering in Our Ears a Warning

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Investiture of Prince Philip, “The Crown,” Netflix TV Series.

Hugo Rifkind (a liberal) at the Spectator takes a different view of the meaning of recent events. What if he’s right?

People talk a lot of rot. Ideas spread, and sometimes they gain common currency despite being simply nonsense. One such idea, now almost universally believed, is that the ‘political class’ is today more estranged from the public at large than ever before. Historically speaking, however, that just can’t be true. Watch The Crown, for God’s sake. Look at that world of wing collars and waistcoats and country houses, and then look at Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, and tell me this gulf has grown — and I’m sorry, but you’ll just be talking nonsense.

In truth, it is not estrangement which has grown but familiarity, and that familiarity, in good ways as well as bad, has bred contempt. No longer do people look at power and see a tribe wholly different to their own. Rather, they see people exactly like them who appear, through no obvious or evident virtue, to have won a lottery. And so, rather than forgoing control with a forelock–tugging shrug, they take it back, because they can.

For now, granted, I’m not wholly convinced they’re doing anything particularly wise with it. But that’s the process, isn’t it? Momentum, Scottish Nationalism, Brexit, Trump, all that crazy nonsense; these are the baby steps of a truly mass political engagement, brought about by technology that suddenly makes truly mass political engagement possible. Sure, they might not exactly be steps in a great direction, but the printing press also spread pogroms and mass broadcast technology also spread fascism, so thus far perhaps we’re getting off pretty damn lightly.

In the end, if either Trump or Brexit are even half as disastrous as I fear they could be, then perhaps the masses who voted for them will have learned a valuable lesson about the way that (as Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben put it) with great power comes great responsibility. And if they aren’t, as people keep telling me they won’t be, then I suppose we don’t really have anything to worry about anyway. So, chin up and happy Christmas. I’m taking a few days off. Might paint the ceiling.

28 Feb 2017

VDH On the 2016 Populist Revolt

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Victor Davis Hanson explains the 2016 Populist Revolt to his professional associates in elite Coastal California.

What America watches on television and on the silver screen is created either in Los Angeles or New York. The nation’s world-ranked Ivy League and West Coast universities are almost all in blue America. Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the preeminent financial institutions are likewise centered in urban corridors. The federal government operates in the progressive culture of Washington, D.C. The reasons for this lopsided concentration are part historical and part geographical, but not necessarily a referendum on either contemporary competency or character.

The result nonetheless is an abyss, in which power brokers who shape the way America is entertained, educated, financed and governed are often unaware of how half the country lives — or the effects of their own tastes and policies upon them. Yet the hinterland is no cul-de-sac, but rather the proud generator of most of the nation’s fuel, food and manufactured goods — the traditional stuff of civilization.

The Trump revolt was also a push back against winner-take-all globalization that enriched the populated coasts far more than the open spaces in between — that made London spiritually closer to Manhattan than to upstate New York, and Tokyo or Bangalore more attuned to the Bay Area than to the Central Valley a hundred miles away.

People outside of New York and San Francisco seemed to have the strange idea that the wheat they grew or the oil they fracked were just as important to Facebook and Goldman Sachs employees as the latter’s social media pages and stock portfolios were to farmers and oil drillers.

In part, the rural backlash was fueled by a sense that half the country — the quieter and more hidden half — did not like the cultural and economic trajectories on which the cities were taking the country. It was not just that they saw a $20 trillion debt, the slowest economic growth since the Hoover administration, a federal takeover of the health care system, offshoring, outsourcing and open borders as part of their plight.

Rather, they cited these as symptoms of a blinkered elite that had lost its bearings and was insulated from the reality that governs life elsewhere: debt really does have to be paid back rather than doubled in eight years. Something like the Affordable Care Act that is sold as offering more and costing less simply cannot be true. The cyberworld still does not bring food to the table, put fuel in the gas tank or produce wood floors and stainless steel appliances.

Urban elites seldom experience the full and often negative consequences of their own ideologies. And identifying people first by race, tribe or gender — by their allegiance to their appearance rather than to the content of their characters — has rarely led anywhere but to tribalism and eventual sectarian violence.

The result was that when Trump, the outsider without political experience, appeared as a hammer, rural America apparently was more than happy to throw him into the glass of the bicoastal establishment, without worrying too much about the shards that scattered.

Read the whole thing.

22 Oct 2016

The 2016 Crisis in Conservatism in Perspective

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Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr.

Matthew Continetti, in a must-read essay, reviews the often-fraught relationship between mainstream intellectual Movement Conservatism and its populist New Right allies.

Republicans have walked this tightrope for decades. When the party has integrated the issues, goals, and tactics of the New Right into its campaigns, it has been remarkably successful. Think 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1994, 2010, and 2014. But there also have been signs, on the presidential level most clearly, that the alliance with populism is bringing diminishing returns. The GOP is on the brink of losing the popular vote in six out of seven presidential elections despite its current nominee running precisely the type of campaign the New Right has wanted to see for years. And this election is likely to return to office a Republican House majority that is more anti-Establishment, more hostile to compromise, more suspicious of institutions and elites than the one we have today.

This is the crisis of the conservative intellectual. After years of aligning with, trying to explain, sympathizing with the causes, and occasionally ignoring the worst aspects of populism, he finds that populism has exiled him from his political home. He finds the détente between conservatism and populism abrogated. His models—Buckley, Burnham, Will, Charles Murray, Yuval Levin—are forgotten, attacked, or ignored by a large part of the conservative infrastructure they helped to build. He finds the prospect of a reform conservatism that adds to our strengths while ameliorating our weaknesses to be remarkably dim. …

From the Panama Canal to the Tea Party, from Phyllis Schlafly to Sarah Palin, the conservative intellectual has viewed the New Right as a sometimes annoying but ultimately worthy friend. New Right activists supplied the institutions, dollars and votes that helped the conservative intellectual reform tax, crime, welfare, and legal policy. But that is no longer the case. Donald Trump was the vehicle by which the New Right went from one part of the conservative coalition to the dominant ideological tendency of the Grand Old Party. …

Trump deploys New Right symbols and tropes. His antagonism toward the Eastern establishment is obvious. …

Immigration, which emerged as a social issue at the turn of the twenty-first century, was key to Trump’s success. So was his role as outsider, independent critic of the rigged system, scold of elites, avatar of reaction. The apocalyptic predictions, the dichotomy between makers and takers, even the idea of seizing Arab territory and “taking the oil” comes straight from Bill Rusher’s 1975 Making of the New Majority Party. The relentless hostility toward the media, both liberal and heterodox conservative, the accusation that it, the government, and the financial sector is engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Hillary Clinton, the denigration of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the appeal to supporters of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, the charge that the “global power structure” has “stripped” manufacturing towns “bare and raided the wealth for themselves”—this is adversarianism in its purest, most conspiratorial, most totalistic form.

The attacks on National Review, on George Will, on conservatives with elite educations, on conservatives granted legitimacy by mainstream institutions is a replay of the New Right rhetoric of the 1970s. Names have been added to the list of Republicans in Name Only, of false, cuckolded conservatives, but the battle lines are the same. On the one hand are the effete intellectuals based on the East Coast, shuttling up and down the Acela corridor, removed from the suffering of the average American, ignorant of the social issues, amenable to social engineering, fat and happy on a diet of foundation grants, magazine sinecures, think tank projects, speaking engagements. On the other are the blue-collar radio and television hosts with million-dollar contracts, the speechwriter for Wall Street banks who uses a pseudonym to cast aspersions on the feckless conservative elite, the billionaire-supported populist website that attacks renegade Jews, the bloggers and commenters and trolls estranged from power, from influence, from notoriety, from relevance, fueled by resentment, lured by the specter of conspiracy, extrapolating terrifying and chiliastic scenarios from negative but solvable trends.

It is the same discourse, the same methods, the same antinomianism, the same reaction to demographic change and liberal overreach that we encountered in the 1970s. The difference is that Donald Trump is so noxious, so unhinged, so extremist in his rejection of democratic norms and political convention and basic manners that he has untethered the New Right politics he embodies from the descendants of William F. Buckley Jr.

The triumph of populism has left conservatism marooned, confused, uncertain, depressed, anxious, searching for a tradition, for a program, for viability. We might have to return to the beginning to understand where we have ended up.

Read the whole thing.

17 Sep 2016

Our Idiotic Elite Class

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Experts, 1837, National Museum Warsaw.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb inveighs against the pseudo-intelligentsia whose excesses in America have resulted in the Trumpkin Jacquerrie.

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for. …

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in many countries, the government’s role is ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and rarely seen outside specialized outlets, social media, and universities — most people have proper jobs and there are not many opening for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When Plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences.

Read the whole thing.

12 Feb 2016

The Peasants are Revolting!

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AngryMob

Justin Raimondo is cheering as the mob bearing pitchforks and torches advances on the castle.

The results of the New Hampshire primary are in, and the big winner is the new populism: that mysterious pro-“outsider” phenomenon that has the political class in a panic, and which no one has adequately defined – including its current practitioners. …

Ideologically, what New Hampshire tells us is that the “centrist” anti-“extremist” political paradigm that has restricted our political perceptions – and choices – for lo these many years is obsolete. For months, voters have been told that someone who defines himself as a “democratic socialist” could never mount a credible challenge to Queen Hillary, and that the victory of the Clinton Restorationists is inevitable. Now, however, nothing seems inevitable, as voters ignore the media and its version of the conventional wisdom, and the “political revolution” led by Sanders seems fully capable of upending the Democratic party.

On the Republican side of the equation, it’s much the same story – only more so. While the Sanderistas are a movement of the “left,” Trumpism is less easily categorized as a rightist phenomenon. On domestic economic issues, Trump is all over the place: he wants to lower the tax rate, but penalize the financial speculators: he opposes Obamacare, and wants to allow competition between insurance companies over state lines, but he also wants to take care of the indigent. He is protectionist on trade, tough on crime, and even tougher on immigration – all stances one would normally associate with the paleo-conservatives. And yet when it comes to defense spending and foreign policy, on close inspection he is remarkably “left”: he opposes a new cold war with Russia, doesn’t’ want us in Syria, highlights his opposition to the Iraq war, and has recently declared that he opposes hiking the military budget. He wonders aloud why we are pledged to defend both South Korea and Japan while they “screw us over’ on trade.

Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy he is a lot closer to Sanders than to any of his Republican rivals. And on trade policy, too, the Sanderistas and the Trumpists sound eerily alike: both movements are protests against the hollowing out of America’s industrial capacity and the rise of paper-pushing financiers as the robber barons of a New Gilded Age. The divide between them is not so much ideological as demographic: Sanders holds the loyalty of the under-30 crowd, while Trump garners the allegiance of their parents and grandparents. What unites them is their rebellion against the political class and a system built on cronyism and perpetual warfare.

What the twin victories of these two protest movements prefigure is the rise of a new nationalism in America. Not the outward-looking aggressive militaristic nationalism of pre-World War II Europe, but the introspective insulating “return to normalcy” nationalism of prewar America: wary of foreign adventurism, almost exclusively concerned with bread-and-butter issues, resentful of a “meritocracy” that rewards anything but genuine merit, and in search of a lost greatness they may never have experienced but only heard about. …

The political and corporate elites that have ruled, unchallenged, since the end of World War II, and whose perspective is globalist, imperialist, and mercantilist, is facing a serious insurrection: the peasants with pitchforks are gathering in the shadow of the high castle, their torches illuminating the twilight of the West. Whether they succeed in penetrating the fortress and violating the inner sanctum matters less than the destructive effects of the battle itself. Does our ruling class have the will to fight and win? We’ll have the answer shortly.

Yes, it’s all lots of fun, and a revolt against the American pseudo-intellectual, urban community of fashion establishment is long overdue, but neither a geriatric hippie communist nor an egomanaical vulgarian is a leader fit to be entrusted with power. If you don’t like the current frozen economy, just go elect Comrade Bernie or Smoot-and-Hawley Donald and see what you get.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

11 Feb 2016

In 2016, the Peasants Are Revolting

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Ian Tuttle describes the repulsive dynamic driving the largest percentage of voters in the current election.

[E]nvy sells. And make no mistake, that is what Sanders is selling. After all, socialism is inevitably a politics of envy: Wealth is by definition finite, so more in your pocket means less in mine — and if I have less than I want, it must be your fault. Because Sanders has no room in his cramped understanding of the world for the complex interplay of free economic actors, he must default to simplistic moral explanations — Greed!: of Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical companies, and America’s 536 billionaires — and simplistic solutions: to wit, frog-marching Goldman Sachs executives down Fifth Avenue and divvying up their stuff. They’ll have less, so you’ll have more. …

Unlike Sanders, Trump has no determinate position on any matter of public policy, but that’s of little importance. He is not pitching a movement; he is pitching himself. His promise is not any particular slate of policies; it’s Donald Trump writ large. An America with Trump at the helm is one in which America “wins,” like Trump wins; makes good deals, like Trump makes good deals. In Donald Trump’s America, everybody gets to live a little like Donald Trump. This is at least partly why Trump’s supporters are so vicious toward his detractors: The latter threaten their chances to live bigger.

It’s envy, en masse, on both sides. Somebody else has it (cheaper tuition, cheaper health care, business-class tickets, a Mercedes, &c.), and I want it. Under Sanders, top-hatted Uncle Pennybags will do the perp walk; under Trump, we’ll put the screws to Beijing and Uncle Pennybags himself will cut me in on the deal; but in either case, I get what should’ve been mine all along. And all for the low, low price of a vote. Those who believe that politics is little more than personal psychodrama played out on a grand stage might be closer than usual to the truth this election cycle. Neither Trump nor Sanders, despite their claims, is ushering in a revolution. They are ushering in a politics more petty, vulgar, and low — more animated by voters’ base inclinations — than any in recent memory. If New Hampshire is any indication, voters are not about anything so high-minded as constitutional government or national security or racial justice or even “hope and change.” They’re about me getting mine, by hook or by crook. Free college, free health care, and winning. This election is the Gollum-cry of the masses: WE WANTS IT.

24 Jan 2016

Trump ‘s Populism

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TrumpPopulism

Rod Dreher notes that National Review may be substantively correct about Trump, but elite conservative writers, a lot like the liberals, are also thoroughly disconnected from the concerns and views of normal working class voters out there in the hinterlands. Trump, in openly and passionately taking on the Establishment, has tapped into a powerful reservoir of political support, and is rejecting the whole elite Establishment intelligentsia, on the Right as well as on the Left.

When I worked at National Review in 2002, I took pride at being part of the team of conservative standard-bearers, and believed that we were articulating what American conservatives felt. This continued after I left NR, but kept up my work as a conservative opinion journalist.

But a funny thing kept happening. When I would go back to south Louisiana to visit my family, I often got into (friendly) arguments with people about conservative principles and policies. I noticed that we were at loggerheads over many things. It frustrated me to no end that reason was useless; “ideologically unmoored cultural passions” weren’t just something, they were the only thing. This was a tribal conservatism, one that had very little to do with ideas, and everything to do with nationalism and a sense of us-versus-them. To be a conservative is to agree with Us; to disagree with us means you must be a liberal.

I remember getting into it with my dad once after I moved home. I was driving him to the VA clinic for a check-up. This was during the Obamacare debate, and he started complaining about welfare spongers who expected the government to pay for their medical care. I pointed out that he was an avid user of Medicare and of veterans’ medical benefits, and that if not for those government programs, he would have died a long time ago.

“That’s different,” he said.

“How?” I asked.

He just got mad, and changed the subject.

This kind of thing happened more than a few times. Moving back to Louisiana to live really did reveal to me the gap between the conservative punditocracy and those for whom they — for whom we — presume to speak. Ideas and reason matter far less to most people than they do to people like us (this is true of the left as well), not because most people are stupid, but because their mode of experiencing life is not nearly as abstract as ours. …

[C]onservative theoreticians (like me) get so caught up in our ideas that we fail to see some important things, even as many of us tell ourselves, as we have for a generation now, that we are the spokesmen for “real” America.

It’s a narrative that is irresistible to intellectuals. The Left, of course, always loves to think of itself on the side of the People, never mind what actual people think. Trouble is, the Right is the same way.

I’d say that we’d better beat Trump in the primaries, because Populist Nationalism is never going to lead to conservative results or good government. What Trump in power and unbridled would turn into is another Juan Peron, another Huey Long, cozying up to the masses with Nativism, Protectionism, and an inevitable package of socialist goodies, with a large helping of crony capitalism and corruption on the side.


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