Monday, July 29, 2019

This Ain't Populism

Language is indeed the first casualty of war. Or social movements.

Take Populism. Please. When people feel that elites and government operatives are disregarding their concerns, they will turn to politicians who promise to restore the power rightfully to them. It sounds so romantic and democratic and in some cases can right the wrongs and re-balance the power structure in society. Populism as it's being practiced now, though, is getting frightening.

In Brazil, populism is being used as an excuse to cut down more of the Amazon rain forest in the name of economic growth and jobs. In Poland, it's being used as an excuse to demonize the LGBTQ community and to paint them as unpatriotic and a danger to the morals of society. In England, Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister on a platform that will result in that country leaving the European Union, whether there is a deal with the resat of Europe or not. There are more examples, with Hungary, the Philippines, and India being the more relevant. In every case, the people have elected, or given their consent to, governments that are far more nationalistic, restrictive, phobic, and strident than we've seen since World War II.

President Trump continues to call himself a populist and a nationalist, but his appeal is narrow and much of his message clashes with the reality of what's happening in the country. The economy is producing jobs, but he's had to bail out the farmers to the tune of $16 billion in order to safeguard them from destructive tariffs that are severely hurting their trade with China. But corporations are gaining more powers by the month as his administration peels back regulations that served to protect ordinary Americans from pollution, faulty products, predatory lenders, health care protections, and safety protocols.

As in other countries, though, the president has sided not with the majority of the people, but with the narrow group that elected him, labeling anyone who opposes him as less than patriotic and a danger to society. He seems to believe that demonizing groups who have traditionally had less power in this country will bolster his credentials as the champion of real America, whatever that is. And of course, he's said that if you don't agree with his vision of the country, then you should leave. Or go to Baltimore.

What I would really like to see is the president proposing some solutions. How can we fix the problems that plague both rural and urban areas of our country? More specifically, what happened with this great infrastructure initiative that the president was supposed to propose, fund, and lead? Last I heard, he met with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for five minutes, then bounded out of the Oval Office and began complaining about the two of them.

This is an issue that has appeal across party and geographical lines, but there is no leadership from the federal government. We need upgrades to airports, highways, trains and bridges that would put more people to work and would increase productivity because people would be able to get to their jobs more efficiently and with reduced delays. Perhaps other countries would invest further if they knew we were investing in ourselves. The president should be leading this, but he is not.

Democrats should take up this issue, along with health care, as the leading issues in the campaign. Every candidate needs to be talking about these every day and reminding the country that the White House is not doing anything to help. Drop the impeachment talk. Stop being baited so easily every time the president decides he wants to play the race card. Turn the discussion around: Ask the president what he's doing to solve the problem. Remind the country about what he's not done. Perhaps I'm more naive than most, but I can't help but think that his attacks on Americans who are minorities or women will backfire with the majority of American voters.

In the end, this election will turn on whether people believe that their lives are better than they were before the previous election. That's the case that Democrats need to make. I'm not saying that they should ignore the noxious things the president says about his opponents or offenses he might have committed. Just don't let them define the campaign. Keep the focus on the issues that a majority of people care about.

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