Populism Conversation Notes
On January 16, we held our first "Cookies and Conversation" and the topic was "populism." This focus was inspired from a recent New York Times article by David Leonhardt that proposes that in order to win the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic Party must put forward a candidate who is an economic populist. Leonhardt's view of populism is that is progressive and contains the values that we agree are the good ones for a democracy: fighting for "good jobs, rising wages, decent health care, affordable education, and an end to Trumpian corruption."
Nine folks showed up for our first "Cookies and Conversation" of 2019, and as we conversed, it became clear that for those present, populism is not a "set in concrete" concept. People like Trump spout a form of populism that historian Timothy Snyder calls "sadopopulism": policies that are deliberately designed to administer pain, to add to the total amount of pain in American society. As Snyder says, "If you hurt people you create a resource of pain, of anxiety and fear which you then direct against others."
It also became clear that some of us feel that it would be better if we steered clear of the term "populism" altogether; perhaps using the term "progressive" would be preferable.
In any case, I would propose that being familiar with the terms which good investigative journalists and historians use is a good thing. In his book On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Snyder urges us to read the work of good investigative journalists and historians, and, having done so, to translate what we read into our own understanding of concepts. For instance, we could say that the definition of populism behind Leonhardt's article means "listens to everyday people and proposes to implement policies to help them live good lives." Economic populism is easy to translate to be more specific about the basics of life.
The question "What do we know?" keeps coming to mind for me. As a result, these terms: populism, economic populism, values, progressive, sadopopulism, and fascism have relevance. If we can translate these terms to own experience, we can "know" a lot more when we read the work of journalists and historians. And when we choose our own words, that also boosts our options and makes us more thoughtful.
I'm now looking to the next topic for an upcoming "Cookies and Conversation".... so send your ideas to