Does American Politics Need Villains to Be Successful?

The Populism-Heavy 2016 Election Is Dominated by Resentment, but That Doesn't Mean Future Elections Have to Be the Same

Read Original Article
Photo: mikeledray / Shutterstock.com
Media Outlet: Zócalo Public Square

Mark Schmitt wrote for Zócalo Public Square about what the populism-heavy 2016 cycle means for future elections:

For most of 2016, American politics could best be described as caught in a populist moment. Populism has always come in two variations, and we’ve seen both this year. The most familiar form, ably represented in all its raw madness-of-crowds by Donald Trump, is based on resentment of immigrants and other non-majority identities (racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious most prominently), and rancor directed at political elites for their perceived role in changing social norms. This is the populism familiar from historian Richard Hofstadter’s “status anxiety” explanation of late 19th Century populism, or, in more recent history, the presidential campaigns of George Wallace. 
The other version of populism is built around policies that would support working and low-income families, often coupled with a sharp critique of economic elites—“the 99 percent” versus “the 1 percent.” This was the populism that Bernie Sanders rode during a surprisingly successful challenge to the anointed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that mobilized younger voters almost as powerfully as Barack Obama had eight years earlier.

Author:

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on Political Reform at New America.