The tragedy of this American moment: Populism, elites, and the 2020 election
This is about so much more than Donald Trump. Anand Giridharadas explains why America must reclaim its heritage of revolution before the next presidential election in 2020.
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: You know that old saying about the fox guarding a henhouse? So, I like to tell a different version of that story with a backstory.
We're the hens, regular people trying to live our lives. And we had a guard of the henhouse—it was the government. It wasn't perfect but it did a reasonable job of protecting us from each other, guarding equality, making sure none of the hens were pecking the other hens too much. And then came along, the last 30 to 40 years, a fox—and the fox is big business and wealthy people. And the fox didn't like the guard because the fox kind of wanted the hens to itself. And so what did the fox do? It bit that guard in the leg.
It argued that government was bad, "The government was the enemy," it defunded government, it fought for lower taxes so government could do less stuff. Then the guard starts stumbling away and bleeding out. Off the scene, the hens are unguarded, and the fox presents itself to the hens and says, "What a shame! Government is just not what it used to be, it's not protecting you! Not fighting for you. It's so inefficient. It's so, gosh, that's so sad. Well, let me step in! I'm rich and I'm here to help."
Well, rich people and wealthy corporations spent a generation waging a war on government, defunding government, allowing social problems to fester and allowing their own profits to soar.
And then, with government weakened, social problems multiplying and their own pockets full, they reinvent themselves as the new replacement of government, which is—instead of trickle-down economics we now have trickle-down change: Let them make their fortune, and then they'll just throw some social change down from the mountain.
Well, we have to decide in America if that's the kind of change we want. But what I do know is if you project that kind of change backwards throughout time we wouldn't have created most of the change that we all take for granted today. There would, frankly, have been no New Deal. There'd be no modern American economy if we had depended on the powerful to throw down scraps.
Many of the most important things in American life had to be taken from the powerful and given to the many, and it's time that we reclaim that heritage again.
I think it's hard to understand why populism is rising throughout the world without reckoning with the role of a class of global one-percenters who are remote from their communities, more connected to each other than to the communities they live in, and seemingly devoted to profit and returns above all else. The fascinating and complicated thing about this global populist moment is that it takes very different forms. I mean, here there's a very strong racial dynamic to it that is at the heart of it. There are other places where that's less of a factor. In some places it's about internal racial things. In other places it's about immigration. In some places it's about all of the above. But I think what is undeniable in this country is that for 30 or 40 years, many people on the left and right have felt that things were not going right, that the country wasn't working for them, that it felt rigged to them, that it felt impossible to secure the life that they were promised by this country and to give their children something better than they had. And all that while, there was a lot of rich-splaining to those people by the American elite of "No, no, no, things are great! Trade's good. Trade's great. It's going to be perfect. It's going to lift everybody up. Globalization it's great. Look, there's a couple of bumps, but no worries. In the aggregate all will be well," I mean, as though anybody lives in the aggregate. "Tech? Don't worry. Don't worry about that fact that everything got automated and your jobs all went to Taiwan. Don't worry about it. We'll be better off on the whole." And there was just a lot of this kind of rich-splaining. I remember studying this stuff in college when I took economics classes. Like, I went to the University of Michigan. I was sitting in Michigan in Econ 101 and I remember getting this lecture on how all this stuff was for the good, and we'd be better off. And right around us, all around us in Michigan in 1999 the state was falling apart. These long tectonic shifts were basically like: work was disappearing, and trade was not benefiting most people, and globalization was not a walk in the park, and aggregate effects were not really of any comfort to anybody. And how was it possible, at the University of Michigan in 1999, with all that evidence all around us, that we could sit in an intellectual cocoon and explain to ourselves that, you know, "rising tides lift all boats," essentially? There is a way in which American elites—and this is not just a couple of greedy hedge fund billionaires, the American intelligentsia also has been complicit in a false story about all things working out for people over the last generation that wasn't true.
And I think people felt that and revolted against it, and it's really, really unfortunate that, particularly in the Trump movement, someone who actually tapped into that intuition people have, that elites weren't maybe as sincere and fighting for them as they claimed, that Donald Trump, instead of seizing on that anger and channeling it at the institutions and people who had actually done that, instead, in this cowardly and sad and lowly and hateful way, deflected that anger onto Muslims and immigrants and women and people of color and whatever. That's the ultimate and tragic non sequitur of American politics today.
People are correctly, people correctly feel screwed by an economic order that doesn't have as much space for regular people to make a life as it used to. But they have been led by a phony billionaire real estate developer to feel as though those problems were caused not by Goldman Sachs but by black people. And that is the tragedy of this moment, and that's why it's going to take someone on the Democratic side who is actually able to speak to the concerns of regular people about being shut out.
By the way, there's more shut-out people on the Democratic voter base than the Republican voter base. But the Democrats, I think, have struggled to speak in the language of people who feel left out by the future. Socially, many of the most prominent Democrats, they don't know and live among those people. You can have a lot of heart and you can have a good speechwriter but you either live in a world that has more Goldman Sachs people in it or a world that has more union organizers in it, just as your real friends, as your real fellow travelers. And I think people are actually good at sniffing who's who and I think the Democratic party needs to get serious about being the party of regular people who feel shut out by this age. And that must mean not being the party of Goldman Sachs in any way.
- "We'll be better off" is the lie that sank America, says Giridharadas.
- When it comes to globalization, trade and automation, for decades American elites have been "rich-splaining" to ordinary people, saying: 'Don't worry, it will all be fine in the aggregate'. "As though anybody lives in the aggregate," quips Giridharadas.
- Populism was inevitable with the current economic order. The tragedy of it is that Trump has focused the blame on minorities rather than on the institutions that caused the quality of life in America to plummet.
- Before 2020, the Democratic party needs to harness the American spirit of revolution. More importantly, it will have to figure out how to talk to disgruntled Americans and channel populism for the common good.
- The problem with populism | Cas Mudde | Opinion | The Guardian ›
- What Is a Populist? - The Atlantic ›
- How elitism and populism combine to threaten liberal democracy. ›
- Populism Is a Problem. Elitist Technocrats Aren't the Solution ... ›
- American Populism and the Persistence of the Paranoid Style ... ›
- Trump ran as a populist. He's governing as an elitist. He's not the first. ›
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Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDg5NTg1NX0.kdBYMvaEzvCiJjcLEPgnjII_KVtT9RMEwJFuXB68D8Q/img.png?width=980" id="59914" width="429" height="350" data-rm-shortcode-id="b11e4be64c5e1f58bf4417d8548bedc7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" width="1920" height="2560" data-rm-shortcode-id="4089a32ea9fbb1a0281db14332583ccd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" width="819" height="1072" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff5edf0a698e0681d11efde1d7872958" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="8827e55511c8c3aed8c36d21b6541dbd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQwMjc3N30.nBGAfc_O9sgyK_lOUo_MHzP1vK-9kJpohLlj9ax1P8s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a2f6" width="1440" height="1440" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fe28368d2ed6a91a4c928d4254cc02a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="67542ee1c5a85807b0a7e63399e44575" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
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