Why populism is the greatest con in American politics
Is Donald Trump a plutocrat in populist's clothing? Martin Amis defends rational thought over anti-intellectualism—which might just be the greatest con in American politics.
Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949, the son of the writer Kingsley Amis.
He was educated in schools in Britain, Spain and the USA, and graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with First Class Honours in English. He wrote and published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), while working as an editorial assistant at the Times Literary Supplement. The novel won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1974 and was followed by Dead Babies in 1975. He was Literary Editor of the New Statesman between 1977 and 1979, publishing his third novel, Success, in 1978. Regarded by many critics as one of the most influential and innovative voices in contemporary British fiction, Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. His work has been heavily influenced by American fiction, especially the work of Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow. A loose trilogy of novels set in London begins with Money: A Suicide Note (1984), a satire of Thatcherite amorality and greed, continues with London Fields18 April, 2018
Martin Amis: Is snobbery due for a comeback? Well, not—I don’t mean class snobbery. All that rubbish is, at least in England, it’s more or less a thing of the past. But I think intellectual snobbery has been much neglected and I was pleading for more care about how people express themselves, and more reverence—not for people of high social standing, but for people of decent education and training.
Populism relies on a sentimental and, in fact, very old-fashioned view that the uneducated population knows better in its instincts than the over-refined elite. That leads to anti-intellectualism, which is self-destructive for everyone.
I mean, this is as old as democracy, you know: should you get the able-est and most intellectually agile leader, or should you get the most average leader? This was discussed in Rome in classical antiquity.
And in every other developed nation brain has won the battle over instinct. It’s ridiculously old-fashioned to think that there’s some core instinct that is going to be wiser than an analytical and rational approach. “I go with my gut,” you know. Bush Jr. took us into Iraq. He said, “I went with my gut,” which was watched with approval by probably the majority of Americans.
Now, in every other nation brain has won over gut but in America it still splits the nation, and the idea that Donald Trump has cast off these shackles and we can go back to being brutes again is a terrible prospect. “Telling it like it is.” What does that mean? I never know what he’s going on about when he says that: “I tell it like it is,” and his supporters say, “He tells it like it is.” Tells WHAT like WHAT is?
In fact, since his mendacity rate is about 80 percent at the best of times he’s telling it how it ISN’T.
And what that means, decoded, “telling it like it is,” is being a blundering loudmouth who gives voice to the sort of low grumble in the common mind. I can see no virtue in that. And it’s profoundly hypocritical because his policies do not favor the working man. He’s a plutocrat to his core, and those are the policies he’ll follow. It’s an act, populism. Always an act.
There is no substitute for thinking—although modern-day America may have you believing otherwise. Novelist Martin Amis attributes the recent surge in anti-intellectualism to the populist politics sweeping the United States. "Populism relies on a sentimental and, in fact, very old-fashioned view that the uneducated population knows better in its instincts than the over-refined elite. That leads to anti-intellectualism, which is self-destructive for everyone." The rejection of rationality and analysis is something politicians can easily capitalize on, and Amis refers to President Trump as a plutocrat in populist's clothing. "It’s profoundly hypocritical because his policies do not favor the working man... It’s an act, populism. Always an act." Are the American people being conned, and is a return to elitism the answer? Martin Amis is the author of The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017.