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: 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.

11 holiday gift ideas for the person impossible to shop for

From coffee makers and headphones to a calming weighted blanket, something here should appeal to just about anyone on your list.

Gear
  • Check out 11 awesome holiday gift ideas, each up 75% off.
  • Options include an ultrasonic cleaner, a portable video projector and a weighted blanket.
  • You can save an extra 15% off each item with the coupon code MERRYSAVE15.

  • Keep reading Show less

    The Sooner You Expose A Baby To A Second Language, The Smarter They’ll Be

    Just hearing two languages helps babies develop cognitive skills before they even speak. Here's how - and how you can help them develop those skills.

    Personal Growth

    A new study shows that babies raised in bilingual environments develop core cognitive skills like decision-making and problem-solving -- before they even speak.

    Keep reading Show less

    Breakthrough in creation of gamma ray lasers that use antimatter

    Superpowerful lasers for next-generation technologies are closer to existence.

    Surprising Science
    • A new study calculates how to create high-energy gamma rays.
    • Physicist Allen Mills proposes using liquid helium to make bubbles of positronium, a mixture with antimatter.
    • Gamma ray lasers can lead to new technologies in space propulsion, medical imaging and cancer treatment.
    Keep reading Show less