There’s a common view that Americans are divided like never before in history. But there’s an interesting story in the National Review (NR) that says we’ve seen it all before. Their argument is that, periodically, the people rise up and revolt against the ruling elite—although they don’t state it so clearly. The first populist revolt was headed by Andrew Jackson.

The country is coming apart, and the advocates of radical egalitarianism are winning. The wars between Trump, the media, the deep state, and the progressive party — replete with charges and counter-charges of scandal, collusion, and corruption — are merely symptoms of a much larger fundamental and growing divide between Americans that is reaching a dangerous climax.

On four prior occasions in American history the country nearly split apart, as seemingly irreconcilable cultural, economic, political, social, geographical, and demographic fault lines opened a path to hatred and violence. During the Jacksonian Revolution of the 1830s, factions nearly ripped the country apart over whether the East Coast Founders’ establishment of a half-century would relinquish its monopoly of political power to reflect the new demographic realties of an expanding frontier — and its populist champions often deemed unfit for self-governance. For the most part, the Jacksonians won.

While Trump has honed his message to populists, he is at heart, a slick New York billionaire. He is not a “rule follower” who has been abused by the elite. He is the financial elite–who avoid and abuse the rules for personal advantage. He has hired billionaires to run the government, including a whole flank from Goldman Sachs. And while he has delivered on some campaign promises, most of his actions so far will hurt members of his base.

Back to history, we even took up arms in the second revolt, which NR sees as the populist South rejecting the elitist North. That was followed by the Great Depression which was caused by the elite financial gamblers, and then, there’s the counter culture of the 1960s, seen as the people rising up against the elite corporatist racist warmongers:

Three decades later the nation divided over slavery, prompting the most lethal war in American history to end it and force the defeated Confederate southern states back into the Union.

The Great Depression, and the establishment’s inept responses to it, left a quarter of the country unemployed for nearly a decade — hungry and desperate to expand government even if it entailed curtailing liberty in a way never envisioned by the Founders. The result was eventually the redefinition of freedom as the right of the individual to have his daily needs guaranteed by the state.

In the 1960s, the hippie movement — fueled by furor over the Vietnam War, civil-rights protests, and environmental activism — turned holistic in a fashion rarely seen before. A quarter of the country went “hip,” grooming, dressing, talking, and acting in a way that reflected their disdain for the silent majority of “straight” or “irrelevant” traditional America. The hipsters lost the battle (most eventually cut their hair and outgrew their paisley tops to join the rat race) but won the war — as the universities, media, foundations, Hollywood, arts, and entertainment now echo the values of 1969 rather than those that preceded it.

The National Review, founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley, was the only respectable voice of conservatism for years, so they can be forgiven if they see everything through a rightist prism. You’ll note, for example, that while they describe the New Deal as the populist revolt against the bankster-gamblers, NR derides the programs it spawned, such as the unforgivably “socialist” Social Security.

Yet, the “people”—the South, farmers, workers—gave FDR four electoral victories. It was not until the war-hero-general (Ike) came along that Republicans had a hope for winning back the White House.

The unspoken conclusion is that the response to the Great Recession was a fifth populist revolt. Democrats didn’t see it. Republicans didn’t see it. Only Donald Trump saw the anger in the streets, and how to use it to power himself to ultimate world power.

Now we are engaged in yet a fifth revolutionary divide, similar to, but often unlike, prior upheavals. The consequences of globalization, the growth of the deep state, changing demographics, open borders, the rise of a geographic apartheid between blue and red states, and the institutionalization of a permanent coastal political and culture elite — and the reaction to all that — are tearing apart the country. –– Despite its 21st-century veneer, the nature of the divide is often over ancient questions of politics and society. . .

The conservative effort to roll back the entitlement, bureaucratic, and redistributionist state has so far mostly failed. That today, coming off sequestration, we are on target to run up a $700 billion annual deficit, on top of a $20 trillion national debt, goes largely unnoticed. Eighteen trillion dollars in national debt later, Ronald Reagan’s idea of cutting taxes to “starve the beast’ of federal spending has been superseded by “gorge the beast” to ensure that taxes rise on the upper classes. To the degree that there is a residual war over entitlements, it is not over cutting back such unsustainable programs, but instead about modestly pruning the level of annual increases.

NR sees the new populist revolt in terms of a rejection of egalitarianism, but isn’t that the real basis of populism? Isn’t it about fairness? Isn’t it about a feeling that the elite have too much money and power?

The article ends with a defeatist tone—the victim mentality.

So who is winning this fifth American conflict, and why? Progressivism. It has an insidious appeal to human nature, offering contexts and arguments for dependency — which is defined as the consequence of some sort of prior unethical exploitation (rather than chance, bad luck, or personal pathology, perhaps in addition to exploitation) and therefore deserving of proper recompense.

Progressivism promises a transcendence over nature’s limitations through superior education, proper training, and correct reasoning, as if poverty, illness, and inequality were not innate to human nature but results of selfishness and ignorance and so rather easily remedied. It confuses technological progress with a credo that human nature itself evolves in predictably progressive ways, thereby supposedly making obsolete institutions and protocols (from the Constitution itself to ancient ideas such as deterrence) that were once time-honored.

This is a repeat of an argument as old as the ancient Greeks: that in a true Democracy, the riff-raff will vote themselves increasing benefits, draining the wealth of the economic elite. Yet, this is the opposite of what we have seen for decades. The Holy Grail has been tax cuts for the super-rich—making services and benefits more and more difficult to provide to the public—not more equality for the poor and middle classes.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder why “the silent majority” didn’t come out to vote. Are they both silent and unable to vote?

  2. The NR piece has it exactly backwards. The “riff-raff” did vote themselves “increasing benefits.” The “benefits” they wanted was a President who was willing to validate their racism and misogyny, and they got it. Not all benefits are financial in nature. These are very dumb people. We should keep that in mind. They’ll take a temporary warm fuzzy feeling over any kind of meaningful life improvement or long term plan.

    Conservatism isn’t about raising the floor. It’s about finding other groups of people to push beneath the floor, so that you can feel slightly more powerful at floor level.

    NR also, unwittingly, reveals one of the fundamental differences between progressivism and conservatism when they speak of illness, poverty and inequality as unavoidable facts of nature. Progressives tend to view illness, poverty and inequality as bad things which we should combat. Conservatives view such things as part of some warped god’s plan, often as a Christianized form of karma.

    Whatever circumstances you happen to be born in, conservatism states that you’ve somehow made yourself deserving of, before your birth. Progressivism entails the realization that equality is worth striving for, specifically because it can’t be provided by nature and chance alone.

    A shorter version of this distinction can be stated as follows:

    Progressivism is doing something.
    Conservatism is doing nothing.

    • Conservatism isn’t about raising the floor. It’s about finding other groups of people to push beneath the floor, so that you can feel slightly more powerful at floor level. Did you read your quote at a Hillary Clinton rally? Sounds like something lame enough her LOSER campaign would come up with.?

      As for you, you still have a chance to see the error of your ways. The American electorate had 8 years of the COMMUNITY ORGANIZER and didn’t want a repeat with HILDABEAST. It wasn’t a few delusional people who voted for President Trump, but a vast number.?

      I know your are going to tell me about the popular vote and how Billary won it. The committee investigating voter fraud is looking into that. Did O’Bugger win using the same corrupt methods? Anyway even if Billary did win the popular vote, that fact and 5 dollars will get you a latte at Starbucks. In so many words it is worth nothing. But you will be able to cry in your latte!!!???

        • I’ve been to Russia but I am not Russian. I am however curious as to whether you have bought that latte to cry in yet? Your clothing is surely getting drenched from your tears.?

          • Straight:
            This is sort of off-topic, but could you tell us your impression of Russia from your time there? I’d be interested in what you saw and heard and what you thought of it. I’ll bet others here would also be interested.

            • In Russia I visited a town in the far north of the Ural Mountains. It is a tiny town and as such can’t be compared to a metropolis like Moscow.?

              Our friends there and many other residents have small plots of land where they can grow there own food. Many people do and there is an over abundance of vegetables. Sanctions against Russia may hurt the wealthy, however they have no affect where I went.?

              The Russian people I met are very hospitable. There was only one clown who wanted to beat me up because I came from the US. My friend defused the situation by telling him that I was a good guy. You are always going to have one bad apple, regardless where you go.?

            • Interesting. Thanks.

              How was the media coverage? Did they get the propaganda out there?

              Generally speaking, people get along fine. It’s the governments that can’t get along. For instance, they say Iranians love America and Americans. However, I’ve heard that the propaganda in North Korea is so effective that the general public believes that they are better off than people in other countries.

              Did you get a feel for how they remember or look at Stalin, Brezhnev, Gobachev, Yeltzin, Putin?

            • I wish I could tell you what the media’s slant on things were, but I can’t. The newscasts are in Russian and except for a few words, I don’t understand what they are saying.

              Our friend in the little town I mentioned is pretty patriotic to Russia as you would expect and sees things definitely from a Russian point of view. When I last visited in 2015 he had the news on constantly. And virtually every other story on the news was about the conflict in Ukraine. From the little I was able to ask my wife to ask our friend what was being said on the news, it was as you would expect about what a fiend Poroshenko is. Also how the eastern part of Ukraine is being destroyed by the Ukrainian army. Of course they always said what courageous fighters the separatists are.

              The older Russians still think that they will once again become as great a power as they were when they were the USSR. One of the times I visited a friend of my sister in law asked my wife this question to ask of me. He asked if Russia will ever be like not only the US but also other western democracies. I answered this way. I told him that Russia would be like western countries eventually, but that will never happen until the generation that remembers how powerful the USSR was have all died.

            • Good insight. There were bread lines, but there was a sense of power as a nation.

              Clinton should have tried to get some kind of “Marshall Plan.” We were in good financial condition at that time, and they were a mess. We could have helped them rebuild–and become friends. It would have prevented the oligarchy from raping the nation, and at that time Yeltzin loved us.

              At the time, I thought we should have invited Russia to join NATO–turning it into a northern hemisphere peace organization.

              And I think Obama should have joined with Russia to save Assad, the very moment ISIS popped up. Likewise, Bush was stupid to overturn the secular Saddam, and now trying to dump Assad. What is the alternative? Extremism. And as bad as Assad has been, there was not the massive death and suffering we’ve seen for several years.

              Thanks for the info and insights.

  3. Back on topic.
    Everyone talks about populism, but who can truly define it? What was call populism blossomed on the prairies of America, where farmers hit by falling grain prices and railway monopolists, were forced into bankruptcy. In the 70’s. Ross Perot doomed George Bush Sr’s chance for a second term by saying the system was rigged in favor of the rich and the poor against the middle class. These are the same talking points used by Donald Trump. Both Perot and Trump neglected to tell their followers that they were part the system that was doing the rigging.

    • The core of far right populism is the strategy of singling out one or more ethnic or other minority group(s) as scapegoats, so as to keep the stupidest and most hateful among the electorate in a perpetual and ever-intensifying state of rage over something irrelevant, while the ruling class continues to exacerbate the problems which are being scapegoated away, for personal gain, financial or otherwise.

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