July 6th, 2016 // 7:46 am @ Oliver DeMille
They expected Hillary Clinton’s success, but the rise of both Trump and Sanders has astonished them.
Result: they’re writing and talking a great deal about “populism,” and the “dangers” it brings to our nation.
By the way, these tend to be the same journalists and media professionals who consistently tout the United States as a “democracy,” not a “republic” or “democratic republic.”
They promote “democracy, democracy, democracy” as the greatest governmental system ever, and then act shocked and worried when populism shows up to an election.
The irony is that populism is simply what happens when more voters than usual get actively involved in the process. In other words, America engages in populism during the years it acts the most democratic. Why are the elites concerned?
Answer: They like the kind of “democracy” where the masses are consistently swayed by the media—where expert elites tell the populace what to believe, and the electorate votes accordingly. This is what most members of the elite class actually mean when they use the word democracy.
Personally, I like Francis Fukuyama’s definition. He said:
“‘Populism’ is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by regular citizens that they don’t like.”
Funny how that sentence is written. Does is mean the political elites don’t like the policies? Or that they don’t like the regular citizens? I think it means the latter. But maybe not. Perhaps it means both the policies and the regular citizens.
Fukuyama notes that populist voters sometimes choose poorly, but “elites don’t always choose correctly either.” Very true. And in our current historical context, the worst-case scenario would be another elitist choice for president. Elites have increased in power far too much in the past three decades, and it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to the power of the people.
I. 3 Positive Developments
Here’s the “good news,” so to speak, about the current rise of populism:
As Fukuyama also pointed out, this wave of populism is weakening both of the major political parties. The Democrats are losing large segments of their working class base and moving even more to the party of “a bunch of special interest groups,” while Republicans are almost violently split between the “big business crowd” and working class voters. Indeed, working class populists from both parties are now behaving like a formidable force.
On a structural note, the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t want the president to be elected by mass vote. This is why they established the Electoral College—which originally worked with each state sending its representatives, rather than the people voting in a mass presidential election at all.
Fortunately, the people usually sense it when things are out of kilter. The framers put the people in charge of electing the House of Representatives in large part because the House controlled the nation’s money. But since the House seldom uses its power of the purse anymore like it should, and the White House now has the de facto say over money, the people are using their power to choose a president—like they once would have selected members of the House.
This structural shift if ironic: The masses, divided by congressional district (which is exactly how they oversaw the purse strings under the original Constitution), will select the president and largely determine the future spending of our nation. In other words, if the House shirks its job, the people switch their populism to the branch of government they think will do their will.
The elites see it happening, and they can’t stand it.
Maybe that’s the best thing about this election. Regardless of what you think of Sanders or Trump, both candidates have thrown a serious wrench into the way elites view the world. They are reeling. They aren’t in charge of this election like they assumed they would be—not so far, at least.
Make no mistake, they’ll get their bearings again and get back to their agenda—to grow government and increase the power, wealth, and influence of the elite class. They always do. This won’t keep them down for long.
But populism seems to be growing. Sanders and Trump didn’t create this momentum, they just benefited from it. Populist elections changed the power of Congress in 2010 and again in 2014. In 2016 we’ll find out if populism makes it to the White House as well. Again, however you feel about the specific candidates, the rise of populism is a positive in a nation where elites control far too much.
2: A DEEPER LOOK AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE (THEN VS. NOW)
To see just how populism is important, let’s delve a bit deeper into the structural change to our governmental system. The framers established the following three branches and six entities to participate in the federal level:
This entire arrangement was carefully thought out by the framers. They knew that the key to lasting freedom was to ensure that the States didn’t lose their power to the federal/national government, so they put in four protections against this (listed above). All were wiped out by the poor decision to adopt the 17th Amendment in 1913. (Ironically, this was ratified during an era of populism.)
Our oversized and overblown national government and corresponding loss of freedoms since that time are the natural result. The best solution would be to repeal the 17th Amendment and restore the proper balance of State and Federal powers.
The following chart shows how the government currently operates. Note that it is very different than the original constitutional arrangement:
THE STRUCTURE TODAY
(Items underlined are changes from the original Constitution
that are destructive to freedom.)
Look at how this has changed our governmental structure of representation:
Did you notice in all this that at the time of the American founding the primary entities of federal/national government were the House and the Senate, while the Court and Presidency were secondary? Compare that to now: the Presidency and Court act like primary branches of government, while the House and Senate act like secondary levels of government.
What the founders called “legislative primacy,” meaning that the people’s elected representatives in Congress had the final say on things through the purse strings, has been replaced by appointed officials in the Court and a huge Executive bureaucracy exerting the final say on most things.
Huge changes. All bad!
For The People
Now, if you’ve followed this article this far, congratulations! Here is the main point, the thesis, the reason for reading this and thinking about it:
Populism is attempting to correct the course of the American ship. Specifically, the populist elections of 2010 and 2014 both attempted to put the House and Senate back on track representing the people—not the political parties.
And the populist uprising of 2016 (among both Democrats and Republicans) is also arguing for the presidency to represent the people again, not the political parties. It’s not as good or as effective as repealing the 17th Amendment—not by a long shot—but at least the electorate is trying.
The voters (some knowingly, and most of them just by following their gut) are attempting to swing things back in the direction of government “by, of, and for” the people—instead of government “by, for, and of” the economic and power elites and their political party establishments.
Populism probably can’t get the ship all the way safely into port, but right now the people are at least trying to get things going in the right direction. If the voters keep at it, and don’t give up—and if they keep winning major elections—this new beginning can eventually be turned in the direction of a real and lasting solution.