But again this was not true populism in my mind because although the raw emotion was shared among the common people, that emotion had to be stoked, manipulated and molded into an ideology. The emotion was the impetus for the division of the society into castes, but all of the rest of it was top-down branding. Highly effective but not organic.
After the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, FDR was elected in a landslide. His message of empathy to the suffering of the American populace resonated where Herbert Hoover's disconnect with this suffering only drew hostility. Hoover thought he could prey on the hard-work ethos and his claims that the Republican management had brought great prosperity, was explicitly in contrast to the real experiences of Americans. Hoover's negligence in the eyes of the people was especially shocking given Hoover's active service feeding the Belgian people trapped in Germany during WWI, where he took hundreds of ships of food to provide humanitarian aid.
Getting back to Trump and his flirtation with the alt-right. Trump does this is because his "base" is not a true populist movement. His election success was the result of a perfect storm. Hillary was a very unpopular candidate and was her own worst enemy during the campaign. Many people felt detached from the political process after Bernie was pushed out. Along with that Trump made grandiose promises and interacted with his audiences in a back and forth simulated dialogue, engaging them in a way Hillary didn't.
But his base is not authentically populist because they are not a cohesive group sharing a common experience, bonded through empathy. They have some commonalities that run across two or more groups, like the racist element, those angry about the economy, those concerned about illegal immigration, some for racist reasons, some for economic ones.
Then there is what I call the "cult" effect. Obama had this effect on his followers too. Those who see the leader as nearly infallible, who rationalize every fact or action that contradicts the qualities the leader is supposed to encompass. The evangelicals fall into this group, at least the true believers. The more cynical ones see Trump as a means to an end and couldn't care less if he even believes in God.
This is all good news for a Bernie Trump match-up. Why? Because when you have an authentic populist movement where people are truly bound by a common experience, perspective and have an emotional investment with others in the movement, there is no dividing it. With a false populist like Trump, winning requires the bringing together of a mish-mash group who are not connected to one another in any real emotional way. And given their goals only overlap in small segments it is very hard to please one group fully without running the risk of offending some part of the other groups.
If these smaller compartmentalized groups only look to Trump to give them what they want and he fails then they will abandon him. Ann Coulter might be the most high-profile example of this.
On the campaign trail Trump often mentioned the "forgotten man" and the populace who responded to this label wore just as proudly, like a badge of honor, the moniker "deplorables", assigned to them by his rival Hillary as an obvious insult. As the election wore on, both sides used these kinds of tactics to group voters, to herd them in what I believe Rob would see as top-down strategy.
The strategy on both sides was effectively the same. To create the most superior group and to excoriate any one who would dare to even consider being part of the other. The MAGA hat and the alternative Pussyhat became identifiers, symbols of your inclusion in the "better" group. There was no need to discuss issues because, after all, if you have on a MAGA hat you are obviously a racist, homophobic, islamaphobic, patriarchal, planet-destroying idiot, and if you are a Pussyhat you are obviously a baby-killing feminazi tree-hugger perverted globalist. Each team even had its shadowy supervillains in Mercer/Koch and Soros.
But all of these constructs and identifiers eliminate discussion, original thought and debate. They allow the populace to be "led". When Trump chants "Build the Wall!" and "Lock Her Up!" he effectively furthered his "brand". His crowds cheered on cue, just like they were expected to. When Hillary went through her list of "Trump traits", all the phobias, she furthered her "brand" and her supporters marched in lockstep as well.
But these are not true populist or bottom-up movements because they restrict the input of the constituency to allowed parameters. Being a middle child, negotiating, peacemaker, I quickly learned that there was absolutely no acceptance in either group unless you read your provided cue cards and marched in lockstep to the party platform.
I wanted Bernie from the beginning because he was the only candidate that seemed to be a true populist and a listener. He wasn't trying to garner attention through a "brand" or through "exclusion" and shaming the other side. Bernie was reaching out, with empathy, to the real pain Americans were going through. And I believe this is why he had to be eliminated, one way or another, by the two parties.
But now he's back. I think there is a rare opportunity at this particular time if the people can be reached with this message. Bernie's slogan says it best "Not me. Us." He gets it. Which is why once again the mainstream press are doing their level best to divide. It is why amped-up, top-down branding is on steroids and will only get worse before the elections.
So how can we defeat this mentality? We have to listen. We have to empathise. We have to stop participating in exclusion. Are there exceptions? Of course. There are people on the fringe who are a legitimate threat. Those who are so fanatical they seek only the destruction of the other side. But someone's views being offensive are not a good-enough reason to not listen to them. Twitter is full of "liberals" arguing "We don't want Trump voters in our movement. If expanding our majority means including any of them then the deal is off!"
Well, that's just what those at the top are happy to hear. We can either take back the power they have over us by reaching across the table or we can continue to allow our own fears and prejudices, encouraged by our masters in the elite, herd us right to the slaughterhouse.
If you are looking for someone to fight with about politics as we approach 2020, be courageous enough to take on the only opponent who can make a difference and have a fight with-- yourself.