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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 11/4/21

Tuesday's Election Proves America is Standing on the Edge of a New Populism

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Populism was the big winner in the Virginia election yesterday, after Terry McCauliffe ran on his past as a Bill Clinton Democrat and Glen Youngkin ran as a rightwing populist. As Glen Abernathy noted this morning in The Washington Post:

"The fact that parental rights in education became a central campaign issue shows that populism is still a potent element in U.S. politics. And in the Republican Party, even with Trump out of the White House, populism - not conservatism - remains the GOP's principal identity."

But populism can cut two ways, as the world saw in 1932 when Americans and Germans brought to power two very different types of populists: FDR and Hitler. Bernie Sanders' version of progressive populism is very, very different from Trump and Youngkin's racist populism.

Rightwing or "fascist" populism has overwhelmed numerous countries around the world, including Russia, Hungary and Turkey. America stands on the same edge, as Reaganism crumbles and something new must replace it.

But what will that be? The signs are troubling.

It's gotten so bad that when Americans believe a politician is listening to them and largely doing what they want, they'll overlook a multitude of personal sins. They'll even elect a rapist and convicted grifter to the highest office in the land if they think he's doing the people's will instead of the will of the wealthy elites.

While that may have been a controversial statement a generation ago - and the reason why Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, and Bill Clinton all went to great lengths to hide their extramarital sex lives - Trump has proven it as a modern political truth.

It's also an indication of how completely Americans think their government has detached itself from them: voters in 2016 were willing to throw in with a grifter rapist because they believed he'd put their interests above those of the morbidly rich.

This political moment has been brewing for decades.

The big break between Americans and their government began in the late 1970s when the US Supreme Court, in the Buckley and Bellotti decisions in 1976 and 1978, ruled that when billionaires and corporations (even foreign corporations) bought US politicians it was no longer corruption or bribery, but instead was First Amendment-protected "free speech."

The GOP jumped into the game with its SCOTUS-defined "new rules" in the 1980 election as Ronald Reagan rode a wave of Big Money into the White House. The Democratic Party, suffering from a loss of funding after Reagan destroyed their labor union base, also jumped into the newly defined political game in 1992 with Clinton's "Third Way" DLC.

As Reagan killed labor unions and moved the nation's tax burden from the very rich to working-class people with 18 middle class tax hikes and massive tax cuts for rich people, Americans began to notice their government growing more and more remote from their interests. Reagan undid regulations protecting the environment; people noticed their air and water getting dirtier and more likely to cause cancer. He sold off beloved public lands to drillers and miners for pennies on the dollar. He sided with employers over workers, bankers over debtors.

So Americans turned to Bill Clinton, who promised a "new covenant" with the American people, saying he came from poverty and a broken family and therefore felt their pain. Quickly, though, people figured out that he was just as remote as was Reagan. Clinton gutted the social safety net and declared "an end to welfare as we know it," kept taxes outrageously low on the morbidly rich (and partied with them at Davos), and presided over the second stage of the NAFTA/WTO neoliberal "free trade" experiment that ultimately wiped out American manufacturing and took Wal-Mart from "100% Made In The USA!" to "Low Prices, Low Wages, Everything Made in China."

The Supreme Court intervened again in 2000 and put George W. Bush into the White House, but he wasn't any better. He lied us into two wars to get himself re-elected, began the privatization of Medicare through the vicious Medicare Advantage scam, and handed trillions in taxes taken from working people to military contractors like those in his daddy's Carlyle Group.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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