Politically, populism sells.
In our history, populist leaders were mostly Democrats or Socialists. Today, the Republican Party under Reagan is as dead as the ideology of Democrat Huey Long from the 1930s. Today, those preaching populist messages are Republicans.
While Huey originated from humble origins, most of our Republican leaders have never worked a menial job in their lives. Recently, Glenn Youngkin won the governorship of Virginia claiming his down-home roots after spending 25 years at the Carlyle Group with his last position as CEO. He attended Rice University and received his MBA from Harvard.
Younkin’s dad also worked in finance and attended Duke University. Glenn has four children, purports to be a devout Christian, and has a net worth of about $440 million. Hardly the amount of money his voters have in their 401-K accounts.
Former Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, his Democratic opponent, was born in Syracuse, New York. His father was a real estate salesperson after having several other jobs. He was an avid Democratic Party clubhouse stalwart. Terry was from solidly blue-collar America. McAuliffe attended Catholic University, and at age 22, was finance director for President Carter’s re-election campaign. He then went to Georgetown law.
The first business he owned was a driveway paving and sealing company that he started at 14. He was a serial entrepreneur. He owned a series of businesses including a bank, home building, and communications companies. He stayed involved in politics and eventually became head of the DNC and was friends with the Clintons. His net worth is nothing to sneeze at either. He lost decidedly to Youngkin.
Former President Trump is a supposed billionaire receiving his degree from Ivy League Penn transferring there after attending his first two years at Fordham. His accent and patois are that of a Queens truck driver that came of age in Archie Bunker’s heyday. While Archie worked on a loading dock, Donald never held a job except working for his dad, Fred. He too is a serial entrepreneur and while starting with hundreds of millions received from Fred, he did own and operate various businesses.
Every member of the current Supreme Court received their law degrees from Yale or Harvard except Justice Barrett who received her degree from Notre Dame. Only Justice Thomas has the distinction of being born very poor and in the segregated South. He literally did come from nothing. Thomas is far from a populist.
The more populist sounding you are, the less likely that you ever knew what it was like to struggle to pay a bill, meet a mortgage payment, or find a job. Ron DeSantis (Yale and Harvard,) Ted Cruz (Princeton and Harvard,) Tom Cotton (Harvard and Harvard,) and Josh Hawley (Stanford and Yale) are the people who would run for the Republican presidential nomination if Trump does not in 2024. They would carry on the grievance culture emulating the former president.
True conservatives are not populist. People like Ronald Reagan knew what it was like to scramble for a dollar growing up in the home of a ne’er-do-well alcoholic father. Conservatives do not pander to the idea that the government has taken the side of immigrants, minorities, and others not the same as “us.” It is time for some tough love not more of “it’s not your fault” political rhetoric.
When there are no longer ideas about a hopeful future, politicians bring us to a mythical past that never was. Most factories that employed thousands of people were not great places to work. They were made tolerable by management paying high salaries to union workers. While that could be accepted economically for a few decades, ultimately it did lead to outsourcing. And today American factories employ a few engineers to control the robotic workforce on the floor.
In the 1970s, I managed buildings in New York’s garment center. I even ended up owning a buttonhole business there. The floors were full of sewing machines that were operated by women who had migrated from the Caribbean. Those were the same jobs that a generation earlier were held by Jewish and Italian immigrants. Most of the garments sold were of mediocre quality. Eventually, the price that it cost to make these cheap garments in the U.S. was higher than what Americans were willing to pay. Those jobs went overseas.
America today is a place that doesn’t have a white semi-skilled work force. If you are a tradesperson, you can earn a very good living. That means you need to attend classes and be proficient in math and English. The days of $100,000 factory screw turners are behind us. Dwelling in the past will not get you much of a future.
If it is easier to claim a group has been betrayed, than believe times have changed and racist populist rhetoric will accomplish anything in the long run. Instead of using their education and smarts to make the country better, populist leaders only care about themselves and maintaining their status quo. When people like Cruz and Hawley tell us about problems with the elites, they are railing at themselves.