By Chris Horton
Populism. That is the word for today. Populism used to mean “grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism.” One dictionary defines it as “The belief that greater popular participation in government and business is necessary to protect individuals from exploitation by inflexible bureaucracy†and financial conglomerates.”
So how did a conservative, backward-looking movement like the Tea Party, lay claim to this word? How could a movement funded by billionaires and allied with the Republican Party, promoting the gutting of the government services that regular people depend on and spreading the poison of anger at each other, blaming each other, blaming our unions, blaming our neighbors who had to cross a border without papers in search of work, lay claim to the word “populist”?
The short answer is “anger.” The part of populism which the Tea Party has appropriated is expression of the people’s anger. And the liberals, the progressives, the non-profit and Democratic and issue-group activists have allowed them to claim it by default.
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And how did this Tea Party move so quickly from fringe to central player? How did it become a serious threat, identified with according to opinion polls by millions, able to swing or even win elections? To the political classes this seems almost incomprehensible. The anger of the people that is being channeled by this Tea Party is alien to them. Angry people scare them. But the reason they don’t “get it” is that they don’t get what’s going on with us.
The central reality that most regular people – say, the “bottom” 80% of the population – have been living with for maybe the past 20 years, and acutely for the past 2 or 3 years for the “bottom” 90%, is that for us the economy is increasingly failing, becoming a disaster. For working people, small business people and now even the lower ranks of the professions, the social safety net that was fraying is shredding. Continue reading Tea Party mania! What’s it all about, America?