Dear unhappy voters of 2016:
We keep hearing you called populists and, to put it in your vernacular, you had one job and you’re doing it wrong.
Like you, we were concerned about an America on “the verge of moral, political, and material ruin” in which “corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress and … the bench.” We saw “universal intimidation and bribery” at the ballot boxes, and hateful news media that were either “largely subsidized or muzzled.” Worst of all, we had galloping inequality: “the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few,” we observed, and we knew that this came from abuse of power—the “prolific womb of governmental injustice,” we called it.
Not only that, we knew we were suffering at the hands of unfettered international capitalist investment and, if we’re honest, a lot of us were upset by the immigration of millions of people who were culturally different from ourselves. Even if it didn’t actually hurt our economy, it made us feel as if our country was kind of vanishing in front of us. It had once been a nation of people who shared much the same fortunes, and our fathers had fought in a war to keep it that way. And now … well, it looked like a nation divided between two kinds: “tramps and millionaires.”1
So, here’s the thing we didn’t do: put the millionaires in charge. Because we knew that inasmuch as anyone was corrupting the republic by buying justice and electoral success, it was the rich guys.
We wanted power for ourselves, not for them. So we pushed for labor unions.
We pushed for public power over corporations, knowing that either “corporations will own the people or the people must own” the corporations—and we were not confused into thinking that corporations are people, my friend.
We wanted a genuinely progressive income tax, so the rich people would pay their share of the costs of the commonwealth.
And yes, we called for “restriction of undesirable immigration.” We know: it’s hard not to get played on issues of racial division. Honestly, it was the Democratic Party’s strong new commitment to white supremacy after we threatened their majorities that did as much as anything to break up our coalition.
But at least we didn’t get played on everything else.
The People’s Party (aka the Populists) of the 1890s
1We hear your guy is a billionaire. We don’t know what to say about that.