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A Conversation on Trump and American Populism

Featuring Gideon Rose and Michael Kazin

On December 7th, Gideon Rose and Michael Kazin hosted a post-election conference call on Trump and American Populism, followed by a Q&A session with listeners from our new Premier subscription tier.

A transcript of the conversation is available below.

ROSE: Can you relate to us how the specifics of this particular phenomenon of Trump right now relates back to the past and structural aspects of populism previously, but also, horizontally to other structural aspects of populism that are going on elsewhere? Is this a unique event? Is it just something that's really common and recurring? Is it something that's common now to lots of different places? How different is this?

 

KAZIN: Yeah, that's a good question, and I'll try to keep the answer short and to the point. Well, yeah, as a lot of people have mentioned, as a lot of good articles in this issue point out, phenomenon, which is Transatlantics, certainly, right now. There's interview with Marine Le Pen, in the issue, as well, and other articles about is this fascism or not? And so forth. But clearly, as you know right wing populism, as it's been called, aggressive nationalism. Anti-globalized economics, if you will, is on the rise, not just in this country, but also in Europe. And this is, really, I think, a future... This often happens, actually, after economic crises, the Great Recession, which in some parts of Europe, has not ended: Italy, Spain, Greece, for example. Even France has been stagnated for a while, I think, since 2008. So I think in that sense, what's happening here with Trump is not so different from what's happening in Europe. Though of course, there are national differences.

 

KAZIN: On the other hand, I think the US has a different history in terms of immigration, in terms of having lots of waves of immigration, and continuing anti-immigrant politics, which often plays into populist rhetoric of the kind that Trump is using. There's many examples I mentioned in the past: The American Party, the Know-Nothing Party, the 1850s, the Anti-Chinese Movement which is led by labor unions in the 1880s, 1990s, Elitist-Populist Model, as well. And I think we have, because of our long history of slavery in the United States, we also have the... There's often the tender for a populist to blame liberal cosmopolitan lead to the top, aligning, supposedly, with the black poor below, is always there as a possibility, as well. So in that sense, I think the US has been a more populist nation, if you will, than some of these nations in Europe have been. Where you have an inherent hierarchy, which to a certain degree, at least, until recently, a lot of people accepted, as opposed to United States where most Americans have always thought the people should rule, have always been suspicious of governing elites and economic elites. And so populism is woven into the fabric of American rhetoric and politics, in a way I think, is not true in Europe.

 

ROSE: Okay, so let me think with history for 200. There's another piece in the package, by one of your descent board members, Sherry Berman, Professor Ed Bernard, titled, "Populism is not fascism, but it could be a harbinger." Many people have seen in some of the contemporary populist revival aspects of some of the really bad stuff in the 30s, and have worried that this could be a revival of fascism or a step towards that. How would you distinguish the terms, and should we even think about things like the F word when it comes a contemporary populist surge in anyway, shape, or form?

 

KAZIN: I don't think so. I think Sherry's piece is excellent, and I think she warns against using the term too freely. Which reminds me of people on the right accusing people on the left who are not communist, who have always been communist, reaching for the C word. The way some people on the left are now reaching for the F word to characterize Trump, and even some of the populists in Europe. I think, to me, fascism is a spongy term, and it's certainly a... There are different kinds of fascists in history. And certainly, the 30s was a period of the growth of fascism in Europe, and the growth of fascist movements elsewhere. But to be a fascist, I think you have to espouse authoritarian government. You have to be very unfriendly to democracy, electoral democracy, constitutional democracy. You have to favor some sort of crackdown on the press, at least, to reign in the press in a really serious way.

 

KAZIN: And also, fascism, to me, connotes a militarized society. I don't think Trump, though there are some aspects, certainly, of his rhetoric, which play into all these elements, I don't think he seriously is a danger to cracking down on American democracy, to abdicating the constitution, to dressing up young Americans in military uniforms, and having them goose-step or prance in some fashion up to the front of his rallies. I think there's authoritarian elements to his appeal, certainly, and to his rhetoric, and that's certainly true, but authoritarianism in rhetoric and style is not the same as fascism.

 

ROSE: Okay, so let's stick with the causes. You said that it's often that an economic crisis, especially one that isn't really dealt with or come to grips with, produces some sort of political sequelae down the road. And if that's probably a lot of what's driving this. There are a variety of different structural theories about what's causing the current populist surge. One of them, and perhaps, the leading one, as you described, talked about, economics, structural economic change, that has, essentially, set back the prospects of the working and middle classes in the advanced industrial world over the last few decades, and then heightened by the recession and the financial crisis. Another one talks about immigration, that this is really a cultural and demographic... As a response to cultural and demographic change, lots of people who don't look like the people in place X and the regular denizens of place X respond with a negative charge. And then there are people who talk about the specific policy precedents, and their reaction to the left or the democrats or Obama, or a particular love of an individual charismatic leader. When you look at what's going on now, do you see structural factors or contingent ones as being dominant and which of the structural theories are you most drawn to?

 

KAZIN: Great question. […] I think that certainly a lot of these tensions were there before the Great Recession began. There's been resentment certainly in many European countries first against guest workers, going back to the 1960s. In West Germany, resentment against Caribbean immigrants and the immigrants from African colonies in Great Britain, and resentment against the immigrants in this country since the 1970s since immigration laws were changed in 1965. There's a structural element to think there, and also, a lot of structural element which is not talked about as much, and I don't mention it in my piece unfortunately, is this fear that maybe there won't be jobs, good jobs ever again. That because of robots, because of manufacturing gravitating to much poorer countries. In Europe and the United States, good jobs for people who are not well educated, who don't have technological skills, might not be coming back at all. And I think that's a long-term problem for democracies on both sides of the Atlantic, and for that matter, in Japan and industrialized countries in other parts of the world as well.

 

KAZIN: Ideologically, I think we're in an interesting period that both the models that emerged since World War II, have perceived to have failed. On the one hand, social democratic models couldn't stand up against the forces of globalized capitalism, and then in the recession, austerity seemed necessary and so the social democrats and democrats in this country, have to enforce that austerity whether they like to or not. On the other hand, what people call "neoliberalism," economically or economic libertarianism, is also I think perceived to have failed, and Trump's campaign is true of populists in Europe too, are really not calling for the untraveled free market. They're not calling for a completely unregulated capitalism. That's one of the reasons why Trump is unpopular among a lot of Republicans, the "Paul Ryan" kind of conservatives, because unpopular, at least they would have rather have a different candidate than Trump, because he doesn't talk about rolling back the power of government. In fact, even as President-elect, he's been showing he's willing to pressure Carrier to stay, keep as many jobs as possible in the United States. And this is a sign that the two older models that we've grown love or hate for the last 30, 40 years, social democracy and neoliberalism, both are in crisis and and both are perceived in different ways to have failed. And that's why populism has risen it this interregnum if you will. We don't know what's going to come next.

 

ROSE: Okay, the structural academic changes that you've describe about technology, the structure of global economy, and so forth, that often gets summarized or boiled down in populist rhetoric and discussions, to a question of trade, as if it's almost obviously somebody else who's screwing you, and the response back is to punish them. Most economists, tend not to think that trade has the kind of effects that the populists have talked about, and in fact, if anything, it produces more net jobs over all. Although there obviously were some effects from China a decade ago, there's a feeling that in many economists that I talked to, that there's a mismatch between the emotions and the underlying reality and they're mis-attributing some things. My question to you on this front is, Donald Trump seems like an unlikely tribune for populism, given his wealth, given his flouting of various kinds of conventions for his own benefit, rather than that of the masses. And his backers, seem not necessarily to care that much or to necessarily have logical arguments connecting their anger to the underlying causes. Is it possible to have a calm, cool intellectual populism, or does it have to be highly emotional and not necessarily connected to rational argumentation?

 

KAZIN: Well, of course it depends on which populist you're talking about. As I said, I wrote a whole book about this, "The Populist Persuasion." I think populism is best defined as a discourse, as a rhetoric, as a kind of language of politics, rather than as anything broader than that. Though some people have...

 

ROSE: But is that rhetoric and language necessarily anti-intellectual?

 

KAZIN: Well, I think, it's necessarily a language which questions, which sees intellectual wisdom. It isn't necessarily anti-intellectual. For example, the original populists, the group who coined the term "The People's Party," in the 1890s in the United States, they trained people to question the conservative economics of their day, which is based on the gold standard, which is also based on arguing for high tariffs, actually, protectionism, of their day. The populists were in favor of free trade. They were in favor of an income tax instead of tariffs, as a way to finance the government. And they were quite well-trained in these arguments and they often pride themselves on having better arguments to defeating university economists in debates which they had in various parts of the country. So no, I don't think populists are necessarily anti-intellectual. I think they do, however, often see intellectual elites, which supposedly, according to populists, are feeding the establishment, telling the establishment what it would like to hear, doing the bidding of the establishment. That kind of argument about certain intellectuals is endemic to populism. And there's a certain sense that those intellectuals were often very well paid for doing nothing much besides talking and writing. [chuckle]

 

KAZIN: And that real people, real Americans, real French people, real Italians, put any nationality there in that slot, really work very hard for a living. They don't just spin around ideas and so there is an aspect, I think, of... Well, I wouldn't like to call it anti-intellectual but suspicion, of people who do nothing but write and talk. However, of course, all populist politicians need people who write and talk, and politicians themselves just talk in different ways. So there's a contradiction there, as well.

 

ROSE: So let me double down on this. You talked about anti-intellectualism, in terms of professional competence and/or experience, as you said, it almost seems like a part of the whole movement and dealing is these silly experts are removed from real life and don't necessarily know more and are living in their own dream world and the ordinary knowledge of ordinary people is both sufficient to guide things and a better guide than that of the experts. I'm thinking of Bill Buckley's famous comment that he'd rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phonebook than the faculty of Harvard. The administration, in many of its picks for its personnel, seems to be agreeing, in some sense, by picking people who don't necessarily have a whole lot of experience in the actual areas that they are supposedly running. And of course, they have a high degree of competence in their choices because they beat the experts, politically, both in the primaries and then the general election and at this point, probably feel like, "Nobody has standing to criticize us as amateurs because we've been proven right." Is competence standard, conventional, operational competence something that is at odds with or an anathema to, a populist movement?

 

KAZIN: Well, I think the problem with that assumption that you're making there, Gideon, I think is that, is something that when populists are elected to it, to run states, as they have been in the United States, and might be soon in France, we'll see, is that they have to find their own experts, [chuckle] even if the experts aren't the head of private departments, as here deputy secretaries are gonna be experts. You can't run 'em out on state without some level of expertise, of course. Or you can run it to the ground, if you try to. And even then, of course the people who, so far, Trump's chosen for his cabinet, there's a General who's been chosen to run the Pentagon. He's not a General who has administrative experience, but he's a General who's very well thought of in the military. You've got a financier, Lucien, who's been appointed to run the Treasury Department. He's not someone who's got experience running a department like that, but he obviously is a financier and he knows other financiers, so I think, in a sense, this is gonna be a B-team, as opposed to a completely different kinda team than we expect.

 

KAZIN: So, I think, and even then, there's nobody, no ordinary American who's been chosen to any of these top in the government and nor is there likely to be because, in the end, whatever the rhetoric of populist, whatever Trump's rhetoric, he understands that he's gotta run a government that's perceived as successful. And to run a government which is perceived as successful, you have to do certain things, no matter what your rhetoric, no matter what your party. And so, in that stance, we have a primitive establishment, which has got different elements to it but which is not going to be seriously challenged anytime soon.

 

ROSE: Okay, so let's actually carry this through into the post election period. So, you have a populist movement that displays a lot of these anti-establishment tendencies, comes in saying they're gonna burn the house down. Gets into power. Finds it, obviously, a little bit more difficult to put some of their extreme plans into action. What happens then? What have you seen since the election and how does that tie into what you expected? And how does your study of history and populist phenomena in power elsewhere... What guidance does that give you as to how things are gonna play out here in weeks, months and years to come?

 

KAZIN: Well, we've never seen, as you mentioned in your opening there, I don't think we've ever seen a President of the United States that's really comparable to Trump. We've never seen somebody without any governing experience at all, in either the military or in other parts of government become President and we've never seen someone who ran really against the main figures in his Party get elected either. So in that sense, he is unique. On the other hand, as I said before, he is certainly trying to make nice with the main people in the Congressional Party, with Ryan and with McConnell, he's making every attempt I think to moderate his rhetoric on certain issues like immigration and like race, he even met with Al Gore. So I think we're seeing, what I actually expected to see much more, which is this is going to be a conservative Republican administration, it's going to be different in various ways, from the last few conservative Republican administrations. But I think the main policies he's gonna try to carry out are not gonna be as different from the kind of policies George W. Bush tried to carry out, and to some degree did.

 

KAZIN: And even his father, George H. W. Bush, tried to carry out. The Republican/Conservative agenda has been pretty much set arguably since the 1970s and certainly since the Reagan administration in the 1980s and I think there's nothing really large that I see yet, no really big promise that Trump has made which really departs from that in a serious way. So I think though Trump is going to be unpredictable in his rhetoric, he's gonna spend time Tweeting about Alec Baldwin being unfair to him on Saturday Night Live, and so forth. He's gonna do things that are both entertaining and outrageous, in some people's opinions. On the other hand, in terms of policy, I don't think he's gonna be as much a departure from conservative playbook as many people thought he would be.

 

ROSE: So one of the famous lines during this election that got a lot of play, was the writer columnist Selena Zito's line that Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally, and Trump critics took him literally but not seriously. So obviously, he has to be taken seriously now, but there still is this big question about how literally he should be taken, and his comments should be taken. So if he does, in effect, do what you just described and put forward something not too different from a standard Republican agenda, which is what everyone thinks of it, probably not particularly what his populist supporters thought they were getting or wanted. Will they just go along because of the emotive and personal connection to him, or does he face problems in backing off actual populist policies because that's what his base actually wants? How much is emotion and attitude versus policy at the heart of this?

 

KAZIN: Well, that's the big question, isn't it? For example, what happens to people in Kentucky? I think the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, its Medicare provision extending Medicare to a lot of people who didn't get it before. I think the number of people covered by health insurance now is doubled in Kentucky. But Kentucky voted like 2:1 for Trump. So what happens to those people who either supported Trump in Kentucky, or worked for him in Kentucky, if they lose their Medicaid or know people who lost Medicaid, because the ACA is repealed? They say, "Well, he's done other good things, I like him anyway," or do they say, "Hey! He didn't promise he was gonna do this, he didn't say he was gonna do away with this program which helps me." Sociology of politics I think teaches us I think that people respond to politicians emotionally and rationally, it's intertwined. If you like a politician he can do a lot before he alienates you.

 

KAZIN: The other hand, if your attachment to that politician is fairly lukewarm, and a lot of people voted for Trump certainly because they just did not like Hillary Clinton, and they thought, "Well, he's gonna shake things up, let's see what happens." And without those people he wouldn't have won. He wouldn't have won only with the people who go to his rallies, certainly. Of course he had to win, he won by narrow amounts in these three states, as we know, which gave him the election. So those people, the unpassionate independents so to speak, who ended up voting for him, in the end, in key states, those are the ones he has to worry about alienating, I think. And those are the ones arguably who might end up just deciding that they aren't gonna vote at all next time. And that could hurt him, and that could hurt Republicans in 2018 as well.

 

ROSE: So, I say as a point of information, I just had a long discussion yesterday with a key FA staffer who's been spending a lot of time in Kentucky recently, and the report back is that you could not have a more different mindset about what's going on now but then between the difference between Kentucky and New York, and that everybody in New York is freaked and crying and upset, and everybody in Kentucky is like, "What's going on? There's a guy Trump elected president? Why are you guys so freaked out? What's problematic about this?" So I think it'll be pretty hard for him on the basis of what I've been hearing to lose Kentucky, and already lost New York.

 

KAZIN: Also, we forget that actually the people in Kentucky who got Medicaid who didn't have it before, most of 'em probably didn't vote. Mitch McConnell, in fact I think was quoted at one point... I saw this somewhere on the Internet, I forget where... Where he was asked, "If you do away with the Medicare, with the expansion of Medicare in your state, which is very popular clearly, isn't that gonna hurt Republicans like you, and other Republicans like Trump who opposed it?" And he said, "The people on Medicaid don't vote." And he's probably right, yeah.

 

ROSE: At this point, we're gonna bring in questions from our audience. As the operator said, we're not doing phone Q&A right now. You can submit questions through our ready talk online portal. We have some of them now, and so Michael, let me bring them to you. So from Karen Steinberg, she says that you talked about the things of fascism that you think are characteristic of it that you're not gonna see in Trump: A militarism, an attack on the press, attacks on civil liberties, and so forth. And while you're correct that he hasn't actually done any of this, his rhetoric, Karen points out, has indeed done this. He's putting a whole lot of generals in traditionally civilian positions in the cabinet, he's talked about the need to do unconstitutional things like punish free speech, he's criticized the press and companies that he dislikes. How do you know not to take the surface things that he says seriously?

 

KAZIN: First of all, a fascist is able to do these things in policy, not just talk about them. And also I think he's not building a fascist party. The Republican Party is not a fascist party. The Republican Party, most elected officials, certainly rank and file voters believe very strongly in free market capitalism. They're not gonna happily accept the idea of a [inaudible] state, which is something that the fascists certainly built in Italy and Germany, and to some degree in Japan and Spain. And also hard to believe, and maybe I'm too optimistic, but hard to believe that even conservative journalists would support, a pro-Trump journalist would support a crackdown in any way other than tweets and a few lines in a speech against free press.

 

KAZIN: I'm reminded of some of the kind of things Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew said, his vice president, 1960s, about nattering nabobs of negativism, attacking the television networks as being an out of touch liberal elite. And of course they were not able to do anything about that besides get votes to some extent by attacking the media, but the media was as untrammeled as ever after he said these things, in some ways more because the TV networks, people like Walter Cronkite, the great anchorman of CBS, was even more motivated I think to say what he felt about the Nixon administration.

 

KAZIN: So I guess again, maybe I'm too optimistic, but I don't think American political culture, I don't think people who run the media today, I don't think the Republican Party, which of course is Trump's party, would go for actually actualizing, operationalizing, to use an ugly term, some of the things he seems to hint he might like to do. And that's why I draw a distinction between some things he says which sound fascistic, and actually doing much about them.

 

ROSE: Got it. So here's a question from Megan Novi, it's Media For 200. How did media, and the divided media environment, and the media bubbles that half the country obviously seems to live in, is there a difference perhaps, and the rise of social media, how did all of that play into Trump's rise and the current populist wave? Is the proclivity and the ubiquity of group think more in some kinds of media than others, or is it just a divided media environment, something that enables hermetically sealed information circles to persist? Obviously there wasn't social media back in earlier populist waves. So how do you tell whether that's having any influence today?

 

KAZIN: I'm no media sociologist, or student of the media per se, so I can only give my somewhat untutored opinions about this, but I think one of the things which has struck me is that during the campaign, while Hillary Clinton has a far superior turnout operation, she has all these offices all over the place, she is using the same technology to identify her voters as Barack Obama did, and she had a much better ground game. I'm sure everyone heard that during the campaign. And that's... Even if it's close, he's gonna lose because of that. As it turned out, I think that Trump didn't need a really good ground game because he did have social media, because he was able to excite people to turn out, at least in large enough numbers on his side, because they didn't need to have people coming over to their house or their apartment to remind them to vote. They were enthused enough about voting. I think that's been generally true throughout American history.

 

KAZIN: Actually, parties really matter of course, but having inspired motivated voters who want to vote for the candidate party matters more. On the other hand, certainly it's true as the question asks, that it's so much easier to spend your days just hearing opinions you already agree with, given back to you in a million ways. And I always raise my students to, if they're liberals, to read conservative media, if they're conservatives to read liberal and left wing media because you have to learn how to debate people who you don't agree with. But obviously, that's not happening very much anymore. And it's hard to know historically how much had happened. I won't go into great detail about this.

 

KAZIN: But it used to be that late in the 19th century, for example, when The People's Party was born that if you were a man, you're expected to be a loyal party man and you're expected to read the newspaper of your party. And in fact, newspapers were not... Didn't try to be objective or balanced at the time. They were very much the creature of the party, the Republican or Democratic party. And so in some ways, yeah, things have changed, but strong partisanship has been with us for a long time.

 

ROSE: Okay. So let me talk about expertise more generally and actually turn the focus on us rather than him for a second. Out of curiosity, did you call the election result correctly beforehand?

 

KAZIN: Luckily, I didn't go public with it. No. Hillary would win narrowly by about the same percentage as the popular vote, she actually has won by, but I didn't think her campaign was smart enough to know how to win Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and probably North Carolina.

 

ROSE: So let me actually ask about this then. I'm in the same bunch. I'm in the same boat as you. I didn't call it correctly. I know people who did, but they were few and far between and they tend to have roots in red country and to believe that the people in blue country were essentially kidding themselves inside their little bubble. So I trust them, but my question is, you mentioned the ground game and what we all thought. Look, there are ways in which the Trump campaign was like the producers. They put together a campaign operation that on November 7th, everybody who was a professional in the political world essentially and the establishment would have said was the functional equivalent campaign-wise of springtime for Hitler. They had no fundraising or very little fundraising compared to the Clinton people. They had very few operatives. They had several changes of campaign staff. There was a regular feature on many of the cable news shows ridiculing them for where they were deploying their resources.

 

ROSE: They were up against the best campaign team with the highest data analytics, the greatest funding, the most professionalism in history, everybody who had done so well in 2008, 2012. David Plouffe, a supreme professional politically was out there, Tom Cooley, explaining how it was impossible for Trump to win, etcetera, etcetera and so on. So my question is if all the mainstream experts were so wrong, how do... What if there is a substantial degree of validity to the charge that the experts know less than they think? Why and how as a historian, as a teacher, as a professor who didn't... Where do you get the confidence to talk about what happens now if we couldn't see what's happening under our very eyes beforehand?

 

KAZIN: Well, the good thing about being a historian is that, I don't really have to predict the future. All you gotta do is explain the past. So that's my standard response to people who ask me what's gonna happen in the future. I always couch it that way 'cause I really don't... Look, I'm not a campaign professional. I'm not in that business luckily, because I hate to lose if I were. But I think one of the things we didn't understand well enough is about celebrity politics. In fact, the way in which... Who like Trump just think he's a cool guy. They wear his baseball caps. I heard Michael Moore, a day after the elections. I forget which one it was, one of the cable networks. And he said all these liberals, he said, because he's a liberal himself, all these progressives and liberals who are making fun of the baseball caps. "He's not spending money on the ground game. He's spending money on baseball caps."

 

KAZIN: He said, "They didn't understand a lot of people in this country wear baseball caps. And every time someone wore ‘Make America Great’ red baseball cap, they were a walking advertisement for Trump. They showed, and as opposed to bumper stickers and lawn signs, which are passive, this is a real human being walking around with a huge ad for Trump. And so a lot of the parts of the country, especially where he's from in Michigan and other parts of Midwest, there are a lot of people wearing Trump hats and wearing baseball hats of different kinds. I don't know if this is popularism, but there's a way in which I think a lot of people like you and me perhaps.

 

KAZIN: People who make their living in big cities who are part of cosmopolitan cultures, well-educated, good colleges and all that, I think we tend to think that what excites people is not so different than what excites us. Or that what excites people who are not like us is somehow not gonna motivate them to go out and win elections and I think that's been proven quite wrong. And also the fact that people are comfortable with Trump in a way I don't think they were less comfortable with Hillary in a funny way that is they've seen them on television. They've heard about him. His name recognition was I think as high as Hillary's, even before he decided to run for President, so that matters. People wanna feel comfortable with their President and that's something which for all the reasons we know that Hillary was her own worst enemy and of course, the FBI thing didn't help. They felt less comfortable. A lot of people felt less comfortable with her as President than they did with Trump, at least those who made the difference in the election.

 

ROSE: Got it. I wanna follow up with that. We have a great question from Thomas Kasur who notes that we've been having a whole lot of negative inference and innuendo about Trump and populism that it's almost all bad. Are there any positive aspects here? You came to the council a couple of years ago after a previous foreign affairs article and caused a little bit of an uproar by saying in the halls of the establishment that, "Hey, there were some actual good things about populism sometimes in some ways." So rebut the charge that we're all a bunch of cosmopolitan elitist twits, by saying talk a little bit about what you see, if anything, about the upside of what we're seeing.

 

KAZIN: Yeah. Yeah, it was fun to talk at this annual dinner. Robert Rubin was in the back of the room shaking his head as I spoke I remember. Didn't like what I was saying, but I think... And I talked about this in the article. I talked about it in my book on populism as well. Yeah, I think populism can be and usually is an alarm bell for Democratic systems. It's a way of showing, look a lot people in this country feel very badly disappointed by the elites and there are elites in every society of course. One can't do without them you can argue, but the elites are supposed to, in Democratic societies, supposed to do what's in the people's interest. And if a lot of people think they're not doing that, then they have every right and obligation to speak out about it and that is part of what populists can do. I think a society without populism is a very content, happy society and obviously we're not in that situation now. So to the extent that Trump has upset the apple cart, he's upset the experts, that in a way is good.

 

KAZIN: There's an article in New Republic this coming issue by I think Kevin Baker, the novelist who argues that Trump did a service, even to progressives by showing that you don't need all the experts and the campaign consultants and the whole machinery of modern campaigning in order to win. You need a very clear message and you need to know how to tap into people's anger and Bernie Sanders did the same thing. Bernie Sanders was even less financed. He didn't have his own money to use of course in his campaign and he came close to beating Hillary Clinton. So we should think about Sanders and Trump I think in these terms and I'm much more sympathetic to Sander's politics than I am to Trump's, but they both I think showed us that whatever recovery we were having in this country, it's not been enough. There's these economic fears that are out there and those fears must be addressed and in a Democratic country they should be addressed.

 

ROSE: Donald Jance has a great question. You just mentioned that a country without populism is a happy country and that's not where we are right now, so it's not surprising. But at least, everyone is talking about the populist surge that's going from Brexit to Trump to the defeat of the referendum in Italy, to the rise of populist parties in other countries. But Mr. Jance asks about countries where populism hasn't won footholds. What are the characteristics of those countries that have somehow managed to avoid being caught up in the current populist way? Let me take something like Canada for example. There's no discernible, significant populist movement in Canada right now. Why have the countries that are not seeing a populist wave been able to escape it? What are they doing differently?

 

KAZIN: Well, again, you're talking to an American historian here. [laughter] I'm not somebody who can give you an expert opinion on what's happening all over the world, but Canada has a liberal Government which is broadly popular. It also has a... They have stronger unions than we do in this country now, so the wage level is higher and so they're not in the same kind of wage stagnation that you've had here. There's not the same freak-out about immigration in Canada. They have a somewhat different immigration situation. They have fewer by far documented immigrants because they're obviously not close to poor countries as we are being close to Mexico and Central America, all that's part of it I think. And also Canada is just a calmer political culture than we have. There's all kinds of reasons for that. I won't try to be an expert in Canadian politics. I think obviously there's some populist, anti-immigrant populist parties in Scandinavia certainly.

 

KAZIN: I think it's called Swedish Democrats. Went from being a small, fringed right wing party to having something like 10% to 15% of the electorate on their side more recently. But even there, I don't think there's much danger of a defeat for the centrist, left center, right center parties in those countries, because again, economically there's not the sense that there's still a crisis going on to the extent it was a crisis. But I think clearly, politics is not as national perhaps as it once was. And I wouldn't be surprised if even in Canada and Sweden and Norway, we see the growth of these very populist parties and movements if there's the continued sense of crisis in the world. So there tends to be a spillover effect, I think, of the politics of major countries into some of the smaller countries.

 

ROSE: Okay. So let's put on our speculative caps and look forward. What does history tell us, if anything, about what happens from here on in? How do populist experiments play out once they get into power? What does the party out of power tend to do? One of the questions was what advice would you give to Democrats now? Is this likely to be a quick story? Are we in a long-term major fundamental shift in American and global politics? Will there be a resistance? What does your historical track record tell you about where things go going forward?

 

KAZIN: Yeah, yeah. Well, again, I'm not good at predicting the future, but history does not repeat itself. However, Catherine Rampell, a very good economics columnist, you might know, some of you readers might know, The Washington Post, had an interesting column yesterday, or the day before where she said that populist waves of financial crises lasts about 10 years, going back to 19th century. Now, I'm not much sure how she was defining populism, but... So she was predicting maybe this only has another year or two to go, and we'll have to see. Angry movements don't usually sustain themselves. Either they take power and they... As we'll see what happens with Trump succeed at quelling from the discontent of those who back them or they fail and their opponents say, "See, I was right, populists can't govern and they lose." In each case, the populist movements declines and the anger diminishes in different ways. What happened in 1930s of course is we had a World War, brought on in part, certainly a large part, by which I can argue were the populist movements which came to power in Germany and Italy and to a less extent in Japan. And let's hope it doesn't take that again.

 

KAZIN: But the United States, as I said, there's never been a populism like Trump's populism which has taken natural power, but sometimes, if they have had power in different states, Louisiana with Huey Long, California with The Workingmen's Party of California which I mentioned in my piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. And there, they were perceived as not being able to govern very well. They blew up. In case of Huey Long, he went to the Senate, but he was already generating a lot more enemies than he could deal with, with his authoritarian ways. And I think populists, when they govern, tend to overreach, they tend to promise far more than they can ever deliver and they end up fighting often within their own party or within their own movement. And that fighting gets them in trouble. I can mention other instances of that as well. So one of the reasons why we haven't had a lot of populists govern I think is for that reason. That they're most successful as protest movements, they're most successful as sound of the alarm as I said before. They really aren't equipped to govern in some ways don't even wanna govern. I'm not sure actually Trump is really looking forward to the myriad task that a president has to undertake as opposed to going out on the back from the country and then having more rallies.

 

ROSE: This could be really interesting to follow all this out. So Mark Merrisphan has a great question. What is your prediction about Trump's foreign policy? So we tend to think about populism as a domestic phenomenon. Is there a foreign policy associated with populism and if so what? And does that play out differently for friends, for enemies, for bystanders out?

 

KAZIN: Yeah. Well, probably you are better at addressing that game than I am, but clearly, the one policy objective that Trump has always cared about going back to 1980s, he talked about this back then is about trade. He's always been opposed to free trade, he's always been suspicious of American manufacturing going overseas for lower wage cost, less regulation even. And so, to degree, he cares about foreign policy and he's always showed this with career, with trying to punish the Chinese, I think, by having a phone call with the President of Taiwan. His foreign policy really cares about is the economic part of foreign policy which is obviously central to foreign policy. To what extent he's gonna have a different strategy towards ISIS than Obama has, to what extent he's going to have a grand reset, it could be very friendly with Putin, we don't know that yet, I think.

 

KAZIN: But I don't know whether you can say his populist redirect translates directly into any kind of foreign policy except for the emphasis on trade and trying to bring manufacturing back to United States, whether or not that's possible. That clearly connects to his appeal to white working people.

 

ROSE: Got it. Brendan Mulvaney asks about the role of elites going forward. They have to listen to the people at some point, obviously as they lose their control over the system. So how in the past, he's asked, have they responded when populists come to power? Do the elites co-opt the populists, do the populists co-opt the elites? Should we expect mainstream parties to be adopting some of the positions of the populist movements? Or do they just withstand it and can they manage to survive anyway?

 

KAZIN: Well, I think both Republican and Democratic parties already have adopted the views and obviously the Republican party is now Trump's party. And if you wanna be friendly with the President, you've got to adopt some of his positions on immigration, on manufacturing. The immigration issues were already issues of the Republican party, they already had those stands about restricting immigration before Trump even started to run. And the Democrats too, as people know, the platforms of the Democrat party that they adopted last summer took in a lot of Bernie Sander's ideas. And you're not going to have a Democrat candidate make millions of dollars speaking to Wall Street groups again for a while, that's for sure. So I think, certainly in style, in rhetoric, both parties have been changed a lot, and it took the United States here. And again, not that many populists have been in power, you can perhaps say Hitler was a populist. Some ways he was.

 

ROSE: He was so many things other than a populist, it was probably those other things that determined his course of action.

 

KAZIN: The problem again, I hate to be the scholar here, but we have to be careful when you talk about populists and power because lots of people, and Franklin Roosevelt used a lot of populist rhetoric for example. Talked about driving the money changers out of the temple, talked about economic royalists, for example. And he was from a much higher well-born family than Trump certainly is, and he also was a man who had some wealth.

 

ROSE:  As with TR too.

 

KAZIN: Yeah, exactly. So I think we have to again differentiate talking in populist ways from governing as a populist. Governing as a populist is take a long time to piece out what populist governance actually means. There's actually a very interesting book by a very good political scientist from Princeton, German-born sociologist, political scientist, Jan-Werner Muller. Yeah, it was a very interesting little book, which I blurbed. Which tried to talk about the kind of policies populists carry out or might want to carry out. And he based himself mostly on European examples. I think for folks who wanna look at more of that at this topic they should look at that book.

 

ROSE: Okay, well I'm gonna leave the last question to the... Given the demise of the elites and the legitimate ridicule to which they/we are being subject right now, I'm gonna take the last question myself and I'm gonna ask it to the magic eight ball that I'm holding in my hand, which has a better predictive track record than me over the last few months. And the question I'm gonna ask is, "Is Trump's presidency going to be a success?" And the magic eight ball says, "Without a doubt." So there you have it, the magic eight ball who has a better track record of success than the editor of Foreign Affairs says that Trump's presidency will be a success without a matter of doubt.

 

ROSE: On that, let me end our first premier tier call, thank you Michael Kazin. Thank all of you. Remember, this is a work in progress, not just the country and the magazine, but even our premier tier subscription. So tell us what you want, we'll try and give it to you. Tell us what you don't want, we'll try to keep it from you. And we look forward to having lots of discussions in various formats in the pages of the magazine, on the pixels of the website, through all of our various social media feeds and in calls like these, and in-person and events as we all follow this greatest reality TV show of all time that is playing out before our eyes. Thank you all, thank you, Michael. And this is the end of the call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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