Method in Madness: Right-Wing Populism and Electoral Politics

Louis Kontos, John Jay College (CUNY)

The following paper attributes the electoral victory of Trump to the following overlapping phenomena: the steadily diminished importance of the categories liberal and conservative in shaping the thoughts and feelings of the majority of Americans, the steadily diminished trust in both government and business among both self-labeled conservatives and self-labeled liberals, the partial detachment from the political system of a significant minority of the population which registers as independent, and the total detachment of the majority of the population that does not bother to vote. In addition, the paper makes the case that much of what is now labeled ‘populism’ is not popular, but merely loud. Much of it was limited, until the Trump victory, to social media, virtual worlds, and insular communities – for good reason, including that it has been anti-democratic therefore properly stigmatized, shamed, and silenced, in mixed -public settings and broadcast media. Also, it has a noxious aura about it, particularly in its embrace of recycled anti-Semitic, racist, conspiracy theories – with some innovations, particularly involving Muslims. The paper is not preoccupied with the noxious aura, but with the anti-democratic impulse among the large portions of the American public, which has suddenly gained voice, legitimacy, and, increasingly the power to silence. The question, then, is how did this happen? How was Trump elected after embracing conspiracy theorists, hate-mongers, and others with an explicitly anti-democratic ideology and/ or agenda? What is now to be done?

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 126. Parties & American Class Politics