Bannon Prophesies a Populist Age. Is He Right?

In a Munk debate on November 2, 2018, Steve Bannon squared off against David Frum on the question of The Rise of Populism. Bannon argued that the permanent political class brought the country to its knees in the Crash of 2008, and that “the party of Davos bailed themselves out, afraid of some sort of deflationary death spiral” on the backs of ordinary workers and savers. The future, he said, is either populist nationalism or populist socialism.

He told the Canadian squishes that “Trump’s economic nationalism doesn’t care about your race, your religion, your ethnicity, your color,” and they laughed at him.

We are at the beginning of a new political revolution, and that is populism. The only question before us: is it going to be a populist nationalism that believes in capitalism, and deconstructing the administrative state, and giving the little guy a piece of the action, and break up this crony capitalism of big corporations and big government, or it is going to be a Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders type of populist socialism (starts at 18:45)

Of course, that went nowhere with his audience because they were all educated-class Canadian progressives. They know what they have been carefully taught, that nationalist populism is racist, sexist, homophobic. And fascist.

But are they right?  How fascist is populist nationalism? The Zman has a helpful podcast on fascism this week, and he uses the definition of Stanley G. Paine (starts 4:15), that fascism always has (1) a belief in a permanent nationalistic one-party authoritarianism; is based (2) on nationalism; particularly ethnic identity; has (3) a charismatic leader; features (4) a corporatist political economy with a partnership between between state, capital, and labor, that includes all classes of society; and features (5) voluntarist activism.

You can see that almost any modern political movement will have some or most of these characteristics. Thus, our liberal friends can experience everything on the right as fascist, and Jonah Goldberg can write a whole book on Liberal Fascism.

So, tell me: who is more fascist than Antifa?

But is Bannon right about the future being a choice between nationalist populism or socialist populism?

I don’t think so. I think that the nationalist populism that Trump is riding is indeed a rebellion against the Party of Davos and the administrative state that has abandoned ordinary middle and working class deplorables. But now that Trump has brought the white working class inside the tent, we won’t hear much more from them.

Corbyn and Bernie? Socialist populists? Not in my book. They are just the latest upscale lefties calling for All Power to the Activists.

Socialism is not and never has been a populist movement. It has always been a revolution from above by educated-class rich kids that want a bit of street action, er, peaceful protest. Nor is Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez a populist. She is a good little girl that learned her lessons well from her lefty Boston University professors: not quite Ivy League, darling, but close.

The fact is that the “crony capitalism of big corporations and big government” that Bannon wants to tame is the necessary milch cow for Corbyn and Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez -- and also for the Canadian educated class at the Munk debate that staffs the “administrative state.” Why would they want to mess with it?

Populism is the politics of people that recently fell through the cracks.

If you look at the populism in the U.S. west in the late 19th century it came out of the post-Civil War deflation that was ruining mortgaged farmers. In Europe between the world wars the fascists arose because the old world and its Great War had betrayed and ruined ordinary people. Our present U.S. populism is the rage of the deserted white working class “dying of despair.”

And when the women and minorities get deserted by the progressives in their turn, I doubt that they will rally to a lefty populism. Why would they? Everything on the left, from its fake “activism” to its fake Antifa is at the very least condoned -- and usually funded -- by the ruling class. Populism is a cry of rage against the ruling class.

But once some charismatic Trump tunes into the cry of the dispossessed then a populist movement starts to dissolve into contented followership. I’d say that the populists of the Great Plains were as happy as clams once presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan had rallied them with his Cross of Gold speech; ditto the abandoned multitudes of Europe when the fascists rallied them between the wars. Ditto the white working class attending Trump’s rallies.

I say: what’s wrong with simple All-American nationalism? Venerate the Founders; honor the Constitution; celebrate free enterprise; and culturally appropriate everything from German beer to Negro Jazz to Latin rhythm to Jewish intellectuals to Asian wisdom. It’s the American way.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.

In a Munk debate on November 2, 2018, Steve Bannon squared off against David Frum on the question of The Rise of Populism. Bannon argued that the permanent political class brought the country to its knees in the Crash of 2008, and that “the party of Davos bailed themselves out, afraid of some sort of deflationary death spiral” on the backs of ordinary workers and savers. The future, he said, is either populist nationalism or populist socialism.

He told the Canadian squishes that “Trump’s economic nationalism doesn’t care about your race, your religion, your ethnicity, your color,” and they laughed at him.

We are at the beginning of a new political revolution, and that is populism. The only question before us: is it going to be a populist nationalism that believes in capitalism, and deconstructing the administrative state, and giving the little guy a piece of the action, and break up this crony capitalism of big corporations and big government, or it is going to be a Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders type of populist socialism (starts at 18:45)

Of course, that went nowhere with his audience because they were all educated-class Canadian progressives. They know what they have been carefully taught, that nationalist populism is racist, sexist, homophobic. And fascist.

But are they right?  How fascist is populist nationalism? The Zman has a helpful podcast on fascism this week, and he uses the definition of Stanley G. Paine (starts 4:15), that fascism always has (1) a belief in a permanent nationalistic one-party authoritarianism; is based (2) on nationalism; particularly ethnic identity; has (3) a charismatic leader; features (4) a corporatist political economy with a partnership between between state, capital, and labor, that includes all classes of society; and features (5) voluntarist activism.

You can see that almost any modern political movement will have some or most of these characteristics. Thus, our liberal friends can experience everything on the right as fascist, and Jonah Goldberg can write a whole book on Liberal Fascism.

So, tell me: who is more fascist than Antifa?

But is Bannon right about the future being a choice between nationalist populism or socialist populism?

I don’t think so. I think that the nationalist populism that Trump is riding is indeed a rebellion against the Party of Davos and the administrative state that has abandoned ordinary middle and working class deplorables. But now that Trump has brought the white working class inside the tent, we won’t hear much more from them.

Corbyn and Bernie? Socialist populists? Not in my book. They are just the latest upscale lefties calling for All Power to the Activists.

Socialism is not and never has been a populist movement. It has always been a revolution from above by educated-class rich kids that want a bit of street action, er, peaceful protest. Nor is Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez a populist. She is a good little girl that learned her lessons well from her lefty Boston University professors: not quite Ivy League, darling, but close.

The fact is that the “crony capitalism of big corporations and big government” that Bannon wants to tame is the necessary milch cow for Corbyn and Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez -- and also for the Canadian educated class at the Munk debate that staffs the “administrative state.” Why would they want to mess with it?

Populism is the politics of people that recently fell through the cracks.

If you look at the populism in the U.S. west in the late 19th century it came out of the post-Civil War deflation that was ruining mortgaged farmers. In Europe between the world wars the fascists arose because the old world and its Great War had betrayed and ruined ordinary people. Our present U.S. populism is the rage of the deserted white working class “dying of despair.”

And when the women and minorities get deserted by the progressives in their turn, I doubt that they will rally to a lefty populism. Why would they? Everything on the left, from its fake “activism” to its fake Antifa is at the very least condoned -- and usually funded -- by the ruling class. Populism is a cry of rage against the ruling class.

But once some charismatic Trump tunes into the cry of the dispossessed then a populist movement starts to dissolve into contented followership. I’d say that the populists of the Great Plains were as happy as clams once presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan had rallied them with his Cross of Gold speech; ditto the abandoned multitudes of Europe when the fascists rallied them between the wars. Ditto the white working class attending Trump’s rallies.

I say: what’s wrong with simple All-American nationalism? Venerate the Founders; honor the Constitution; celebrate free enterprise; and culturally appropriate everything from German beer to Negro Jazz to Latin rhythm to Jewish intellectuals to Asian wisdom. It’s the American way.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.