Let’s talk about populism. It’s received conventional wisdom that we live in a populist age, and that populism rests on a conviction that America’s elites have failed in numerous, material ways. The simplified version of the right-wing narrative is clear. Elites gave us the Great Recession. Elites gave us the Iraq war. Elites in Silicon Valley are exploiting us. Elites worship the market. Elites in the media are sneering at us. Elites in the academy discriminate against us. They hate our faith, they hate our culture, and they are waging an unrelenting political war to drive us from the public square.
And the anti-elitism often extends even to allegedly allied elites. After all, a Republican president launched the Iraq war, and the stock market collapsed on that same president’s watch. Moreover, there is deep resentment against “establishment conservatives” or “Conservatism, Inc.” for failing to defeat the left.
And so it’s time to burn it down. Drain the swamp. Disrupt the status quo.
This week has presented us with fascinating case studies in the reasons for—and perils of—populism. It’s demonstrated once again there are legitimate grievances with elite institutions, but that populists should take care not to replace one form of dysfunction with worse dysfunction. Otherwise, the status quo can strike back, hard.