The people, no A brief history of anti-populism

Thomas Frank, 1965-

Book - 2020

"From the prophetic author of the now-classic What's the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, an eye-opening account of populism, the most important-and misunderstood-movement of our time. Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today "populism" is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to... describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake. The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party-the biggest mass movement in American history-fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers' great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression. Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement's provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us"--

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Subjects
Genres
History
Published
New York, New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company 2020.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
307 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781250220110
1250220114
Main Author
Thomas Frank, 1965- (author)
  • Introduction : the cure for the common man
  • What was populism?
  • "Because right is right and God Is God"
  • Peak populism in the proletarian decade
  • "The upheaval of the unfit"
  • Consensus redensus
  • Lift every voice
  • The money changers burn the temple
  • Let us now scold uncouth men
  • Conclusion : the question.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Best known for his penetrating book What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Stole the Heart of America (2004), Frank now examines the long history of American populism and shows how this movement has been demonized by everyone from the conservative wealthy in the 1890s to today's anti-Trumpers. Pinpointing the exact moment that populism got its name (on a train traveling from Kansas City to Topeka in 1891), Frank explains that populists wanted power taken from the plutocrats while advancing the . . . rights and needs, the interests and welfare of the people. Looking to join the interests of northern workers with southern farmers, both white and black (tenuously, in that case), populism began as an effort to wrest capitalism from the robber barons, advocating that those who provided product should also receive part of the profit. Those at the top met this idea with derision. And so began the march of a movement that sometimes changed form—as did the way it was perceived—but never disappeared entirely and still resonates heavily today. Frank shows all this brilliantly, as he places populism in the context of seminal historic events: wars, the Depression, McCarthyism, and recent elections. As in previous books, Frank's writing is notable for its clarity and its ability to make connections. His provocative conclusions, about elites and the people, sometimes turn common assumptions upside down—all the better for making readers think. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

This book is an easy, but not quick, read. Although the prose is pellucid and snappy, readers must pause often to reflect on the points this trenchant analysis of American anti-Populist thought raises. Outlining the ideas of the late-19th-century Populist movement (continued by New Dealers) is indispensable to Frank's detailed discussion of the hostile reaction Populism engendered among political, economic, academic, and media elites. Its enemies characterized Populism as naïve, anti-meritocratic, anti-intellectual, authoritarian, and demagogic—all charges ably refuted by the author's dispassionate examination of what most Populists believed, preached, practiced, and actualized. By the post–WW II era, the new emphasis on specialists and professionals generated a resurgence of distrust in common people that carried over, despite the Populist nature of the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King Jr., into the 1960s and 1970s. During those and subsequent decades, within an atmosphere of revealed governmental malfeasance, a New Left dismissive of working people as agents of change and a liberalism that readily embraced the elite at the expense of average people brought about a conservative hijacking of Populism and its current (ahistorical) identification with shortsighted bigotry. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels.--R. T. Ingoglia, St.Thomas Aquinas CollegeRobert T. IngogliaSt.Thomas Aquinas College Robert T. Ingoglia Choice Reviews 58:08 April 2021 Copyright 2021 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The author of What's the Matter with Kansas? returns with a study of populism, which he insists is wrongly used to describe the policies of Donald Trump and right-wing politicians worldwide. Starting with America's left-wing Populist Party of the 1890s, he argues that historically populism has been focused on expanding opportunities for all, and he sees anti-populist sentiment today as being anti-working class. That will stir debate. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Historian and political analyst Frank (What's the Matter with Kansas?) provides a sprightly crafted survey of populist philosophy over the past century as it contends with more established political forces that have considered its ideas to be backwards and undemocratic. Frank begins with a history of the left-wing People's Party that came to prominence in the late 19th century, and he is not shy in voicing his firm opinion that the beliefs of the common man are often much more valuable than those of the elite, who often dominated political conversation. According to Frank, the solution to our current political ills and polarization lies most securely with giving everyday people a voice and a place to be heard. He considers populism to be an expression of promise and optimism, and urges readers to reconsider the meaning of populism as well as how it has been used to describe the rise of Donald Trump along with leaders in European countries. VERDICT A valuable history of an important political tradition, and what it means for the future.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Political commentator Frank (Rendezvous with Oblivion) urges liberals to reclaim "the high ground of populism" in this fervent and acerbically witty call to action. Mischaracterized today as bigoted demogoguery, the term populism, Frank notes, originated with the rise of the egalitarian and racially inclusive People's Party in the 19th-century Midwest. Reeling from an economic crisis, Democrats nominated populist Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryant for the presidency in 1896 instead of their own incumbent, Grover Cleveland. Though Bryant's loss to William McKinley set the high-water mark of the People's Party, it influenced such policy reforms as the direct election of U.S. senators and women's suffrage. New Deal programs harkened back to the Populist Era, according to Frank, but also elevated a new kind of antipopulist elite to the top of the U.S. government: the technocrat. Frank claims the populist badge for civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who proposed a massive housing and employment program for African-Americans, and documents pushback, from both the right and the left, to populist advances, including LBJ's Great Society reforms, Democrat Fred Harris's "spectacular low-budget campaign" in the 1976 presidential election, and the recent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Frank blends diligent research with well-placed snark to keep readers turning the pages. Liberals will be outraged, enlightened, and entertained. (July) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The author of the best-selling What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal examines anti-populist sentiment in America and how it threatens the foundation of our democracy. 75,000 first printing. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"From the prophetic author of the now-classic What's the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, an eye-opening account of populism, the most important-and misunderstood-movement of our time. Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today "populism" is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake. The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party-the biggest mass movement in American history-fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers' great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression. Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement's provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ailsus"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

From the prophetic author of the now-classic What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, an eye-opening account of populism, the most important—and misunderstood—movement of our time.Rarely does a work of history contain startling implications for the present, but in The People, No Thomas Frank pulls off that explosive effect by showing us that everything we think we know about populism is wrong. Today “populism” is seen as a frightening thing, a term pundits use to describe the racist philosophy of Donald Trump and European extremists. But this is a mistake. The real story of populism is an account of enlightenment and liberation; it is the story of American democracy itself, of its ever-widening promise of a decent life for all. Taking us from the tumultuous 1890s, when the radical left-wing Populist Party—the biggest mass movement in American history—fought Gilded Age plutocrats to the reformers’ great triumphs under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Frank reminds us how much we owe to the populist ethos. Frank also shows that elitist groups have reliably detested populism, lashing out at working-class concerns. The anti-populist vituperations by the Washington centrists of today are only the latest expression.Frank pummels the elites, revisits the movement’s provocative politics, and declares true populism to be the language of promise and optimism. The People, No is a ringing affirmation of a movement that, Frank shows us, is not the problem of our times, but the solution for what ails us.