By Thomas Frank
TAR book review/recommendation
Readability 6/10 (if you enjoy history, it is a 7.5/10)
In The People, No Thomas Frank historically frames how the Democrat’s abandonment of the working people over time has led them, most recently, to drive Trump to victory. Democrats now find themselves as the elitist party, constantly attacking “populism” and referencing an expert class at every turn. Frank’s most poignant lesson is that populism or harnessing the power of the common man in your message is the most powerful tool in American politics, and always has been. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they have completely seeded that ground and message, completely to their demise.
The Start of Populism
Frank starts in 1896 with the first Populist to get on a major party ticket for President – William Jennings Bryant. Very similar to our current state, inequality was rampant. Farmers across the country were going further into debt on a daily basis due to the gold standard, while factory workers in the city were being treated horribly for pitiful wages. A group of Farmers from Kansas started what they called “The People’s Party” they saw that both sides were no different when it came to corporate ownership. While the majority of their ideas went on to become mainstream in the FDR administration, the most controversial policy in 1896 was the idea of leaving the gold standard. Why did they want to get off the gold standard? If the value of money is based on a finite or limited amount of gold, as we got more productive the value of the dollar was rising at a breakneck pace because we don’t add more gold. A dollar today is worth two dollars tomorrow. This was an amazing system if you were a lender, you gave away $100 and when it had to be paid back that $100 was really worth $1000. Think about this when purchasing goods, $100 yesterday bought two bales of hay, tomorrow it buys three. For Farmers who had to borrow money each season, this was a guaranteed sentence to poverty as you fell more behind each passing season.
The populist party sought to unite all farmers and workers in the country. This was a radical group, they believed in uniting white and black farmers in the south. The original populist were perhaps the most powerful class movement in American History. Jennings lost the presidential election of 1896, interestingly enough, he was outspent 100 to 1. There still has never been a candidate outspent to that degree or have the business class be more united against them.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Frank next moves to FDR, one of the only presidents to actually fight for the people. While there are many debates about FDR, Frank highlights the populist vein through his enemies. Interestingly enough, the same articles written about Trump were written about William Jennings Bryant and FDR many times over. The media hated FDR more than they hate Trump. One of their favorite hit pieces still remains a favorite- let’s get a group of “experts” to denounce everything they do. “FDR is a narcist, 20 psychiatrists all agree” “100 economist sign letter denouncing FDR and the New Deal” “90 Nobel laureates endorse Biden and denounce Trump”. Similar to Trump, FDR believed that 70-85% of the media was against him, and the endorsements reflected it.
This is where Frank puts up the warning sign for the Dems, if you are with the experts trying to delegitimize working-class voters, you are usually on the losing side in America. So where did we go wrong, why are we losing the working poor?
Enter the 70’s, Pat Buchanan was an aide to Richard Nixon and convinced Nixon to start adopting the Left’s working-class dialogue. Speak to the forgotten men and women, the silent majority that the elites don’t care for. Boy did it work, the republicans merged the wealthy class with the working class. However, the Democrats were more complicit in the loss than anyone, Nixon was able to take that ground because the left stopped fighting for workers. They had sold out, which left them impotent, they couldn’t call his or Reagan’s bluff, the New Deal was long ago. No longer were the Republicans a mild imitation of the Dems, the tables turned the Dems became Republican Lite.
Fast forward to the late 90’s early 2000’s Pat Buchanan is on the scene constantly. What is Pat’s message, that Washington Elites are out of touch with the rest of the country. In 2000 Buchanan takes this platform to a 3rd party bid. According to Roger Stone, he then recruited the TV celebrity Donald Trump to also declare a 3rd party bid for the white house,(that part is confirmed fact) to sink Buchanan and save George Bush Jr. Fast forward again to 2016 and we see Donald Trump take the populist message from Pat Buchanan all the way to the white house. And guess who predicted Trump could flip the Midwest with that message? Pat Buchanan.