How begin to describe the wild mix called populism? Among its many ingredients: know-nothingism, conspiracy theories, anti-Catholic and anti- Semitic feeling, and the xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner, and just about anti-everything else. Except the kind of anti-Us feelings fueled by demagogues. And let's not forget the money cranks who say their monetary theories would cure all our economic woes if only the Federal Reserve and those stuffy bankers would just get out of the way.
When a national mood is that wild and maybe contagious, its specific targets matter less than its general resentments. Think of the character
Think of populism as one of America's periodic spasms. It happens. We've had worse. It'll pass, or maybe it won't.
Much like 19th-century populism, its revival today is essentially a revolt against the modern world and all its pressures and frustrations. It can be maddening, but it can also be put to good use by a leader who can turn it around and channel the populist instinct into something more positive.
Think of the difference between a Metternich and a Hitler -- or the difference between a menace and a visionary. Think of the way a talented, even saving, political leader like
Crisis is a mix of danger and opportunity. Let us pluck the prize, opportunity, from the nettle danger. It can be done and has been done before. But it requires the occasional political genius to understand what is happening and can happen,
Not just Republicans but Democrats face the same mix of danger and opportunity, as a talented agitator like
But one thing's for sure: America will always surprise you. Stay tuned. You ain't seen nothin' yet.