Intersectionality & Populism
So much changes, so much remains the same. We excerpt here a passage from our recently co-authored Common Dreams article since it extends themes we developed in our keyword essays on “Populism” and “Intersectionality.”
Tens of millions of Americans believe that they were victims of a left-wing coup. For many of them the storming of the Capitol was a democratic act. They watched as people like themselves acted together to disrupt that supposed coup, and defend popular sovereignty. Right-wing insurgency is endlessly nourished by populist narratives that pit the “the common people” against elites, which includes both the storming of the Capitol and the pleasures of excess once inside—from feet on the desks of legislators to the wrecking of historical artifacts.
The bipartisan condemnations of Trump and those who besieged the Capitol have been accompanied by calls for a return to “normal,” in which the adults in the room would safeguard civility and reason and restore the authority of U.S. economic and democratic institutions from the populist mob.
Yet these responses play right into the hands of the very elites who rob us of the shared resources (both social and material) needed to build alternatives to Trumpism. Many sectors of the American economy where wealth is most concentrated—finance, tech, real estate, energy, military contracting—have realized enormous profits amidst Trump’s ascent. Hedge fund leaders and oil barons may object to the unseemly sight of the mob rummaging through the Capitol, but they have been materially doing much the same work for years—pillorying public resources and bending the government to serve its interests.
These forces do not express the crudeness and violence of those who stormed the Capitol. But a future predicated on a deference to their authority is no less dystopian, characterized as it will be by rampant wealth hoarding, growing “deaths of despair,” and cynicism towards many forms of public action and trust.
Trump’s defeat in November surely was a necessary precondition to realize new alternatives. But deferring to the economic and political elites that have set the stage for this carnage will only embolden the far right to continue to provide a kind of reactionary framing to the feelings of abandonment, isolation and betrayal, channeling those energies into ever more dangerous and violent conflicts.
Right-wing populism has always figured the virtuous, manly producer against some combination of those deemed parasitic or threatening, including state or economic elites, people of color, non-white immigrants, women, and gender-nonconforming people.
Understanding the content of right-wing populism in any given context requires an intersectional analysis of the operations of race, class, gender, and sexuality in its expression.