Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Elites And The “Populist” Canard

     We’ve been hearing quite a bit about the current “populist” moment in American politics...mostly from the political elite and the major media, but also from a few persons associated neither with the elite nor with the media. I’d like to spend a few minutes on this word and its implications, and give my Gentle Readers the reasons why we should reject and deny it.

     Here’s the definition:

populism: any of various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies.

     Note the juxtapositions in that definition. Compare them to the connotations of “populist” and “populism.” These are terms through which the elites elevate themselves over us the hoi polloi. We’re “anti-establishment” and “anti-intellectual.” Our notions appeal to the “common person,” with emphasis on “common.” Doesn’t that evoke memories of the “Know-Nothings” of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries? Doesn’t it just scream that we ought to have more respect for the superior erudition and intellects of our “betters?”

     Note how many of the detractors of our “populist moment” are willing to see us grubby groundlings suffer, if it will result in our rejecting Trump and his agenda. Bill Maher, that fount of left-wing venom, has openly wished for a recession to "rid us of Trump.” Nancy Pelosi has promised to cancel the Trump tax cuts should the Democrats retake Congress in November. Others have expressed the hope that Trump’s upcoming sit-down with Kim Jong Un will be a colossal failure, perhaps even a catastrophe.

     Note also the persistence of prominent conservatives and Republicans among the “NeverTrump” brigades. Note in particular their openly expressed preference for a continuation of the “Deep State” over the “Trump State.” [Bill Kristol]

     Whether peaceful or bloody, a rebellion will always be disparaged by the establishment as somehow unworthy, ill-mannered...vulgar.

     At one point during the early part of the 2016 presidential campaign, I voiced my concerns over Trump’s temperament to a friend who supported him. The friend listened until I ran down, then said quietly, “You have to give him this: he loves America.”

     It wasn’t quite enough at that point to allay my fears. Yet as the campaign progressed, it became ever clearer that whatever one might have to say in favor of any of Trump’s competitors, he listened to the yearnings of ordinary Americans – and he respected them. His huge rallies were a confirmation that he’d “connected” with the common citizen. The attempts by the Left to disrupt them were another – and a sign that the Hillary Clinton camp was aware of how out of touch it was.

     Americans had nurtured a sense that the federal government was less concerned with our well-being than it was with the “interests:” the establishments in industry, commerce, finance, the media, and above all else the government itself. Trump resonated to that sense, that desire to see a little more “government for the people.” Clinton, arguably the least attractive politician of the Twentieth Century, could barely stand to address us, much less to speak sympathetically about the things we genuinely care about.

     The Left and the Democrats characterized us as “deplorables.” The insinuations of our racism, sexism (of course), and xenophobia came from every corner of the media. Little attention was given to the swelling of Trump’s support. Still less was given to the specifics of his proposals or why his supporters found them good. Of the Republican Establishment, which did everything it could to prevent the victory of its nominee, nothing more need be said.

     And when on November 8, 2016 we flocked to the polls and dethroned the lot of them, it guaranteed their illimitable and unending enmity. That they’ve chosen to camouflage their hatred as ill-concealed supercilious disdain for “populism” changes nothing.

It's fifty long springtimes since she was a bride,
But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green,
As green as her memories of loving.

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now,
As gentle a measure as age do allow,
Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn,
Where once she was pledged to her true love.

The fields they are empty, the hedges grow free,
No young men to tend them, all pastures to seed.
They've gone where the forests of oak trees before
Had gone to be wasted in battle.

Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.
There's a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once stood,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

There's a row of straight houses in these latter days
Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze.
There's a field of red poppies, a wreath from the Queen.
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.
And the ladies remember at Whitsun.

[Austin John Marshall, “Dancing at Whitsun,” 1918]

     War is of particular importance to both the prevailing sentiments and the elites’ disdain for “populism.” Wars aren’t fought by the elites or their children, but by common men who’ve chosen to serve in America’s military. Not since the Civil War (a.k.a. the War Between The States / War Of Northern Aggression / Late Unpleasantness) has America gone to war over anything that mattered even slightly to the common American...and one could question the logic that powered that nightmare as well. A case could be made that those wars were fought, and Americans’ blood and treasure spent, for the benefit of the political elites and their hangers-on and no one and nothing else.

     President Trump’s desire to see the U.S. reduce its military involvement in other lands might be the most “populist” element of his agenda. May God bless and keep him for it. Our sons have died in enough foreign conflicts to make us extremely skeptical of talking heads’ representations that some “national interest” is at stake in some distant, mold-and-mildew-ridden land presided over by a “little tyrant with a military uniform and a funny hat.”

     How vulgar of us to want our children’s lives not cut short by wars in which America has no stake. War means jobs, don’t y’know.

     And so to close, have a somber bit of music about a tragedy from the war whose strategies, tactics, and politics I studied for twenty years, straining to comprehend the incomprehensible, and a nation that’s second only to America in my affections: Australia.

Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my country said: Son,
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

Well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell
He nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Those who were living just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, and I wished I were dead
I never knew there were worse things than dying

For no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

[Eric Bogle]


Col. B. Bunny said...

That's beyond excellent, Fran.

Another great poem about war that also touches on this theme slightly is "The Return" by Kipling. Did I say great?

Linda Fox said...

I'd never seen or heard the lyrics before. Before any more wars not fought on US soil are begun, there needs to be some major changes in the law and culture, to extend the cost to the families of the Elite.

If you wouldn't send your own son - or, go yourself - you cannot vote on the war declaration. War is either for ALL the country, or none of it.

MMinWA said...

I've only heard that last stanza sung all these years, I had no idea-that is a powerful story.