Politico published an excellent article on Oklahoma’s former senator Fred Harris a few days ago, and for those of us old enough here, it overwhelms the senses with nostalgia, bringing back a time when truth still matter at least somewhat in the political realm and when a person defined as a populist really described someone who cared about working-class people.
Harris, 86, who represented Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from 1964 to 1973, was and remains a true populist, and he laments both the election of President-elect Donald Trump and how the word “populist” is often twisted and distorted to describe him. In Harris’ view, according to the article, “Populism is simply about voting for your own interests instead of against your interests—with the knowledge that your interests are the same as the interests of everyone else.” None of that describes Trump, who is self-interested to the brink of narcissism and will work to protect the interests of fellow millionaires and billionaires. Maybe he’ll give his base supporters a war to feed their nationalistic cravings, but that’s about it on a major level, in my opinion.
Richard Linnett, who wrote the article, describes the argument over the word populism like this:
When Harris looks at Donald Trump’s campaign, he sees a vision of populism fundamentally opposed to the way he saw the movement. In the 1970s, Harris aimed to build political clout by creating new coalitions across boundaries of race, gender and class, uniting people on the basis of their shared struggle.
I don’t envision Trump building “new coalitions across boundaries of race, gender and class.” In fact, I see Trump obviously dividing people along those boundaries, and I also view him as a misogynist, who objectifies women based on their physical appearance. His supporters apparently don’t care about this aspect of his nature when it comes to women, or agree with it, or think it’s just locker-room banter.
Linnett goes on the describe Harris’s 1976 run for the presidency in which he ran a truly grassroots populist campaign, staying overnight at people’s houses while campaigning across the country. Many people here, especially younger folks, don’t realize that Oklahoma was once a populist bastion that produced such heroes as Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie and, of course, Harris himself, who is retired now and lives in New Mexico.
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