Move Over, Corporate Democrats. A New Wave of Left Populists Is on the Rise.

JANUARY 4 | JANUARY 2018 IN THESE TIMES COVER STORY

“FIVE, 10 YEARS FROM NOW … YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A WORKERS’ PARTY …. A PARTY OF PEOPLE THAT HAVEN’T HAD A REAL WAGE INCREASE IN 18 YEARS. THAT ARE ANGRY.”

IN SPRING 2016, a U.S. presidential candidate made the above prediction to Businessweek. That candidate was none other than Donald Trump, and he was speaking of the GOP. His words seem ludicrous, but Trump’s anti-corruption pose, populism and vaguely left-sounding economic rhetoric would ultimately take him all the way to the White House.

Trump was also openly racist, misogynistic and unencumbered by facts. But he foregrounded economic decline and corruption—and the tight link between them—with a rhetorical force and consistency that always eluded his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. …

Illustration by Ryan Sowers

Trump’s ironic and unintentional gift to American democracy may be that—by crashing through the traditional party battle lines, and saying what the major parties weren’t free to say—he has created a space in our politics in which the seeds of genuine reform, planted by actual reformers, have taken root and are beginning to grow. Victories by independent, anti-corporate Democrats in the November 2017 off-year elections demonstrated that the Democratic Party has the potential to again put forward a vision that inspires voters. But that slim hope depends on the creation of a progressive electoral infrastructure separate and independent from the party establishment, and thus relatively free of the influence that corporate donors wield over both parties. The 2018 elections will provide an early, formidable test of that new infrastructure’s power to upend the status quo.  … 

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