This point is simple. “Populism”, per se, is not a political ideology. Many people throughout history have made the tragic error of seeing it as one, and the consequences have uniformly disappointed, often in catastrophic ways.

In fact, “populism” simply refers to the process of capitalizing on perceived injustices. It is almost never an honest account of those injustices because the point is the fomenting and channeling of a sense of injustice by the masses for the benefit of a politician’s popularity.

One gets to be a bit cynical over time when exposed to the logic of lowest-common-denominator farming that goes on in politics.

The goal — and it is usually mapped through the ends-justify-the-means quadrant of the geometry of logical fallacies — is to gain support by framing oneself as a necessary ingredient in the jigsaw puzzle of democracy. And one time-tested and true path to that result is to reframe reality through the lens of an unthinking, incompetent, and corrupt system that is costing the masses their livelihoods, and to cast oneself as the unadulterated tonic for such injustice; the lone soldier throwing blows in defense of the people.

There are three current examples of politicians running for the presidency who all fall into this category: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

If you are a particular fan of any of these candidates, you will probably not like anything else I have to say on anything because you will feel an anger rising up at this insinuation of guile. To you, he or she isn’t capitalizing on a narrative he/she has deftly constructed. He/she is actually the hero sacrificing his/herself on the cross of the contemporary quagmire of corruption and stupidity. This is the anger of the psychological immune system as it rises to snuff out the pathogen of an alternative framing of reality.

But, before you go, consider the nature of a populist.

I could give a thousand different examples. Anything from Trump is going to look the worst because he is the most strategically and unapologetically populist bastard we have ever seen in higher office — truly the sign of the end-times. But the one I will put forth is Elizabeth Warren’s framing of the TARP bank bailout from 2008-2014 because it is actually just about as egregious as anything Mr. Trump has done and serves as an effective way to highlight the dynamic in question.

Ms. Warren really ramped her career by appearing on one talk show after another for years following the financial crisis in 2008, preaching on the injustice of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money being thrown away to paper over the irredeemable greed of Wall Street. It was her defining street-corner spiel.

TARP was, in her repeated accounts, nothing other than dragging hundreds of billions of dollars into the center of a quarry and setting it on fire, rather than using it to build new bridges or feed the poor.

TARP was something we had to do, yes, but only because we were forced into it by the stupidity and amorality of the demonic class of society known as “Bankers”, and by the majority of the political class, who was complicit from the start, and then allowed themselves to reward the bankers with TARP out of some hellish combination of ineptitude and ethical failure.

And she alone — that’s Elizabeth Warren, with two r’s — was fighting to make sure it never happened again and that those responsible would be given their just deserts!

And yet, Ms. Warren was intimately familiar with the TARP process and how it was working out. She knew, for much of the time she gave this message, that all of the money would be paid back and that the taxpayers would make billions of dollars in profits on their investments in the banks — a final profit of $15.3 billion when the last investment position (Ally Financial, Inc) was sold back into the market on December 19, 2014.

Moreover, TARP was a stunning (and profitable) success — truly one of the greatest rescue operations in the history of this country. But it wasn’t just an effective sacrifice. It actually represented, instead of any sacrifice at all for taxpayers, a nicely profitable operation.

But that message doesn’t work when you are trying to harvest populist rage, which is the stock and trade of the populists. Be wary. They feed off of stoking that sense of systematic victimization.

And the typical process involves presenting a highly self-serving narrative because, otherwise, we wouldn’t need them in the first place. They have to make sure we know we are victims. And then they get to step in as our saviors.

Imagine an aspirin bottle that beamed a headache into you in the pharmacy while you were thinking about buying it. Populism is the disease, not the cure.



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