I think it is unfortunately Mounk is so determined to use "populism" pejoratively. To me it just means a functioning democracy where the popular will prevails even when when the ruling class doesn't like it.

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Dear Unset,

You’re right that most on the left defines populism like that, and it sounds pretty good. But Mounk is not so much “determined to” use it pejoratively as he is determined to use it the way all political scientists do. And it turns out there are good reasons for this. And Mounk knows those reasons much better than I, but let me give some examples.

The CA state legislature passed the Fair Housing Act in 1963. Then in June, 1964, the US passed Civil Civil Rights Act. Then in Nov, Prop 14 amended the CA constitution to make the Fair Housing Act illegal — and make housing discrimination legal again. The Black community didn’t like that so much, and it is likely one of the causes of the Watts Riots in 1965, in which the police and national guard shot and killed 39 people. I don’t have the data, but I would say probably about 38 of those were Black. Then in 1966, the CA Supreme Court ruled Prop. 14 unconstitutional.

Propositions are pure populism. They are initiated by the people, and in this case Prop 14 passed with 65.4% of the vote — almost 2 to 1. So that was definitely “the popular will.” But … well you see my point. Populism can go wrong.

In 1994, due to popular pressure expressed in a proposition campaign, the CA legislature pass a Three Strikes Law. But that campaign continued and Prop 184 passed with a 76% majority! That put it into the state constitution so that the legislature could not fix it. It was the strictest 3-strikes law in the country and was the model for many subsequent state laws. This was not about racism, the campaign was based on two White-on-White crimes in which young women were murdered. This was quintessential populism

And then three was CA Prop 13 in 1978, which passed with 62.8% and which gave regressive tax breaks to homeowners and messed up the public schools. I still benefit from that. A 2020 ballot measure tried to fix it a bit and failed — more populism.

OK, so I live in CA, be we aren’t the only conservative populists. The Jim Crow laws of the South were basically populist measures.

And this is why the Founding Fathers included those checks and balances — to reign in populism. That worked with Prop 14 when the CA supreme court overturned the “will of the people.” And the courts have done some good reigning in of Three Strikes. Basically, checks and balances are there to protect minorities, because majorities can otherwise do some terrible things when they get worked up.

And as Mounk knows way better than I do, most of the populist movements in the last 100 years have been conservative, not progressive. You might take a look at “Populism: A Very Short Introduction, but Cas Mudde, or What is Populism by Jan-Werner Muller. Or for a very short analysis of present-day US right- and left-populism, you could download the free PDF of my book, Ripped Apart, and read Chs. 14, 15, & 16 (<20 pp.).


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And one more thing. This is a very thought-provoking podcast. I think I'll buy Lind's book.

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It's my first time hearing Michael Lind's thesis--America's melting pot is still bubbling / demise of wage laborers vs. shareholder capitalists--and it rings true for this listener. Lind's luke-warm optimism in cross-party alliances just got a boost with Mitt Romney's universal child care proposal. Hats off to Romney! I hope Joe Biden takes the opportunity to spotlight Romney's progressive proposal. More please

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Another interesting article on US racial demographic trends - "‘Majority Minority’ America? Don’t Bet on It" in yesterday's WSJ.

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