All politicians appeal to the fears, hopes, and biases of their constituency. But the politicians receiving the backing of mainstream political parties would never want to be labeled a populist. Many populist politicians and their movements have a short political life whereas mainstream politicians, unfortunately, will become entrenched and around for a longer duration.
Presidential candidate Andrew Jackson bucked what he perceived as the corrupt politics of his era and founded his own grass roots political party, the Democratic Republicans the forerunner of today's Democratic Party.
Jackson was to be one of only a handful of historical American politicians called "populist" who would win the White House.
Besides Jackson and the Democratic-Republicans, there were to be new populist parties and personalities hoping to attract the men or women who felt forgotten by the status quo.
Source of Definition: Vocabulary.com
Many populists emerge during periods of social and economic unrest. Besides the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Great Depression (1929-1939) brought the United States and the world to its knees and the rise of political populism.
During this period of economic and social unrest, populist politicians as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler rose to lead their nations.
The Rush Limbaugh of radio during the Great Depression and the beginning of WW2 was populist Father Charles Edward Coughlin (October 25, 1891-October 27, 1979).
Fr. Coughlin had a huge radio following of almost 30 million weekly listeners. He was pro-union, attacked banks and large businesses, invoked Christianity in many of his messages, and then proceeded to go overboard when he became increasingly anti-Semitic and blamed the Jews for much of the economic problems.
Originally Coughlin supported President Roosevelt's New Deal programs. However, Coughlin not only annoyed the Vatican with his vitriol, but finally provoked President Franklin Roosevelt such that the President successfully got his radio show off the air and stopped his mailings of his pamphlet entitled Social Justice.
Source: Father Coughlin Speaks Against the Federal Reserve
Another very popular populist-type politician to emerge during the Great Depression was Louisiana political boss and politician "King Fish" Huey Long Jr. (August 30,1893-September 10, 1935). Long served as Louisiana's governor and then the state's Democratic United States Senator until he was assassinated in 1935.
Perhaps sounding familiar to many of some of today's politicians, Long's motto was "Every Man a King" and proposed wealth redistribution during the Great Depression to curb poverty and homelessness.
Source of You Tube Video: Huey Long Share The Wealth
Another era of American social upheaval was the African American Civil Rights movement (1954-1968). One of the most popular populist politicians to emerge was Alabama Governor George Wallace (August 25, 1919 - September 13, 1998).
Upset with the efforts of the Federal Government to intervene and end Alabama's segregation of public schools, Wallace in his 1963 governor inauguration speech, appealed to his constituency (of course blacks were not being allowed to vote) when he said, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
George Wallace's "Segregation Forever" speech made him nationally well-known. When words are spoken they cannot be taken back and in reality Wallace was not the racist the speech made him appear to be and he spent much of his career denouncing the speech as one he made as a necessity to be re-elected as Alabama governor.
Source of You Tube: George Wallace Segregation Forever Speech
Easy to explain the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement giving rising to so-called populist politicians who appeal to the fears of an electorate who felt left out.
The Vietnam War gave rise to populist candidate George McGovern who reflected the anger by Americans divided by the war as well as the social and economic disparities.
What American events have caused the rise of a Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?
Warning signs were growing that a new breed of candidate could likely arise. Some trends were:
- The Tea Party came about because a sector of Americans were angry about a big, unresponsive, and intrusive government.
- The Occupy Wall Street Movement took hold because of the the economic disparity growing within the country and sanctioned by government policies favorable to big business special interest groups.
- Washington has become so gridlocked due to partisanship that essentially President Obama has resorted to executive orders to get some things accomplished during his tenure. Now partisanship has reached an all time by Republicans threatening to not allow the President to nominate a Supreme Court Justice.
The time for fresh political faces was inevitable. Perhaps Trump and Sanders are not the best choices, but Americans know that partisanship is destroying the nation and the political status quo is not working any longer.