You Won’t Like This: A Populist Addresses Donald Trump

We received a “brief polemic” article that we we decided to publish. The author is Richard D. Parker, who has taught Constitutional Law at Harvard since 1974 and is the Williams Professor of Justice. He is the author of “Here the People Rule”: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto as well as essays on constitutional argument and theory. He is now writing an essay entitled “Constitutional Law Is In Our Imagination”.

He claims that this “brief polemic”, speaking to and for populists, “has been rejected by every significant news outlet in the United States whose anti-populism is remarkably deep”.

This unconventional article, as the title says, is addressed to Donald Trump and comes from a deeply populist point of view, against the establishment and in favor of the popular right to remove an elite “deaf to the voice of the people”.

It is hard to agree that, among all the things he has done in the last four years, Trump’s problem was his betrayal of a populist upsurge, but this is what makes this article thought-provoking and unsettling in equel measure.

Enjoy the read

On the day when it’s clear to you that you were defeated, you’ll demand to know who’s to blame.  “Who betrayed me?” you’ll cry.  In the end you will know.  [It was you.]

What you won’t ask is this: Whom did you betray?  Let me help.

You betrayed the political populist uprising of 2016.  You might care about that since you and Bernie Sanders sparked it.

For years, a critical mass of voters on the right and the left had wanted – waited – to rebel against the both establishments which had long disrespected them.

Instead of competing, both were locked in common embrace of a deeply biased point of view.  They locked out the concerns of millions they called “losers” – cultural and economic – who hadn’t “made change their friend.” They were drawn from the same tribe of meritocratic winners committed to cultural, economic and military globalism.  A classic case of elite failure to respond to a people – the pre-condition for any populist uprising.

Now, it appears that President Biden may be returning to the old blindered values.

You betrayed what you had sparked in two ways.  First, by limiting your commitment to economic populism.  And second, by deranged behavior.  In 2016, your wildness, flying in the face of establishment norms, helped you win.  It marked you as a rebel rather than a normal, phony politician. But your wildness careened into self-indulgent craziness, causing too many to block their ears and cover their eyes.

Yes, I know you were abused, harassed and hated.  The unrelenting, unprecedented attacks beginning before day one. The Mueller investigation and the first impeachment, were political flops.  But at least they drew into the open – from behind usual pretenses of even-handedness – the credentialed elite, driven as if by an ideological compulsion, crying “tyranny” and the “end of democracy”.  They showed everyone else that an establishment does exist — and that it is the true threat to democracy.   Why couldn’t you take a remarkable victory for what it was?

Anyway, the worst of your betrayal is not a betrayal of policies or people, but of a vital democratic principle, the principle of populist uprising.  The Declaration of Independence is – in the main – about the popular “right” to remove a governing elite that has so alienated itself as to be “deaf to the voice of the people”.  The founders counted on the exercise of this right through elections – like 2016.

A Populist uprising by “losers” against a biased establishment and its biased norms, calling for a sort of regime change, is a realization of popular sovereignty and a vital check against incipient oligarchy.

After your fall, the elite condominium is teaching its perennial “lesson:” That they must rule.  That a political mobilization of ordinary people is a danger because, acting in the name of “the people” – as if established parties don’t use the same rhetoric – it must lead, anywhere, in any context, at any time, to authoritarian government.

That is false.  The establishment would have us ignore electoral uprisings much like 2016 – those of 1800, 1828 and 1860, to name a few.  They cry that we Poland!

This perversion makes out the heart of democracy to be its cancer.  It is pathological.  Yet it may take hold, you watch.  And it will be your legacy.

Then your final betrayal: sending violent fringe elements to invade the Capitol, insidious in itself, flouting the peaceful electoral overturn of government on which populism relies, and now enabling the establishment to say that those extremists represent the 74 million Americans who voted for you!

So, the forgotten critical mass of voters in both parties, the so-called “losers” to globalism, continue to wait. … At another election, they will rise again. … Without you.

An opportunity, now, passes to Democrats.  Can enough of them raise the populist banner and rise to the political populist cause? To succeed, they would have to fuse elements of cultural populism with the economic populism of Senators Sanders and Warren.

Or might they be outdone by a new Republican fusing economic populism with cultural populism?


Richard Parker is Williams Professor of Justice at Harvard Law School. He has taught Constitutional Law and Criminal Law there since 1974. Before that, he was a clerk on the United States Supreme Court and an attorney at the Children’s Defense Fund. He is the author of a book entitled “Here, The People Rule”: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto (Harvard University Press, 1994).

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