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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: July 2020

3 - Civil Rights, Social Welfare, and Populism


The populist impulse in American politics is to level the playing field in both politics and the economy. Leveling the playing field in politics means creating a political process that reflects the “one person, one vote” democratic ethos – a politics in which every vote counts and influence is not a simple by-product of wealth, birth, or social standing. Leveling the field in economic terms takes on a variety of meanings, from (1) dramatic attempts at income redistribution to (2) more modest efforts at creating a social welfare state that provides some basic level of social welfare services in the areas of health, housing, nutrition, and education that are available for all to (3) creating high barriers to immigration and trade aimed at keeping jobs in America for Americans. Hence, populist appeals take on a variety of forms, from progressive to regressive, and each must be judged relative to its own context and content.