The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics.

AuthorUneke, Okori
PositionBook review

Judis, John B. The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2016. 182 pages. Paperback, $12.99.

The Populist Explosion examines the historic origins of populism in the United States and Western Europe and traces their more recent upsurge to the political fallout from the Great Recession. The United States has a long history of populist politics and politicians, from William Jennings Bryan through Huey Long and George Wallace to Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. The book opens with what populism is and when it emerges. It is a style of politics that sets the people and the establishment in conflict or competition. As a political strategy, populism is built upon a contrast between the people and a governing elite. For clarity, there is no common ideology that clearly specifies the boundary of populism -it can be left-wing or right-wing. Similarly, there is no single constitue ncy that comprises "the people"-it can be students burdened by loan debt, blue-collar workers or the middle class, just as "the establishment" can vary from "money power" to George Wallace's "pointy-headed intellectuals"(p. 15).

During economic recessions, many middle-and lower-middle class people are struggling, panicky, and pessimistic. In times of despair, concerned citizens feel that the major political parties have ignored or dismissed their worries, and they respond angrily with their ballots. Furthermore, the disruptive forces of technological change, globalization, and growing inequality have sparked a surge in populist politics. The rise in populism is a signal that the status quo is failing. Populist leaders often emerge during periods of prolonged social discontent that provide opportunities to challenge a dominant elite viewed as unconcerned about the interest and complaints of the governed. Tapping into growing resentments, non-establishment politicians, through campaigns appealing to citizens' disaffection and frustration, as well as using calls for national renewal as a wooing platform, have successfully challenged the prevailing policies and institutions. Thus, in terms of their significance, populist campaigns became catalysts for political change.

In The Populist Explosion, John Judis traces populist agitations for political change in the United States to the People's Party in the late nineteenth century. The...

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