On populism

It can be said about all populisms, in spite of their bewildering historical variety, that at a minimum they construct a virtuous ‘people’ to pit against a more or less real or imaginary elite that places its own interest above that of the people. Just what segments of the actual populace (i.e., all the people in the country) identify with the symbolic people evoked by a given populism of course determines its social character and political strength; but since ‘the people’ is a generic unity aspiring to maximum size, its contingent makeup will rarely be specified and thus restricted by populists leaders themselves. Populists are quicker to specify the membership of perfidious elites, perhaps invariably in a way that evades the question of class even as it raises it: that is, the elites of the populist imaginary will be smaller and more perverse groupings than those great blocs, united by natural self-interest, known as socioeconomic classes.

Benjamin Kunkel, Sweet ’16: Notes on the US Election

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