Populism can be like chemotherapy: good in controlled dosages. 50%+1 isn’t always right, which is why we have system designed to cool small-d democratic excesses.
Here’s Yuval Levin commenting on Ross Douthat’s piece about the “court party” and the “country party.”
For much of the past four decades, that kind of substantive populism (as opposed to the far more insidious institutional populism advanced by the early progressives) has tended to be divided into cultural and economic populism, and the two parties have tended to break down along a double axis of populism and elitism: The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans have tended to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursued an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identified with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked “people against the powerful,” but tended to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans have tended to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive while Democrats tended to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.
But in more recent years, perhaps especially the last decade, the Democratic party has been moving away from economic populism and becoming truly the party of concentrated elite power. As our elites have grown more socially liberal and our economy has grown more concentrated and consolidated, it has become easier to pursue liberal goals through the system than against it and the Democratic party has become the party of the large, established players—the court party, more or less.
Much of the policy agenda of the Obama administration has embodied this approach. It has been an agenda of consolidation—protecting larger players from competition in exchange for their willingness to serve as agents of government power and driving crucial sectors of our economy (finance and health insurance above all, but by no means only those) toward greater consolidation. This has been something of a return to the original vision of the American progressives, with its active role for government in choosing economic winners who will best serve the common interest while otherwise restraining chaotic market competition. “In economic warfare,” Herbert Croly wrote in 1909, “the fighting can never be fair for long, and it is the business of the state to see that its own friends are victorious.” Big business and big labor, overseen by big government, would keep things in balance. As big labor gradually fades, the progressive economic vision has come down to big business and the state.
The Left’s diminishing emphasis on economic populism has also been on display in the immigration debate, where the kinds of concerns with the wages of low-skill workers that were evident among Democrats in prior rounds of the argument have basically disappeared… the left’s interest in those arguments (has) abated.
In general (and a discussion of such trends can only involve pretty gross generalizations of course), this has tended to leave us with one party of economic elitism and cultural populism and another party of economic elitism and cultural elitism…
Both its [the Democratic party] ideology and its electoral coalition leave its options quite constrained. It has to make the most of its status as the party of entrenched insiders, and to employ populist rhetoric to mask its increasingly elitist agenda.