Friday links! You wished for populism edition


Wouldn’t it be great if the American people rose up? I’m talking about a popular revolution. I’m talking about a government, an economy, and a society run by regular folks for regular folks—a moment, a movement if you will, to throw off the yokes of political corruption and corporate greed and bring popular values to Washington. Of course I mean such popular values as thrift and hard work, not so much xenophobia or contempt for education. And I’m not saying I want populism in culture, either. Obviously I don’t want to see centuries of tradition reduced to The Big Bang Theory. Today is Friday, and I want a popular revolution without the racism, cultural repression, stupidity, or war of vengeance in the Middle East. Won’t you try to cram the genie back in the bottle with me?

First, the good news: A video artist who calls himself The Nerdwriter has performed a linguistic analysis of Donald Trump and unlocked the secret of his popularity. Bad news: the secret is one-syllable words.

When Jimmy Kimmel asked if it wasn’t wrong to bar Muslims from the United States based on their religion, 78% of the words Trump used to answer him were one syllable long. According to the Fleisch-Kincaid test, he speaks to voters at the equivalent of a fourth-grade reading level. The same test finds Mike Huckabee speaks at the highest level of any of the known candidates, which sprinkles a grain of salt on this whole analysis. But we have at least some quantitative evidence here that Trump is popular because he is easy to understand.

Now that we’ve unleashed these cacodaemons, we should know on what they feed. Former 2008 campaign advisor Nicolle Wallace comes as close as we’re going to get to an apology from John McCain with Sarah Palin, Rage Whisperer. Wallace’s thesis is that beginning with the 2008 election, Palin took control of the resentment bloc of the Republican Party. They become the tea party in 2009. As that brand deteriorates, Trump is snapping up its customers. Quote:

Mr. Trump improves upon Ms. Palin’s jagged attempts at a post-2008 message with a vision for reclaiming American greatness by promising better trade deals, improved care for veterans, a more successful foreign policy based on his personal strength and immigration reform that is based mostly on building a wall. His proposals are, at best, vague and of questionable legal soundness, but they’ve propelled his candidacy by inflaming voter concern that America has lost ground.

Agreed his proposals are vague, and that Palin’s messages are extremely jagged. Meanwhile, in places that don’t need a wall to keep people out, Matt Buchanan laments the downgrading of what we call “populism” in restaurant reviews. I want to link to this essay on the abuse of a term in criticism of dining criticism before it goes viral and Buzzfeed rips it off. Also, Buchanan raises an important point. You can’t have “populist” criticism. The virtues of populism are antithetical to the critical project, the same way you can’t have an air freshener in space. Taste populism is bullshit.

You know what is not bullshit, even though fewer people know about it and therefore feel social pressure to say they like it? Carl “The Dig” Diggler, a fictional newsman covering politics for He was in Des Moines Wednesday, delving into gonzo journalism for his coverage of the Iowa caucuses. That’s a funny edition of The Dig, but my favorite is the one where he endorses Carly Fiorina at the behest of his new girlfriend, KweenTrashWytch✨✨. Satire, man. Authorial characterization matters.

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  1. I enjoyed the dissection of Trump’s response. I would prefer a sample size larger than 1 over a well done video. I mean, does the analysis even hold for 3 statements of comparable length?

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