US Populism Deconstructed: The On-the-ground Reality
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US Populism Deconstructed: The On-the-ground Reality
24 June @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
Everyone knows that populism in the US and UK today is rooted not only in resentment toward elites but also economic alienation, decaying communities, and resulting despair. Right? Not quite. Using new, unique survey data, Dr. Ryan Streeter and his colleagues have found that the media narrative feeding explanations of the “Trump phenomenon” are incomplete, even misleading. Americans of all stripes are doing better than is reported. For instance, the “loneliness epidemic” on which there is endless reporting is overblown. The American Dream is not dead as is commonly reported; to the contrary, it is alive and well, especially among working class Americans. Americans derive a sense of community more from the neighborhoods where they live than their race or political ideology, putting a break on the power of “identity politics” that we hear so much about.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to a discussion with Director of Domestic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise institute (AEI) – Dr. Ryan Streeter about the roots of populism and policy solutions to tackle it.
Dr. Ryan Streeter is the director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he oversees research in education, American citizenship, politics, public opinion, and social and cultural studies. Before joining AEI, he was executive director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Streeter has had a distinguished career in government service, which includes being deputy chief of staff for policy for Indiana Governor Mike Pence, special assistant for domestic policy to President George W. Bush at the White House, and policy adviser to Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith. Outside of government, he has served as a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and as a research fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is the author of “Transforming Charity: Toward a Results-Oriented Social Sector” (Hudson Institute, 2001); the editor of “Religion and the Public Square in the 21st Century” (Hudson Institute, 2001); the coauthor of “The Soul of Civil Society: Voluntary Associations and the Public Value of Moral Habits” (Lexington Books, 2002); and a contributor to the Stephen Goldsmith book, “Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work Through Grassroots Citizenship” (Hudson Institute, 2002).
On the 24th of June the Henry Jackson Society hosted the Dr. Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, for a discussion on the roots of populism and policy solutions to tackle it. He was joined by Adam Holloway MP, Chairman of the Conservative Home Affairs Committee, and Dr Alan Mendoza, Founder and Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society.
Mr Holloway introduced my Mr Streeter, noting that populism is the ‘thing of our age’ and that while many treat it as a bad thing, the truth is rather more nuanced.
Dr. Streeter began his remarks by lamenting the fact that polling in the United States has for a long time been overly focused on political questions and not enough on what is really happening in people’s lives. He went on to introduce his own research which challenges the prevailing narrative that the American Dream is dead, and that the United States is a chronically lonely country, tearing itself apart through identity politics.
Contrary to the narrative pushed by figures such as President Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders that the American Dream is no longer functioning, polling from the American Enterprise Institute demonstrates that when asked, a majority Americans believe that the American Dream is alive and well. In addition, the supposedly popular idea that the American Dream means getting rich was actually supported by less than 20% of Americans. 85% defined it as being free to live as you choose, and 83% believed it to involve having a good family life.
Dr Streeter then went on to challenge the idea that American’s identities are dominated by identity politics, presenting data that showed that American’s sense of community are defined more by where they live than race or political ideology. He did concede however that political polarisation is becoming a major problem, noting that 52% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats wouldn’t start a political conversation with their opposite.
With regards to happiness, Dr Streeter presented data that argued Americans are happiest when involved in religious institutions, before acknowledging that this may be more difficult to apply to the more secular cultures of Britain and Europe, offering instead that civic engagement, particularly local engagement with ones friends and neighbours, seems to be a strong indicator of happiness. Political engagement, by contrast, seemed much less connected to happiness.
At the end of the initial presentation, Alan Mendoza asked, given how all of this data seemed to contradict had led Dr Streeter to the conclusion that populism was a ‘busted flush’, why has the Trump/Bannon brand attracted so much attention? In response Dr Streeter offered his assessment that the kind of rhetoric and policies offered by Trump and Bannon seemed to energise a subset of the population that is often described as ‘the Trump voter’, but in fact probably represented around a fifth of the people who voted for Trump. The majority of Trump voters elected him based on economic concerns, concerns about Supreme Court Justices, etc. The Democrats, Dr Streeter advised, would be best served by a message of economic optimism, rather than a simply running against Donald Trump.
The event then closed with a round of questions and answers.
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